Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wait, was that a compliment?

I was out with friends the other night to celebrate a pal’s birthday.

I bumped into a close girlfriend who’s been a great support system through my recent drama. She was with her husband, a nice guy I haven’t seen for a few months. We all chatted a bit before moving on to more interesting pursuits like beer and macaroni.

When I visited with my girlfriend the next day, she mentioned something her husband said after I left.

“I hardly recognized Tawna, she looked so ridiculously happy.”

The comment made me smile. It still makes me smile, because I know it was well-intentioned and because, in my opinion, being told I look happy is a much higher compliment than being told I have nice shoes or a great ass.

OK, maybe not the ass thing.

While I was basking in the glow of the compliment, I had to admit there was a flip-side to it. It was unintentional, to be sure, but was he suggesting that in recent months, I’ve looked like a depressed hag?

Hey, it’s possible that’s true. It’s also likely that’s not what he really meant, but isn’t that how backhanded compliments sometimes work?

One of the weirdest compliments I ever got was from the professional advisor at my college newspaper. I was working as the features editor and had known the advisor for several months when she addressed me in a staff meeting.

“You know, I didn’t think I was going to like you when we met,” she told me. “I thought you were too pretty.”

Um, what?

I suppose it’s a flattering thing for her to have said, though perhaps not a flattering reflection on her character. Is it really all that different than saying, “I thought I wouldn’t like you because you’re ugly?”

My most recent compliment-that-wasn’t-a-compliment was yesterday at the grocery store. I was buying a bottle of wine when the cashier asked for my ID. Grinning, I pulled it out of my wallet.

“Thanks so much!” I said, feeling young and spunky instead of 36 and entirely too eager to devour the wine while sitting at home alone in my pajamas. “No one ever cards me anymore.”

She shrugged. “I card everyone. Even if they look 60.”

Hey, at least the wine was good.

What’s the weirdest compliment you’ve ever received? Have you ever tried to give one and realized later that it might have a backhanded implication you didn’t intend? Please share!

Oh, and if you’d like to share the love, I encourage you to compliment one of your fellow commenters here. Let's start with lucky commenter #1, shall we?

Nice shoes. Great ass. You look ridiculously happy!


Missy said...

A bouncer once told me that I was hot for 40. Grrrrrr!

Dawn Alexander said...

I had a rather intoxicated guy compliment me at a wedding reception in Boston.I am from the south. He was gushing about my accent and how much he enjoyed listening to me talk.

"I could sit hear and just listen to you all night," he said. *insert me smiling and blushing here*."Yep, you sound just like my mother." Um, what?

Becky said...

I showed a decade old photograph to a friend of mine. She said, "Wow, no wonder your husband fell in love with you. You were so hot!"


Sarah W said...

As I was getting the next round for our table, a woman at the bar leaned on the bar next to me and asked, "Are those real?"

Her gaze wobbled a bit, so I'm still not sure whether she was referring to my anatomy, eyes, toenails, hair, earlobes, or the stones in my necklace.

The bartender shrugged, so I just said, "Yes."

"Lucky bleepin' you," she said and downed the rest of her drink in my honor (or possible not).

Ariana said...

Right after I lost my job, I had a friend/business reference tell me "make sure you have any potential employers call me. I'll tell them you have nice t*ts and they'll hire you in a second." Umm...glad I don't need to rely on my knowledge and business skills to get the job?

Linda G. said...

What sometimes leaves me wondering is not so much the compliment ("Wow! You look fantastic!") as the tone of surprise with which it's uttered. What? They were expecting my usual drab self?

Oh, and I must say, ALL of the comments so far today have been brilliant and insightful. Nice grammar, too. ;)

elizabethreinhardt said...

My ex-boyfriend recently wrote me a long, sappy email whining about his life and letting me know that he missed talking to me. He ended his pathetic litany of complaints with "You're one of the only people I've ever met who's almost as smart as I am." It was an awesome reminder of why I dumped him in the first place!

The Empress said...

What a nice idea.

I was thinking the same thing everyday.

We could all use a compliment.

The weirdest one?

