Being Called ‘Sweetie’ Feels Insulting

By Amy Dickinson | April 7th, 2023

Is this term of endearment really more ageist and misogynistic?

woman taking medication from nurse, Katarzyna Bialasiewicz. A retired nurse shares how being called “sweetie” insults her and feels ageist, paternalistic, and misogynistic. See what “Ask Amy” thinks.

A retired nurse shares how being called “sweetie” insults her and feels ageist, paternalistic, and misogynistic. See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson thinks in this edition of “Ask Amy.”

Dear Amy:

I am 67 and retired from a long nursing career.

I have noticed that I am increasingly being called “Sweetie,” “Dear,” or “Hon.”

This happens in various situations, but probably most frequently in health care settings.

For the record, my husband (who has had gray hair since his late 30s), has not been addressed similarly.

I was raised in the South, and I know these endearments are common and made without thought regarding the effect on an older person. I realize that I used this same condescending address a few years back to a patient while working in a nursing home. I did not intend to demean my patient at all; in fact, I was fond of this patient and it slipped out.

There is no ill will behind these words, but it is humiliating and makes me feel as if I am becoming invisible.

Is there a way to speak up without causing embarrassment to the speaker in a way that may educate them about how many older people are made to feel when they are addressed this way?

– Retired Nurse

Dear Nurse:

I hear from many women who feel exactly as you do. I’m wondering if any patient actually prefers to be addressed this way.

You are in a great position to reflect on this practice, certainly in a health-care setting.

You can say, “I’m a retired nurse, and I know that this way of addressing older patients is common, but I’d prefer to be called by my name.”

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart – ranging from being called “Sweetie” to DNA surprises. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

©2023 by Amy Dickinson

More from Boomer