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Are You a Love Rhino? Nerdman? Or Just Sweetheart? : Why One Psychologist Says Silly Names for Loved Ones Are Sign of Good Relationship

February 11, 1987|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Are you so sick of your husband leaving toothpaste all over the sink that you took a can of whipped cream and covered the bathroom with giant white trails?

Have you ever shoved a banana in your wife's ear when you were a little angry, and you both ended up laughing?

Do you call your mate Love Rhino? Kissikins? Or Nerdman? Perhaps the two of you have the secret identities Fungus and Mildew.

Or do you call your wife Mommy, like the 76-year-old President of the United States does?

If you do any of the above things or anything resembling them, you need not worry.

You are probably an extremely healthy adult, reverting to childlike play in ways that greatly enhance your intimate adult relationship.

All of the above questions are based on real couples and real things they did and said, and psychologist/physician William Betcher has just written a book called "Intimate Play" (Viking: $16.95) that brings such behavior uproariously out of the closet.

Betcher, who graduated from Harvard Medical School and is completing a residency in psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., has been fascinated with romantic playfulness since he wrote his doctoral dissertation in psychology on the subject more than 10 years ago.

An Element of Playfulness

It struck Betcher that in his own relationships, as well as those of friends he questioned, the best ones contained an element of spontaneous playfulness that was greatly treasured.

"It seemed so self-evident, and yet it hadn't been talked about. No one had studied it," Betcher said in an interview here. "There had been a lot written about why relationships didn't work."

Betcher decided to look instead at something that perhaps did help relationships work. He studied couples' romantic play, through interviews with 30 couples and questionnaires of many more, and his resulting book is full of nicknames and anecdotes that are real and funny and perhaps useful.

Silliness and playfulness can be used to defuse an endless argument, to ease the tension surrounding sensitive subjects, to keep the relationship unpredictable and exciting and to add a sense of adventure in the bedroom, Betcher found. The silly names and games that couples do only with one another create a "culture of two," which is practically intimacy defined.

"A very important part of what the book is about is that people in intimate relationships have the leeway to not only be silly but to some extent be kids with each other," Betcher said.

"While we go about our adult roles in the workday, that's not all we are. There is a way in which we all are, sort of deep down, scared little kids who want to be taken care of. To be able to be child like, not child ish, to let down your hair and be silly is an asset. It is part of maturity. It is enriching and it's fun."

Betcher traces intimate play through history, noting that Napoleon called Josephine "Naughty Gawky Foolish Cinderella."

"Lot of stuff there. Be nice to interview him," Betcher said.

Theodore Roosevelt called his wife "My Bewitching Moonbeam."

"Maybe," Betcher said, "if you knew her, it would make sense."

As for Reagan calling his wife Mommy, even though their children have been away for years, Betcher ventured that "there's a way in which men relate to their wives to some extent as mothers. And it's actually normal that couples who have been together for a period of time relate to each other, to a certain extent, as if they were kids and parents."

Betcher confessed to being astonished at the range of nicknames people admitted to calling each other.

"One of the common nicknames is food. People call each other things like Peach and Apple Fritter and Dumpling," said Betcher, who would not reveal what he calls his wife of two years.

"My thinking about it is that we call the people we are intimate with names according to our desires. One of the basic needs we have is to eat, and to enjoy the sensual experience in itself. And then there's the feeling that 'I love you so much I could eat you up.' "

Another popular category is animal names, with bears--Booboobear, Honbear, Yogibear, Huggybear, etc.--being the most common of all.

"I think it has to do with cuddly animals, not the Yellowstone Park kind of bear," Betcher said.

A cuddly anteater?

Although Anteater, one of the names Betcher unearthed, is technically an animal nickname, it also falls into another category, which is just something foolish and funny, like Rat Features or Nerdman. Names like that say, "We're unique and special, and, therefore, so is our relationship." Still other names invoke baby talk--Snookums, Cutesy Pooh--again invoking the warmth and good feelings of childhood.

Early in Love Process

Names like Angel, Princess and Superman are "idealizations," Betcher said, and they usually crop up early in the love process, when one is entirely swept off one's feet with the wonderfulness of his or her mate.

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