Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | February 3, 2010

Compliments of the House…

I’ve been contemplating this post for a while, so it’s interesting to see the subject come up among others in my “blog family” as well. The issue: giving and receiving compliments.

The fact is, I’m bad at it, and I want to become better at it. Both giving and receiving.

I think, over the years, I’ve managed to at least become a little more graceful in receiving them. I certainly love to hear compliments, which is interesting given that I often nonetheless manage to doubt the message… without doubting the messenger. If someone says, “I like your XXX,” I think to myself, “No, my XXX is awful,” but at the same time, I don’t think to myself, “That person is a bad judge of XXXs.”

I know I’m not the only person who does that — who denies the validity of a compliment without disregarding the person offering it.

A friend of mine made a comment recently that she thought I’d look ‘hot’ if I shaved my head.

Several years ago, I went skiing for the first time. Worked up a sweat, of course, but while wearing a heavy knit hat. Took off said hat toward the end, and a friend snapped a picture. The nature of being all sweaty and having had that hat on meant my hair was plastered to my skull, and because my hair was more blond at the time than it is now, it had the effect of making me look bald. I saw that picture, and I said, “Oh. My. God. I look like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family.”

So here I am now, overweight and balding — and, worse yet, what little hair I do have left is no longer the color I’ve always identified myself as having — and this beautiful woman says I’d look ‘hot’ with a bald head. Do I think, “Well, that’s promising, given the direction my hairline is taking?”

No. Instead, I think:


The thing is, it’s not like I think she has bad taste in men. In fact, I have every reason to believe that she has excellent, discriminating taste. I also have no reason to believe that she’s putting me on. But my reaction is nonetheless akin to thinking that her taste must be flawed where I am concerned.

I’m sure part of my automatic rejection of compliments is an effort to make sure I don’t get a big head. (Heh. Big head. Like Uncle Fester. Heh.) But part of it clearly must also be tied to self-doubt.

I know I am well-served to keep some small amount of healthy self-doubt. But how do I know where the dividing line is between a respectful desire to continue improving myself and a plain ol’ unhealthy, negative self-image?

When I say I’m at least more graceful now at receiving compliments, I mean to say that I’ve gotten better at acknowledging them. (Now, instead of saying “Please don’t. Stop.” I say, “Please, don’t stop.”) How I process them internally is still a work in progress.

But even more difficult for me is offering compliments.

My college experience consisted, among other things, of being told that women are not — repeat NOT! — to be viewed as sexual objects. Political correctness was on the rampage — all compliments were to be viewed with suspicion as manipulative attempts to subjugate the recipient. “You look beautiful,” clearly objectifies the woman you say this to, and “I like the way you’ve done your hair today,” represents the imposition of fashion standards by the male-dominated society upon the subservient female class.

I guess this problem ties into the first: that in a culture where compliments are to be met with cynicism, it is easy both to doubt them when they are offered, but also to doubt the wisdom of extending them in the first place.

There was this one time when a friend of mine (who, let’s face it, was, in fact, sexually voracious) and I went to the offices of a student organization, and one of the women there was looking particularly attractive that day. Except, while I simply thought that thought, my friend went so far as to say, “Doreen, you look positively glowing today. That look really suits you.”

To the extent that Doreen was already glowing, her glow increased five-fold. Oh my, how she brightened at his compliment.

Wow, I thought to myself. You can actually say that to a woman? It’s okay to compliment a woman on how she looks? THAT’S OKAY?!?

But I’ve always been uncomfortable offering compliments, no matter how much I felt they needed to be said. I’ve always worried that they would be received as some cynical attempt at manipulation. And… I’m not that guy. I’m not the cynical manipulator.

I was talking with a female friend the other day who said, at least four times during our conversation, words to the effect of, “it’s getting later, and I’m not getting any prettier.” And I just wanted to say, “Look, you! You are a very attractive woman, so stop putting yourself down like that!”

But I didn’t want it to sound like a come-on. (Like yelling at a person to stop putting themselves down would be a come-on. But you get my point.) I didn’t have any ulterior motives, but I feared that it would sound like I did.

[Note to said friend: beauty isn’t about freshly-showered versus end-of-day hair! You are beautiful anyway! Note to self: why can you see that your friend is attractive regardless of whether she has a trim bod or a fresh do, but you can’t accept the notion that you might be attractive to someone even though you don’t have a trim bod or fresh do, yourself?]

You know what just occurred to me?

I can’t think of any compliments my wife has ever given me, even when we were at our best together.

I remember her saying once, “You should wear that kind of shirt more often.”

But never, “You look good in that shirt.”

