Most of us know when we’re looking good… for “us.” That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate recognition of extra effort (and a positive result). And it’s likely we may be hoping to garner a compliment.
Perhaps we’ve been working out for weeks and the skinny jeans are fitting perfectly. Perhaps we finally risked that messy curly cut — in platinum blond! Perhaps we’ve been burning the midnight oil on a personal project that challenged our skills, and we nailed it. Although we know we accomplished something important, it would be so sweet to hear an affirming comment from the one we love.
Sure, we know we perform well most of the time. But we’d still like to get that compliment. So what happens if we don’t? How are we left hanging? How does the absence of a good word leave us insecure or worse, resentful?
Some people understand the positive reinforcement that comes from a compliment, and those people give out praise freely. But others just don’t seem to get it. And when the person who doesn’t compliment you is someone you care about, after a while, the void where a kind word ought to be becomes very, very hard to take.
Compliments shouldn’t be automatic. And nor is a compliment purely a matter of etiquette, of stroking the ego or idle flattery, or using words as a way to coax and cajole and get your way. Compliments are about affirming something special — an achievement, a risk taken that was hard, a great day, an exceptional effort. Compliments are also reassurance before you’re about to step out into a more public venue than usual, and therefore, supportive and positive words may stem the swell of nerves.
E. Jean takes on the topic of compliments, or their absence, in her advice column on Elle. And she got me to thinking about how many relationships I’ve had where I received no compliments, few acknowledgments, and had to ask (or beg) to receive even one.
A simple “you look great” is very effective, and NOT when it follows rapid fire utterances of the “How do I look, how do I look, how do I look” or the “do I look OK” variety! Those are annoying. Those reek of rampant insecurity. Those never elicit helpful responses. So STOP already!
On the other hand, do allow yourself a genuine and specific request for input — if you truly want to hear the response, and you know you’ll get an honest answer from the person you are asking.
I also realize I haven’t given out a kind word at moments when I should have, and no doubt others suffered as my lack of complimentary acknowledgment left a noticable empty space.
For some of us, when the little compliments stop, it may signal that the romance is over. In most relationships, the romance winds down but hopefully, doesn’t disappear into the ethos. But if it grinds to a halt on something as simple as “you look great today” or “thanks for noticing that I needed another cup of coffee” — well, we’re not wrong in thinking we’re being taken for granted.
The Importance of Compliments (and a Thank You)
Compliments (and thank you’s) matter. A compliment is a specific type of acknowledgment, one that says “I’m still paying attention, I’m noticing, I’m appreciating.”
Don’t we always want that in our relationships — whether they’re five weeks old, five months old, five years old or even 55 years old and going strong? Isn’t an essential element of “going strong” the result of being in tune with your partner and noticing the little things that matter to him or her?
While E. Jean’s resentful reader is specifically seeking a compliment on her appearance, and she gives many to her boyfriend…
E. Jean writes:
… No woman should live even a day without being admired; when a woman is admired, she becomes dangerous.
A Note on Happiness
It seems to me that happiness is founded on a thousand tiny gestures and moments, on a basic kindness you can count on from those in your life, on understanding that each of us is flawed and will make mistakes of commission and omission. Demystifying happiness requires that we come to understand what is fundamental in maintaining the machinery of our connections as well as our households; appreciation, attentiveness and a good word, thoughtful and well placed, are essential bridges we must extend to each other daily.
I may find E. Jean’s sentiment a wee bit over the top — lovely in a 1940s film sort of way. What I believe is this: Women and men benefit from a sprinkling of sincere praise.
We should all be admired by those who say they love us. We are all motivated at least in part by the way those closest to us esteem us. And we can all use a little positive reinforcement when it comes to sticking to our diets, remaining diligent in our studies after work, and caring for our families in a hundred tiny ways that we pursue out of love, responsibility and kindness.
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