I don't know..I don't feel like I get compliments enough

I know I'm generous with them.

Patty Blount said...

I get weird backhanded compliments all the time and now suspect that's just me and the way I take them.

Among the best of the worst was right after I'd had my son. I gained 46 pounds during that pregnancy and managed to get all but 6 of those pounds off by the time I returned to work two months later. I baptized my son when he was six weeks old so didn't want to spend a ton on a dress that wouldn't fit me in a few weeks.

It was April and I found a great bargain at my local Marshall's, a white dress with a flared skirt. It fit fine and was a style I could continue to wear as I lost weight.

At the church, my father hugged and kissed me and said, "Wow, you look great but when are you going to lose all the weight?"

Here's where it gets funnier. My grandmother was holding my new baby and said, "Oh, he's just so beautiful! He doesn't have your nose."

I got zinged twice in about five minutes.

Erin Brambilla said...

I think my favorite is, "You look really good for someone who had twins!" So, I guess for the average person I don't look so good, but since I have that "I had twins" disclaimer, I get a few bonus points.

Oh well. My Zumba instructor said she thought I was 25 (I'm 31), so I'll be riding high on that compliment for a long time :).

lynnrush said...

Great post.

I think the "funnest" compliment I get is, "Oh gosh, you don't look like you're in your thirties at all."

That makes me smile. Because I truly FEEL my "age" sometimes! LOL


Jenna McCarthy said...

One day I was putting on makeup as my two daughters (8 and 6) watched. "Why do you even wear makeup?" the 8-year-old wanted to know. "You look much prettier without it." Her sister (6) looked aghast. "What are you TALKING about?" she replied. "Mom's WAY prettier with make-up. But she's awesome!" That's our running joke around the house now; as long as you follow-up an insult with "but you're awesome", you're not a total asshole. (It's sort of like "bless her heart" in the South.) :)

lora96 said...

TOday three people told me I look pale.

I am pale.

Always have been.

But, um, thanks.

Delia said...

The best compliment I ever got was when a woman in the checkout carded me. I made the usual flattered squee noises while I fished around for my wallet. She told me I shouldn't be surprised to be carded in my 20s (I was 37). I told her my age while continuing to fish around (I really need to be more organized) and she didn't believe me. She then proceeded to grill me about my life -- how many kids I have (4), how long I've been married (15 years), etc. -- until I could get my license out and prove myself. She was still giving me the hairy eyeball when I left. That rocked.

The worst one I ever gave? I won't repeat it, but I do regret it. As soon as it left my mouth, all I could taste was foot, which was the exact opposite of my intention.

None of the people here would do that. They're obviously wonderful, intelligent people with exceptional taste.

Taymalin said...

You have the cutest overbite.


Laura Maylene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura Maylene said...

I had just started a new job and a coworker learned that I don't eat meat. She looked me up and down and said, "I usually think of vegetarians as being too thin, but you look very...healthy."

Patty, you are super thin and your nose is fabulous.

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm going to compliment Laura and say that you have the coolest headband!

Matthew MacNish said...

But, Tawna, I would argue that saying "I didn't think I would like you because you're ugly" and "I didn't think I would like you because you're pretty" are two very different things.

Neither one of them is very nice, and they probably both say a lot more about the speaker than the person they're talking to, but at least the pretty one has some semblance of twisted niceness, even if it's an incredibly shallow and insecure thing to say.

Malin said...

I was shopping with my dad when I was 13-14 and when I showed myself in a nice top, he said "you actually look slim in that". So - in anything else I looked fat?

Teri Anne Stanley said...

Malin, that comment totally makes your butt look really tight.

My daughter (13) and her friend were in the backseat of the car gushing over how pretty the friend's mom is (and yes, she is pretty).
All of a sudden, my daughter got really quiet and then said, "Mom, you're pretty too. But your REALLY cool."
Huh. Actually, I'll take "cool" over as pretty as Gabby's mom any day. I think.

Carrie said...

I was in Cancun with my roommates on Spring Break a MILLION years ago, when our waiter leaned over the table and said "You have BEAUTIFUL eyebrows."

