Years ago I was working on a story about a friend of mine, Goldie, who at 90 was having the most erotic love affair of her life with Fred who was 68.
“Isn’t that cute,” said a friend.
I bristled at his comment. How dare he. Goldie’s late-in-life love affair was a lot of things but “cute” it wasn’t.
Goldie had gone for years without sex before her husband died. “He lost the power of the erection,” explained Goldie. (This was pre-Viagra.) “We had a good, companionable marriage and I loved him for forty years. Except it wasn’t like this terrible physical attraction Fred and I have for each other. I just want to fly into his arms.”
To label that “cute” is a snarky putdown. A way to diminish it, to strip it of its authenticity, to classify it so it seemed small and harmless. To infantilize it. Cute.
For years, I’ve bristled when someone describes something important or valuable as “cute.’ I find it demeaning, dismissive, and I just stumbled onto someone else who feels the same way--Mary Oliver, the poet.”
In Blue Pastures, Oliver’s non-fiction collection, she’s writing about nature when she says:
And nothing in the forest is cute. Such words—“cute,” “charming,” “adorable”—miss the mark, for what is perceived of in this way is stripped of dignity, and authority. What is cute is entertainment, and replaceable. The words lead us and we follow: what is cute is diminutive, it is powerless, it is capturable, it is trainable, it is ours…We are all wild, valorous, amazing. We are, none of us, cute.
In Oliver I’ve met a fellow comrade-in-arms. Right on, sister!
A friend, commenting on a recent photo of my husband and myself, dashed back an e-mail response, “Cute!”
Friendships can be tricky, and I was also certain she’d intended to be positive and enthusiastic, but I felt insulted. Cute? At 6’3” my husband is tall, handsome, and healthy. He has such a broad smile that when he smiles it lights up my life. And in that photo of a happily married couple, arms tightly hugging each other, I was also wearing red, a power color--life-giving, radiant, but “cute” it is not.
I don’t want to come across as the vocabulary police, but how about this? Let’s give each other the respect we deserve and agree that unless we’re talking about babies or puppies, we’ll delete the word “cute.”