What Big Eyes You Have! (Mary Strand)

As I sit down to write this, I’m utterly stumped by this month’s theme: the best compliment I’ve ever received.

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.

My favorite compliment from a guy in a bar, who was hitting on me, was “You have nice skin.”  Seriously.  Who says that?  But it was original and sincere, and although I had less than zero interest in him, I loved it.

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 writer, I’ve received compliments, but I fear they’ve often been drowned out in my mind by the criticisms, so I often brush them off.  Yes, I’m told I shouldn’t do that.  I am not perfect.  I do brush them off.

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.


  1. And isn't that what we all really want to hear? :-)

    A few weeks ago I was driving my 3yo daughter somewhere, and apropos of nothing, she said, "I love Daddy more than you," in this very calm voice like she was just stating a fact. Aargh.

    I have blue eyes too, and I read somewhere recently that blue eyes lack some kind of pigment, so they actually change color depending on their surroundings.

    1. What everyone says is that kids say the worst things to the person (usually a parent) they most trust not to abandon them. So I guess it's a compliment. Just a painful one! And yes on blue eyes changing color; mine do all the time.

  2. Ouch. I ache for you dealing with your daughter.

    The day I got the call my mom entered hospice, I took a ferry from Long Island to Connecticut to be with her and witnessed a preteen talking to her mother in the way you just described. The "I hate you!" stabbed through me and after about ten minutes of this, I let out a sob that silenced half the boat. I screamed at this child, "I'm going to hospice to say goodbye to MY mother while you sit here and speak to yours like this? You're ungrateful and don't deserve the blessing you have."

    I grabbed my stuff and hid in the rest room for the rest of the trip because I was afraid I'd toss her spoiled little ass overboard.

    I hope your daughter and you are past this trying time.

    Hugs to you!

    1. Thanks, Patty! It was a tough couple of years and a particularly painful few months. I'm SO glad you said what you did to that preteen. I don't think anyone said it to my daughter, including my husband. He was just relieved she wasn't saying it to him. I stood alone. Very alone.

  3. Mary, I feel your pain! Or should say felt, because it is behind me, but the memory lingers. I hope you and your daughter have a better relationship now. And she was totally right about one thing--you are a good writer! PS: I wonder if that guy who complimented your skin knew the guy who praised my beautiful sneakers, LOL!

    1. Thanks, Janet! Yes, much better now. And hey, beautiful sneakers should be praised far and wide! :-)

  4. I firmly believe the best compliment, in the romantic interest category, is "Wow". Beautiful is over done. EVERYTHING can and is called beautiful. Lawns, landscaping, dogs, furniture, decor- you name it. So the word loses it's meaning. But when you get dressed up to go somewhere, and he sees you for the first time and says "Wow!"...nothing beats that.

    1. "Wow" is great … from a guy. From a teenage daughter, delivered with the right tone, it's more like "I can't believe you actually did that." lol. Both types of wow are very expressive! :-)

    2. I'll take a "Wow" any day as well. Thanks for sharing that story about your daughter.


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