I have no idea.
I think of compliments as fleeting at best and sometimes awkward, uncomfortable, or embarrassing. Did they really mean it? Am I supposed to compliment them now, too? And what if I disagree with the compliment?
Worse: is the compliment from a guy who’s actually being sexist and/or misogynistic, and should I take this as a good moment to leave him splattered on the sidewalk?
I do think most compliments are sincere and not given by jerks. If a guy is wearing a cute jacket, I say so. If a guy says my hot-pink Converse high-tops are cute, that’s sweet. When I was practicing law, I felt the same way about compliments, even though most lawyers are pretty skittish about saying (or hearing) anything that could possibly be interpreted as sexual harassment. I still said, “Nice tie!” And male lawyers who knew me also knew I wouldn’t be offended if they complimented me on what I was wearing.
But, seriously, some people try too hard. I hate false or clichéd compliments. I love surprise ones.
I have blue eyes. Telling me I have nice blue eyes seems a bit, well, stupid. But saying my eyes look like ferocious storm clouds when I’m pissed is a great compliment. (Also, according to my brother, true.) A friend once asked if I was wearing bright-blue tinted contact lenses, because my eyes couldn’t possibly be that blue. I laughed uproariously but actually liked that one.
In high school I heard from several guys that the wrestling team (which practiced on a balcony overlooking the gym) voted me “best legs in gym shorts.” I have the long, slightly bowed legs of a basketball player, NOT the cute, perfect, stick-straight legs of a cheerleader, or the general cuteness of a gymnast. I LOVED that vote!
My hair is strawberry blond, which I loathed as a kid but am cool with as an adult. It’s not dyed. Not a single gray hair has yet hit. [Insert pause while I knock on all wood in sight.] Men don’t typically notice or care about things like that, but I love when a female friend compliments me on whoever dyed my hair this color, and I reply that it’s actually my natural color ... and she says, “Bitch.” From a good friend, THAT is a compliment.
As a mom, compliments from my kids are also often drowned out by the criticisms. A few years ago, I went through some nightmarish times with my daughter, who told the whole world (including me) how much she hated me. On a daily basis. She was going through hell at the time, and I was a convenient and safe target. (Yeah, yeah, my friends reminded me of this on a daily basis, too, but it still resulted in severe PTSD for 18 months.) One night during this awful period, as I was saying goodnight to her and she said yet another truly horrible thing to me, I finally snapped and asked her if there wasn’t ONE SINGLE GOOD THING she could say about me.
She glared at me. Silence. A horrid, lengthy silence.
Finally, she sighed. “You’re a good writer.”
Okay, that was my best compliment ever.
Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.