So, how do I learn to do a better job of offering compliments, given a dearth of experience both giving and receiving? How do I become more comfortable letting my friends (and strangers!) know I value them?

This is not a rhetorical question. This is important.

Let me say that again: This. Is. Important.

Why? Because it is important to me to be able to better connect with people. I need that. And it’s important to me to be a force for good. The more I can shine my light, perhaps the more the world around me will become brighter. Yes, Gabe is on my mind as I write this, but I’ve been thinking about this long before I saw Gabe’s final poetry slam performance. I want to be a force for good. And making the people around me feel good about themselves matters.

What’s more, I’d like to be able to offer that to potential future dates and romantic partners. I want to be a better romantic partner. I want to be able to speak truthfully and plainly about what I like in another person without it coming across as merely some attempt at getting them to bed, regardless of whether I’m actually trying to get them into bed. You know? ie, Just because I want you to sleep with me doesn’t mean that I don’t sincerely think you’re beautiful.

I did offer my soon-to-be-ex-wife compliments. Often. Either I wasn’t offering those compliments well, or she wasn’t receiving them well. I need to know if I can do better. Again… it matters.

It has occurred to me that I could try modeling what I see and hear around me. But, the funny thing is, most of what I see and hear around me is women talking with other women. “Ohhh, that looks great!” A guy can’t quite get away with that sing-songy approach. And even so, I simply don’t have that many people around me who do much in the way of offering each other compliments.

What are your thoughts, dear reader? Oh, and allow me to say, I’ve sincerely appreciated all of the comments you’ve been making on my posts. You are not only thoughtful and intelligent, dear reader, but you are also, each and every one of you, “wicked fucking hot.”



  1. Wow. No one’s called me wicked fucking hot before. Are you trying to come on to me?

    PS. For the record, it’s that little picture in picture while Skyping that messes me up. And I think that by almost 4am, I was beyond end of day hair. You are too kind. And you make me laugh…A LOT.

    (See how this compliment thing works…easy, huh?)

    • My knee-jerk response whenever someone would say I was funny was to respond, “Yes, but looks aren’t everything!”

      Funny how that ties together with your comment, and this post in general, plus my previous post about trying to refrain from self-deprecating humor….

  2. I rock at compliments. I never used to, but at varsity I made a conscious decision first of all about receiving them. I saw other women reply to compliments with “no, but I’m to…” and it sounded stupid. So i remembered my gran’s advice. Smile, say thank you, shut up.
    Then I noticed how easily compliments made other people warm up. So even though making them made me feel fakey fake (even when I meant them) I decided to just jump in. The second something occurs to me, I don’t think about whether it’s important enough to say or if it’s the right compliment, I just say it. Quickly, no big deal, move on. And you can see people respond. The more important compliments which are really affirmations, I do think abput more. Sincerity is key. And simplicity. And with a partner, sometimes I tell him wjat I know he wants to hear. Something that reinfprces who he sees himself as. And if you can make it lighthearted and loving, all the better. How do you think my ex got his nickname? 😉

  3. I also rock at giving compliments to people I know. If I see something I like, I blurt it right out. I’d like to be more open to complimenting strangers. I’ve seen women at the store, mall, etc with killer outfits and I’ve been dying to compliment them but am afraid I’ll seem like a creeper. When it comes to men complimenting me, if it’s a guy I’m dating or a friend, great. I get a bit more skeptical when it’s coming from a male stranger. Or a co-worker.

  4. I agree with capclassique, compliments ARE affirmations. They affirm the value and existence of people. In fact, you’re probably great at compliments — to your boys. We compliment our children A LOT. We affirm their behavior, attitudes, knowledge, and appearance. Case in point, I tell my son his hair and eyes are beautiful. I want him to know that I think he’s beautiful. Therefore, work around what you know with kids and apply it outward. I make it a point to compliment people often. While it CAN be a manipulation, it can also just be about a beautiful moment. I compliment people I exercise with, my co-workers, as well as strangers in the store. The reaction you have (No, really, I’m not all that…) is common. Part of it is humility, but a large part of it is not hearing anything positive about yourself from others. This is a needed and missing part of our society.

  5. SO funny that we were both thinking about the same thing – taking and receiving compliments. I’m the same way – someone says, oh you look great, or, have you lost weight? I think, either a – they thought I was fat or b – my knee-jerk reaction is to say “no, I haven’t, but I’m trying” or something completely opposite of said comment, attempting to negate it. It’s not healthy, that’s for sure. And, similarly, I don’t remember a lot of complimenting with my ex either – he was one for compliments towards the beginning, but staleness took over, and I don’t remember too many compliments between us…at least any that felt heartfelt. Live and learn.