And then he touched them.

Say, what?

Laura Maylene said...

"I didn't think I'd like you because you're so pretty" says a LOT more about the speaker than the person she's talking to. And none of it is very flattering.

Matthew, thank you for the kind compliment! Though I suppose it could be considered a backhanded compliment to all the other readers who happen to be wearing headbands. :)

Michelle Miles said...

"Oh, I thought you were older."

Gee, thanks.

Malin said...

:D Teri, I'd give you a compliment right back, but I'm too good at giving backhanded ones so I'd probably end up insulting someone.

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

It wasn't a backhanded one, but the weirdest compliment I got was, "I named my bottle of lotion Raven." It was kind of hot.

HoldenLyric said...

Yesterday. Gas Station:

"Hey girl, you ever scare people with those big blue eyes?"

Last week:

"You're like, eh, beautiful honey. Smoking is like gas. Never eat gas and honey. You ruin the beauty."

The Sprouting Acorn said...

While in high school, eons ago, a foreign exchange student told me I was "beautiful." I've never forgotten it… I should have married him -- or at least asked him out on a date (but girls just didn't do much of that type of thing back then). ;)

Was recently at a bar/food place and ordered a coke. The waitress insisted that I had to be carded for simply sitting in the bar side. I flipped out my license, she barely glanced at it. I guess the excise men just have to see them go through the motions. I asked, "Okay, how old am I?" She said, "I don't know, but I know you're way over 21." Hmm. Gee thanks, beotch.

Meredith said...

It was midnight, I was in the check out line of the local grocery, and my sick ten-month-old son was balanced on my hip. Since my husband was out of town, I had to take the little guy with me to get his medication. The guy in front me (who was probably 45, so ten years or so older than I was) said, oh what a cute baby. Is he your grandson?

I was definitely in my sweats, and I'm sure I hadn't combed my hair that day, and just maybe I smelled like sour milk and throw up. So, skanky I could accept. But *old* and skanky? At least the checkout lady rolled her eyes.

kd easley said...

I was signing some paperwork and someone leaned over and said, you have a beautiful signature. I answered, thank you, I've been working on it for a long time. When I thought about my comment later, I cracked up. I have worked on my signature for long time, I sign books now, when I had race cars, I signed autographs and that's what I was thinking of when I answered, but really, when you get right down to it, we've all been working on our signature for a long time. Pretty much since we learned to spell our name, so every time I think of my answer I still crack up.

kd easley said...

On compliments, when my kids were little, they were looking through a photo album and came upon a photo of me when I was nineteen or twenty. Oooh, my son said, pretty lady. Who is it?


Jeffe Kennedy said...

I'm with Linda - it's the note of surprise that gets me. Once I was carded (and okay, I'm 44, so it's a stretch), the cashier looked at my birthdate, looked at me again and said "whoa! I guess you're nowhere near 21. I'm shocked!"

Um, yeah, thanks!

And KD? You're way too pretty to have a son!

Tawna Fenske said...

Every single person who has commented is brilliant, talented, sweet and exceptionally good looking.

Man, I love this compliment thing!


Liz Hayes said...

A few years ago I was checking into a smallish chain hotel in a tourist town. It was the same hotel where I'd stayed one night the previous year, but nothing notable happened (to my knowledge) during the previous stay.

As I was checking in the second time, the receptionist (same one who'd checked me in the first time) asked if I needed any travel guides, maps, etc. I said no, I'd been there before and had in fact stayed at that hotel before.

Her: "I thought so. I recognized your eyelashes."

Me: "Huh?"

Her: "You have really long eyelashes. I remember them."

Me: "Oh. Um... thanks?"

I wish she would have asked if they were fake so I could say, "They're real and they're spectacular."

Simon C. Larter said...

One time I was on a roadtrip and a guy followed me into the parking lot of a Wendy's, or something, and all-but asked for a quickie. I guess that's a compliment, or sorts. Or maybe he was just really horny.

I politely declined. True story.

Also, in the complimenting your commenters vein: Jeffe has wonderful taste in shoes. :)