“You’re sweet”


“You’re sweet”, my father-in-law told me. Immediately, my inner being huffed and puffed indignantly. Sweet? Me? Never! The occasion was anything but sweet as well. I had burst into tears after not being able to properly explain myself with words. When my husband started to explain to me why that was, I only grew more irate. So, sweet how? I don’t want to be sweet.

Later I wondered exactly what is so awful about being called sweet. I address my own letters with “Love, Jeanet” after all. Am I not being honest when I do that and is it purely part of etiquette? Does receiving a letter signed with “Love, …” mean something totally different than being called sweet? I think it does. The word love means to me: “I am your devoted friend”, or “you are very dear to me.” In other words, it says something about my relationship with the recipient. The words “you’re sweet” moreso attribute the recipient with the character trait of sweetness, as if it’s some sort of compliment. It isn’t to me.

Being “sweet” sounds so vacuous, so utterly self deprecating, so unassertive. What is “being sweet”, anyways? A child who’s always quiet, playing nice, not making any trouble. A subservient woman who never complains. A man who’s… No, men aren’t supposed to be sweet. That would make them soft. Sweet always refers to someone who doesn’t bother you at all while helping you with whatever you need, without complaint. This may all sound very noble, but I’ve always been averse to it.

Never, in my whole life, have I wanted to be sweet. Call me pithy, catty, critical, chaotic, creative, bold. While some of these attributes are less than positive, I feel more at ease being called them. They mean something. They shape me. They keep me in motion. In fact, they bring life to the things I’ve pursued my whole life: acting, doing, changing. Maybe they simply tell the outside world “This is me, and I am here!” To me, this is incompatible with being “sweet”.

After I die, never say “she was sweet”. I would be spinning in my grave. Anything is better than being called “sweet”.

P.S. Huge confusion after I read the book Conversations With God, which states that we are all lovely and sweet, even having been put on earth to remind us of this. And yet, I still don’t want to be sweet. I may have to consider changing my attitude. Lastly, I don’t mind being called “loving”, even if I may not necessarily agree with it.

February 1999
Jeanet van der Vlist, Leiden