  6. You are right – compliments are hard to give and receive, but I think doing so with grace is a sign of growing up (even if it has taken me over three decades to do said growing up). I like capclassique’s gran’s way of saying it. And like NYSoonerGirl – I’ve become the type to just blurt it out when I have something nice to say to a friend instead of worrying about how it will come across… though I do understand all the subtext issues that a male might have to deal with when speaking to a woman.

    You put a lot of thought into your posts and I wanted to tell you I appreciate reading them. And also, I think bald guys are “wicked fucking hot” – seriously, Patrick Stewart (yum), Bruce Willis after he shaved his head… and most recently and a complete surprise to me, John Travolta in the previews for his new movie. So if your friend says you’d look hot with a shaved dome and the hairline is creeping back, maybe you should embrace it!

  7. Oh lord, your post made my head spin. I have to go lie down now. Let me first say though that you should feel free to practice with me 😀 Also, it’s okay to say what you like. “I like that outfit”. Or to offer constructive feedback, “that colour looks great on you”. Essentially, any compliment is going to be an expression of attraction, because that’s exactly what caused you to notice it in the first place, no?

  8. I have never been able to take a compliment. I love that people give me them and I never underestimate who is saying it or their motive, but as you do, I seem to doubt myself as to feeling worthy of receiving it.
    I think for me it comes from a poor self value which I am working hard on.
    As for giving them, I make a conscious effort to tell people the nice things I see as often as I can. I like to make people feel good. I do however catch myself being smart-assy more than necessary when giving a compliment makes me feel uncomfortable.
    Not sure if that makes sense??

  9. I think that taking a compliment well is something people have to learn- modest people, anyway. I read somewhere years ago that men find it unflattering when they compliment a women and she puts herself down… and that’s always stuck with me. Over the last year or so I’ve actually been making a concious effort to say “thank you :D” when someone gives me a compliment, even if I don’t believe it.

    I got my hair cut a couple weeks ago. EVERYONE (and I mean literally everyone) in my office complimented me on it and after saying a few times “Oh thanks, it’s not really what I was hoping for, it makes me look too young” I finally realized I was being negative and switched back to “Thank you :D” and left it at that.

    Reading your post does however make me realize that I need to vocalize MY compliments to others more often. Imagine how good I could make people feel? Perhaps some of the happiness I’m putting out there into the world will come back to me. I think they key though, is to remain genuine.

    Let’s try it! I’m on a mission…

  10. dude I am a PRO at recieving compliments!!

    Esp when guys tell me I’m pretty, I say “I know” and smile and they always crack up. People aren’t used to confident girls…they always expect us to be demure but not me, and I think guys like that. sometimes I switch it up with a “thank you” but I don’t think I’ve EVER responded to a compliment with “oh no, thats not true!”

    I also LOVE giving compliments to strangers. at bars and clubs, i always compliment other girls’ shoes. it just gives you that extra boost of confidence and I love to pass that on to people. A random compliment is seriously one of the greatest cheap gifts you can give to people…

    great post!

  11. Wicked fucking hot? Me? Thanks!

    I really like your XXX. And believe me, I’m an awesome judge of XXX.

  12. I haven’t ever seen you, so I’m offering my opinion blindly, but I have never seen a balding man who would not look a million times better just getting rid of hair altogether, either by buzzing it very close or shaving it entirely (I consider these to be interchangable, depending on personal preference).

    Again, I haven’t seen you, so I’m speaking generally, but the hair that’s left generally acts as a neon sign pointing to the hair that’s not there. Now that I’m dating as an older person, there are a lot more receding hairlines out there, and I’ve found it terribly distracting when someone appears to be hanging onto what’s left; it ages them. That’s shallow of me, I’m sure, but there you have it. I have even repeatedly wondered to my friends why, oh WHY these guys don’t just face facts and return themselves to their former hotness by taking their hair out of the equation. On the other hand, when I see a balding man who keeps his hair short, he’s sending a message: “I know how to deal with reality. I solve problems, baby, and I don’t look back.”

    Forgive this assvice; I figured it might help you get the hotties, and giving it to anyone but a stranger I haven’t ever seen would be sort of impolite, so I thought I’d do you a solid while I was in a position to do so. This is one of those things that precious few people feel comfortable being honest with their friends about, myself included!

  13. Just be yourself!!!! I think bald men are sexy and skinny guys are not. As far as the compliments, start with the small stuff and be sincere. Smile a lot and make her laugh. Funny guys are fun to be with…chicks dig fun guys.

