Casey Quinlan, a contributor to the Atlantic, was recently on a very bad date. "You haven't given me any compliments yet. I've complimented you plenty of times," the man she was out with said to her. Instead of immediately leaving, the conversation prompted her to think about how men take compliments – or don't take them.
Quinlan posits that men rarely "openly express a desire to be praised for [their] looks." She wonders why she doesn't compliment men for their looks more:
When I Googled, "men given compliments on appearance," Google suggested I try, "Men give compliments on appearance."
The concept of women complimenting men on their appearance can still seem foreign. Men are often portrayed as using compliments as a social tool, but do they themselves want to be applauded for their physical attributes?
Quinlan covers a lot of ground in her piece, arguing that according to research and studies, men feel uncomfortable getting compliments because of expectations of masculinity, women feel uncomfortable giving men compliments because of expectations of femininity. Essentially, men don't want to demand compliments because it might make them look too needy and women don't want to give them because they might look too assertive.
Except that this has no anecdotal accuracy to real life, whether that life is mine or belongs to the people around me. I give men compliments, physical or otherwise, probably as much as I give them to women. Which is to say, not too much. The real issue here is not whether men are being complimented enough but that we've created a culture of complimenting wherein every little thing has to be praised so that eventually, the person you're praising doesn't even know whether what you're saying is genuine or not.
This manifests itself most in giving someone a compliment who then, feeling the pressure of being polite, doesn't just say "Thank you" but feels the need to tell you that you too have fantastic hair that day. The nerve! They have just taken away some of the value of what you just said to them by diluting it with their own likely inaccurate response.
Life is better when someone means something and you know they mean something. To that end, some people [*cough* me] have developed a strategy of being mean to people we love as a sign of affection in order to differentiate ourselves from the over-complimenting masses. Does this sarcasm as affection, as my colleague Madeleine Davies calls it, lead to confusion? Absolutely. But, according to Madeleine, "There's an ol' twinkle in my eye that gives it away."
Ah, but what happens when said Kris Kringle Twinkle isn't noted, and your teasing is misinterpreted as just being mean? Terrible things. Most of the social mishaps in my life* have been caused by allowing my sarcasm as a substitute for romantic and platonic flirting to run wild. And yet, I push on. At this point, it's become an impenetrable part of my personality. And all because the giving and receiving of compliments is so fraught that I felt the need to go against the grain at a young age.
No matter what your strategy, hopefully we can agree on one thing: if someone tells you you haven't complimented them enough, no matter what your respective genders, that's a good time to tell them that you think they're an asshole – and to be completely and utterly serious.
* There's no way to tell if this is true but it feels true.
Image via ElliotKo/Shutterstock