Pat Muir is on assignment this week, but don’t let him off the hook. Send him your peeve in a grumble-gram at email@example.com. Here’s some classic complaining from 2016:
OK, I’m looking to you for a reality check on a pet peeve about pet names.
So, my boyfriend and I have been together over half a year, and things are generally going really well. The thing is that we both have a lot of years behind us with other significant others, and I know we need to be able to tell stories involving those people without feeling threatened or jealous or whatever.
But when he talks about his last serious girlfriend, he’ll sometimes call her by a very cute nickname. Let’s say her name is Jennifer, and he usually calls her “Jen” but sometimes “Jen-Jen.”
I flinch every time he says it. I don’t know if other people commonly called her this adorable name, nor am I sure I would necessarily feel differently if it could technically be called a nickname rather than an exclusive pet name. To me, it sounds like what you call someone who IS your girlfriend. Not what you call your past girlfriend, especially when talking to your current one.
I’m wondering: Is it ridiculous to get bothered by this? Do I sound like a crazy, jealous woman if I ask that he not call her that around me? I mean, do guys generally not care if their girlfriend says, “Oh, J-boy and I loved that place,” or, “The Robster and I did an amazing road trip up that way,” or whatever? Is it one of those things where if it doesn’t happen all that often, maybe you just flinch and carry on for the sake of the peace?
Not only is it not ridiculous that you’re bothered by that, it’s one of the least ridiculous things of all time.
I mean, OF COURSE you’re bothered by that. I don’t care how supremely secure you are in your relationship, that kind of thing is going to bother you. Like, even if you know on a rational level that he doesn’t still have feelings for Jen-Jen, him calling her that evokes memories of when he did. The fact that you don’t enjoy thinking about how happy he was with your predecessor does not make you a “crazy, jealous woman”; it makes you a human being.
I’m not saying your boyfriend should be barred from ever mentioning his exes. We all have them. They’re part of our past, and naturally we talk about our past. But, as with everything, it’s a question of tone.
For instance, notice the difference between, “Jennifer and I saw the Rolling Stones at the Pontiac Silverdome back in ’89,” and “Jen-Jen and I saw the Rolling Stones at the Pontiac Silverdome back in ’89.” The first version has very little subtext, whereas the subtext of the second version is something along the lines of, “I still think about her fondly and often. I kind of wish you were her.”
That’s what using a pet name for an ex sounds like. Your boyfriend either doesn’t know this or doesn’t care. If it’s the former, you should tell him. Bring it up in a straightforward way. Don’t put him on the defensive or accuse him of anything. Tell him you trust him and, “I know this may not be rational, but it bugs me when you call her Jen-Jen. Also, the Stones were already way washed up back in ’89. I question your taste in music.”
If, on the other hand, he already knows how it makes you feel and calls her Jen-Jen anyway, that’s malicious and emotionally manipulative. You should dump him. And when you tell your next boyfriend about him, you can refer to him with whatever colorful language you like.
Hope that helps.