Letters of Life

On Sweetness

Definition: Old English. swete “pleasing to the senses, mind or feelings.

What does it mean when we say someone is sweet?

One who is sweet is one who is charming, caring and thoughtful in speech and actions without being conscious of it at all. Like when the ten-year-old takes a sip from his cup of cold water and offers me the rest before walking away to the sink with it.

Sweetness is not the same as niceness, for being nice suggests choice of action. When someone tells himself to ‘be nice,’ it involves an effort of the will. Sweetness, on the other hand, is not intentional and arises out of the personality or character of the person.

Women generally are sweet, it’s part of who we are. (Yes, if you know me you can beg to differ.) The difference between niceness and sweetness is an unselfconscious genuineness behind the act, the word. Not that people who are nice aren’t being sincere, but sometimes sensitive beings can sense a sweetness about someone they’ve only just met that goes beyond mere niceness. Maybe it’s got to do with the other’s degree of authenticity, or deep-seated honesty, an unconscious and complete lack of guile.

When it comes to men, it’s a little harder to detect. Men by nature, don’t gush. They don’t spout compliments unless they notice something different. So when they say something to do with appearance or dress, or most anything else I guess, they mean it.

Sweetness is driven by personality, and masculine versions of sweetness are sometimes hard to decode. Sweetness–in speech or deeds–can also be entirely missed by a woman who is momentarily oblivious to such sweetness.

In the area of gifts, it’s a little more obvious. Generally, men aren’t comfortable getting gifts for women. So when the giver, known to be careful with his money, goes out and gets something fairly expensive and which is related entirely to my field(s) of interest, not necessarily his own, this is a sweet gesture.

Other examples would be when out of the blue, a friend sends you a snapshot of something amusing because he senses you might be in need of a pick-me-up. The sweetness is in the impulse of the act. It goes beyond mere thoughfulness—which is a cousin of sweetness—like when he goes out of his way to buy expensive candies from the Ralph Lauren of candy boutiques in Gotham City just because you asked.

Sweetness is saying something the speaker knows the hearer likes to hear, even though it might not necessarily be true. Like when someone refers to you as a girl, even though the term is long past its use-by date.

Other examples are when they let you see a side of them that you know is not privy to a whole bunch of others. That’s sweetness because they are allowing you a glimpse of the vulnerable, no matter how accomplished or polished that side of them is. It’s what friends do when they recognise something in the other.

Of course it goes without saying that sweet acts from the spouse are different;  like being magnanimous and uncomplaining about the time I spend pursuing personal interests, (though his golf takes far longer on any given day), or not insisting that I cook when he knows I’m tired and makes a simple meal for the family himself.

A most recent grand gesture took place one Sunday morning in the middle of service. He happened to be speaking at the rostrum and took the opportunity, in front of the congregation, to call me a superwoman because I’d just come back from a long flight the day before and had run a race that very morning. That’s sweetness.

Last week, an old friend and colleague from the newspaper called to invite me to his book launch. He wanted to make sure I’d be able to attend. In that work of fiction somewhere, there was a mention of me.

That too, is sweetness.

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