Why Can’t We Just Accept a Compliment?

November 12, 2017
November 12, 2017 Betsy Voreacos

Why Can’t We Just Accept a Compliment?

“I love the color of your hair!” the bare-breasted, middle-aged woman in the gym locker room gushed as I was making my wet-headed escape after Aquacize class last week. “It’s beautiful.”

It’s hard for me to go anywhere in life without using it as a launching ground for making new friends. But, I have long prided myself on my self-imposed solitary social confinement at the gym. If I added chatting to my workout routine, I’d be killing half a day rather than half a morning on the obsessive exercise that seems to have absolutely no effect on my ever-growing girth. So, I was a bit taken aback when the long-haired, butt-naked woman confronted me in the locker room.

“Oh, thanks!” I said. “I pay enough for it!”

Thinking to myself, you have no idea what I go through at the beauty parlor.

“It’s beautiful,” she reiterated.

“Well it is pretty much my natural color, but it is definitely dyed.”

“It looks so soft,” she continued.

“Soft?” I said, involuntarily patting down my coarse, spiky locks. “I wouldn’t go that far.”

“It’s beautiful,” she said yet again.

“Ha!” I said. “You made my day.”

Before I reached the end of the aisle and before I was able to answer that inner voice that asked, “How can she even tell what color my hair is? It’s soaking wet!” I heard her turn to the woman at the locker next to her.

“Why couldn’t she just accept the compliment and say, thank you?”

Now, equally as important to me as my need to make friends is my need to not be misunderstood. So, so many random things come out of my mouth that I can’t possibly keep track of all of them, and thus, spend a good chunk of my life retracting them. So I almost turned around to address her behind-the-back, under-the-breath comment, but caught myself. Because, no doubt, I would explain my way right into a coffee date with her. And I don’t drink coffee.

But, the thing is, I DID accept the compliment. And, I DID say thank you.

And, that’s why I’ve been obsessing about it ever since.

I’m not the kind of person who can just say thank you and move on. After all, what kind of conversation would that be? In my mind, it’s just way too dismissive. Even if dismissive is the message I’m looking to project in the rare instances when I’m not trying to expand my stable of friends.

If the tables were turned and I said, for instance, “I like the positive body-image you radiate,” and she had simply responded, “Thank you,” I’d be thinking that she had something stuck up an exposed body part.

But, when I brought this up while playing Mahjong the other night, my friend Janice said, “It’s true. Women have a hard time accepting compliments.”

“On another note,” I said, shoving a spoonful of a low-carb cauliflower-rice casserole into my pie hole. “This is delicious.”

“Thanks, but I think it needs to be spicier.”

Ha! Case in point.

Which got us talking, as we turned our tiles, about why we can’t just be like the guys and accept compliments, forgive our foibles and stop apologizing for our shortcomings.

While I don’t come out and say the actual words too often, I say “I’m sorry” in other ways. If I do something apology-worthy, I will attempt to explain my behavior, delving into my past, my present and my future to justify what came out of my mouth, my oven or my womb. I’ll keep hammering the point home until the offendee ends up apologizing to me, feeling so bad that I feel so bad, or more likely just to shut me up.

Janice, says “I’m sorry,” all the time. And she really is. She has a heart bigger than the both of us, and these days, that’s pretty big. She’s sorry when she’s late. She’s sorry when she’s early. She’s sorry when she has a sad tale to tell and she’s sorry when she wins at Mahjong. And that’s really the only apology I’ll accept. I am sorry I’m not more like Janice.

Susan, the other Mahjonger, is not quite as apologetic as the two of us. She is truly sorry when life gives us lemons, and feels love and loss way deeper than I ever will. But she is tougher. She doesn’t beat herself up over her looks or her words or her actions. I’d love to be Susan.

As Janice won another game and I ate another handful of Stacy’s Pita Chips, for which we were both sorry, we continued conversing about why it is that we can’t just be.

We conceded that when someone tells a guy they like his sweater, he either just says ‘thanks,’ or more likely, ‘yeah, I do, too.’ If someone says the same thing to a woman, they tend to respond more on the lines of, ‘I got it on the discount rack,’ or ‘Really? Doesn’t it make me look fat?’

Sure, I know plenty of women who are oozing with confidence. Who can throw a dinner party without worry. Who show their curves with courage. Who can accept a compliment without controverting.

Those women give me something to aspire towards. So, while I’m working on becoming the me I’d like to be, I can try to respond to the body-beautiful women who covet my hair color with a simple “Thank You.”

And keep the rest of the commentary to myself.

I can try.

But, the bottom line is, it ain’t me, babe. No, no, no, it ain’t me.

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