I have a hard time with compliments. I can give them, no problem… <grin> and while I am able to accept them… knowing that etiquette prescribes a simple “thank you” and if possible, graceful deflection to another (never a flat demurral or contradiction)… deep down inside I always find myself wondering what ulterior motive the complimenter had for making the comment in question. To look for a reason beyond face value seems mistrustful, cynical even, but it’s a tendency born of experience and, in a sense, sophistication.
Example: the sales woman at White House Black Market tells me I look beautiful in the dress I’ve tried on. “It’s perfect on you!” she enthuses. “Really?” I ask hesitantly, “I think this style might be better on a taller person…” “Oh, no! It’s very flattering! Absolutely beautiful!” she responds energetically. “Let me find you some shoes to go with that!” I know what she’s thinking. I wasn’t born yesterday. She’s thinking (and so am I, for that matter) about the commission on a $250 dress. Do I really look beautiful? Probably not. Is it the best style on me? I don’t have any idea. And the sales woman isn’t helping, because I can’t trust her.
“Oh my goodness,” the esthetician at Voci says in awe, “you have the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen.” “Umm…” I reply, “I think they’re pretty average. I mean, with mascara these days anyone can have long eyelashes.” I laugh pleasantly, to disguise the fact that I don’t believe her. Over the course of an hour, she comments on no less than 6 different aspects of my appearance, from my “adorable” shoes to my “amazing” skin. I know what she wants… my money, of course. Who knows what she’s really thinking? It’s probably not even about me!
Then there’s men. The man at the gas station who tells me I’m hot. The man on the highway: “Did it hurt? When you fell from heaven? ‘Cause you look like an angel.” The man at the bookstore who says it makes his day when I come in there. I could go on… but you get the idea. Those are strangers. We all know what they want.
Besides, it’s extremely rare these days for anyone to mean what they say, especially teenagers – starting with standard “polite” responses… (“I’m fine.” Come on, is that ever true??) Typical conversations are covered with such a heavy veneer of superficiality that honesty appears to have gone by the wayside. Sometimes I see it as a type of reflex, mostly from girls: see someone>choose one element to mention. “Hey, I like your <fill in the blank>.” The expression may be true, but at the same time I don’t think it comes from the heart.
Am I suspicious? Maybe. Do I have good cause to be this way? Perhaps. It’s hard to judge when a compliment is sincere or when it’s flattery in disguise.
But you know, if I believed everything I was told, I’d be an insufferably prideful person. Isn’t it better to take compliments with a grain of salt… and cultivate a healthy sense of humility and self-awareness?