Compliments are a lot like oral sex — more enjoyable to receive than to give. Anyone who says otherwise has self esteem issues or ulterior motives.
No matter what end of the exchange you are on, it’s tricky. Patrons walk the fine line between being unconvincingly curt or uncomfortably effusive. Recipients have an equally tough call to make: immediate reciprocation seems disingenuous, but a simple flushed “thank you” appears unappreciative.
Do you hug? Send a follow-up ‘Thank You’ e-card? If I had the funds, I always thought a basket of mini-muffins lined with personalized affirmations would be a very gracious gesture.
But what happens when the compliment being paid is not quite a compliment? When someone slips in a sort of compliment-head-fake? They warm you up, only to jab you right in the baby-maker.
Confused? Let me explain. About five different people ‘complimented’ my conscientious objection to Halloween by saying, “Well, you’re sort of always wearing a costume.”
“Um, thank you?”
Any ‘compliment’ that elicits the above response, is not actually a compliment. This mutant strain of admiration has been socially engineered to slip through a loop hole in the ‘If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it’ clause. Clever girl.
Posing as praise, these backhanded-compliments are slipped into conversation like iocane powder into wine. (three points if you get this obscure movie reference)
Let us look back at the brightest and the best barbs: the ones that snuffed out the last remaining light of offhanded graciousness in me and drew me closer to the dark side known as self deprecation.
1) Compliment In Question: “You sure don’t look like you weigh ***lbs”
Culprit: Mrs. Cullen, the middle school nurse.
Crime: In the spring of 7th grade she shattered my fragile self-image by informing me that I was apparently shockingly heavier than I appeared.
Point of Clarification: So, you’re saying I’m fat?
My Comeback: Luckily I was facing away from her; otherwise I would have spewed black venom directly into her eyes — Jurassic Park style. Instead I stood around awkwardly in my paper gown as the crimson flush of self-hatred and shame washed over me. Then I excused myself and went into the bathroom to throw up. This proved to be a futile act on my part — as I had not eaten anything since September. Man, thwarted at every turn!
2) Compliment in Question: “Your Mom is gorgeous. You look just like your Dad.”
Culprit: A very dear friend.
Crime: This moment ended whatever delusions I had about being attractive in a ‘different’, more ‘ethnic’ way than my mother. I always thought, “well she’s lighter skinned and shorter and her nose is smaller and her boobs are bigger,” but that does not mean that I am flat-out uglier … or does it?
Point of Clarification: Does it?! You’re not saying that my Dad is unattractive. But you are saying that my Mom is gorgeous. And just to be perfectly clear, I do NOT look like my gorgeous Mother. You’re not so much insulting me, as you are complimenting her … I guess?
My Comeback: I laughed in my friend’s face. Nothing else to be done. When I relayed the compliment back to my Mom she refuted the statement too fervently for it not to be at least a little true. My Dad was my real source of comfort and perspective when he laughed in my face, clapped his hands together and exclaimed, “Ha! My wife is hot!” Thanks Dad, that’s awesome. This specific incident of insult was cited when I had to explain to the same friend why I can never, ever sleep with him.
3) Compliment in Question: “You were brave to break it off. It never would have worked. He was such a good guy.”
Culprits: Almost everyone who knew ‘Us’.
Crime: We have a flag thrown! Instant Replay reveals that family and friends were off-sides on that backhanded compliment. Team Sikdar: You can not feign sympathy and support for me while simultaneously siding with my opponent! Sit your asses back down on the bench.
Point of Clarification: Are you suggesting that I am perhaps not such a good gal? Hmmm? Hm?!
My Comeback: I get it — he was a really nice guy. We all get it — I am not a very nice girl. In fact, there is now a baseline level of benevolent evil required of all potential partners. I am not seeking a psychopath, just an everyday kind of guy who suppresses his impulse to kick little dogs when walking to and from class. Besides — with the exception of Quakers, Gandhi and Mother Teresa — goodness is not a terribly interesting personality trait. Good is bland. Good is boring. Good is overrated!
4) Compliment in Question: “You ACTUALLY look amazing.”
Culprit: Too many to name (family, friends, classmates, professors …).
Crime: The old overly expressive and insistent compliment that betrays shock, nay disbelief and therefore is as insulting as it is lovely.
Point of Clarification: How were you expecting me to look? Or more importantly, how bad do you think I usually look?
My Comeback: You say it as if you expected me to show up here unshowered, strung out with sweaty palms and dressed in some hot-glued-Basmati-Rice-Sack getup. My family nods in confirmation. They are speechless. I have pulled myself together to such a spectacular extent that strangers are staring at me (even if those same strangers then stare at my mom and sister more). Two points for Jana! See I CAN look amazing. It’s within my capabilities, I just usually CHOOSE not to.
In the end I most certainly receive more than I give. Therefore it is statistical certainty that I will have a greater number of backhanded-compliment fly my way.
That and the fact that apparently people have a great deal of passive aggressive anger toward me.
Jana Sikdar thinks you’re swell, and she really truly means it.