The problem: The practice of middle-aged people addressing those of us over 60 as “honey,” “sweetheart” or, worst of all, “young lady” has long grown stale. How do we impress upon them that we don’t enjoy being talked to as if we’re 5 years old?
Low road: Respond in kind. “Um, sweetheart, neither of us has been a young lady for quite some time.”
High road: First, relax. At 60 or so, you are safely in the box labeled middle-aged. People live a lot longer today, which means we get to endure many more decades of interpersonal annoyances like these.
I actually don’t mind being called “honey” or “sweetheart” — maybe because I grew up in the laid-back Southwest — but I admit to cringing at “young lady,” particularly because it seems to come from men whose AARP cards are frayed from use. Still, I let it go. The way I see it, women and men who use these “terms of endearment” are, awkwardly, trying to connect or be friendly. And anyone who uses “young” is likely more aware of his or her own mortality than of ours. So they missed the mark.
Shaming prevents educating. If you really want to put an end to what you feel is patronizing language, do so wisely and gently. Maybe a laugh and a thanks. “Young lady? Uh-oh. Am I in trouble? I sure hope so.”
Send questions about life’s little quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Gail’s “High Road” columns at startribune.com/highroad