  14. Upon reflection, a couple of things stand out to me — not just about this post but all the posts I’ve read. First you admit that you overhauled yourself to be the kind of man Penny could marry. Since I don’t know the particulars to this time frame other than you were working to make a go at a business, I have to wonder, were your core values that dissimilar from hers? What did you give up in order to be her husband/Knight in Shining Armor? Also, WHY did you want to do this? You readily admit that you weren’t really in love with her passionately when this demand was made? Why not run fast run far? Why did you decide to step up to the plate to be that man, and in turn then fall in love with her? The reason I mention this is that, once again, you’re assuming there is something wrong with you. You gave Penny compliments, but she wasn’t receptive. I’m sure it’s occurred to you, but have you ever seriously entertained, that NOTHING you do would/will make her happy? In the pit of my stomach is this idea that she gave you the ultimatum hoping you’d give up. Instead you ran balls to the wall to become THAT MAN. Rather than admit that maybe you weren’t the person she really wanted, she was stuck having to be with you because look at everything you did for her. Maybe, just maybe, you both walked into this under false pretenses and then just tried to make the best of it. The other reason I address this is, even though you ARE STILL MARRIED, you are worried about how to please the next person. You’re already looking to change, to make yourself attractive to the NEXT PERSON. To MAKE THIS LONGER this is what I tell my students. “Right now, sitting here, someone has already had a crush on you. In fact, more than one person. At many different times in your life people will think you’re smart, cute, funny, and charming. All without your having done ANYTHING more than be the person you are. You do not have to change to please the person you are meant to be with because that person will love the you that you are. You are already special, you don’t need to change to catch that person who already sees you this way.” To which case I discourage them from doing anything that goes against the person they are. I am doing the same here. Take care of being the best person you can be regardless of dating. That special person will come, attracted by all the special you WILL have to offer. All this other stuff is static which interferes with what really needs to happen — business, job, separation, divorce, therapy/meditation, being a single dad, and happy being alone.

  15. I have a problem with both giving and receiving compliments. I’ve taught myself to, when receiving a compliment, simply say a gracious “thank you” and let it go, regardless of what I really think. I always hate it when women do the, “Oh, but…” and I don’t want to do that. I have to remind myself to actually GIVE the compliments that I think – all too often, I think, “oh, wow, I like [whatever],” but I don’t actually voice that thought. I’m teaching myself, little by little.

    (oh, and everything Suzanne said – word.)

  16. […] 5, 2010 by itneverrainsinseattle As Suzanne reminded me in a recent comment on this blog, I need to keep my eye on the prize with regard to the matters at hand: job, […]

  17. Sigh. I’m sorry to be the one here psycho-analyzing you, but with posts like this I can’t help it. Maybe I should just go be a therapist and get this all out of my system.

    You asked for feedback, so here it is.

    Two things jumped out at me, hidden under a veil of a post about compliments:

    1) You have a hard time accepting love or realizing your value – in the way of compliments (ie someone says it, and you reject it inwardly)

    2) You were taught at a young age to *NOT* view women as sex objects.

    Can we recap for a second?

    You are now leaving a marriage where

    1) Your wife doesn’t value you at all, and most of the last 15 were spent with YOU trying to value HER. It was never reciprocated. Your marriage sort of reinforced the way you already felt about yourself, no?

    2) Your marriage was completely sex-less, mostly due to a woman who rejected you sexually.

    It pains me so deeply to wonder how this could not be a coincidence. We often put ourselves in situations that reflect back to us things we already subconsciously believe (man I’m having a bad day – and look! I just got in a car accident! That proves it!).. it happens in big picture situations too, especially relationships.

    I hope this isn’t too harsh.. I wouldn’t know so much about it if I hadn’t already experienced it first hand myself (and the subsequent rude awakening that I had somehow contributed to my situation – oh, the horror!). The only reason I insist on pointing this out is because the only thing worse than getting yourself in a bad marriage is getting out of it, and then “accidentally” getting into the same situation again. You have NO idea how common this is – especially in people who don’t stop to figure out why, truly, their first marriage failed in the first place, and what responsibility THEY had in making that happen.

    Also, I’ve included my “real” email address in these comments for a reason.. I don’t believe in posting something that could be taken the wrong way anonymously (too many people rely on anonymity of the internet to say rude and hurtful things).. so if you want to contact me (or yell at me) off your blog, please feel free.

    All the best to you!!

  18. BTW: I say all of that too because you deserve to love YOURSELF, and therefore let others LOVE YOU. When that happens, you’ll draw in a woman who thinks you’re the cat’s pajamas, and won’t ask you to change a thing to suit her (per Suzanne’s post). I just say all of that because that situation can only start once you open yourself to finding someone who wants to give you that much love. 🙂

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