Why do couples babytalk?
Several times in the last week, twice on the subway and once in a cafe, I sat near a baby-talking couple spweaking wike dis, in a wery squeaky voice, saying wuv wu oochy-coochie poopy. They were all adults in their mid-twenties to mid-forties. They wore leather jackets, high heels, makeup, suits-and-ties. But they acted as if they were in diapers.
I think terms of endearment — Cupcake, Honey, Tootie, Mochi — are sweet. It’s the bwack-and-forth bwabble that bwothers me a bwit, only because I don’t understand the appeal. Of all forms of role play, infantilizing a boyfriend or husband — talking to him as a little girl would a baby doll — just doesn’t seem romantic or arousing.
Yet psychologists consider lovers’ babytalk a real and valid form of bonding. A study by Meredith Bombar and Lawrence Littig suggests it’s a good sign: Babytalkers were more secure and less avoidant in romantic relationships. In effect they’re reactivating primal circuits of attachment. Ickle-bitty-peshus-wuvy cooing reinforces intimacy, tapping into the unconditional love of a parent for child. The old “play” circuits are also activated; as in any form of fantasy, babytalk allows a couple to step outside the limits of self, space, and time. Stress is reduced — the same reason why a recent study on light S&M found that couples who spank together stay together. Babytalking lovers get a blast of dopamine and oxytocin in areas of the brain involved in reward and bonding — the ventral tegmental area, orbitofrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex.
According to psychologists, mutual use of high-pitched voices, soothing whispers, cooing, lisping, and overexpressive faces is a way of “looping” or “mirroring” affection. Exclusive and intimate, it’s an act of trust-building. Think of it as verbal swaddling. Along with the other bonding benefits, babytalk may be a way of flaunting one’s healthy emotional neural circuitry — suggesting not only love and commitment but also strong parental instincts. (Take it to an extreme and more interesting interpretations may be made.)
Psychologists, then, don’t seem troubled by babytalk between lovers. In moderation it’s considered a healthy indulgence. Even so, it’s not my idea of pampering.