Compliments Have Their Place

Compliments Have Their Place

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In his blog post, "Beware the Flattering Single Man," Joshua Rogers recounts a story from his dating years. He went out with a "smart, attractive, successful" Christian woman he was friends with but not seriously interested in pursuing. During the course of their date, he began showering her with compliments about her "integrity, intelligence, success, and beauty." To the author's surprise, she confronted him:

"Don't do that, Joshua," she said gently, but firmly.  "If the only reason we're spending time together is to hang out, then you don't have any business going there with me."

He didn't understand her reaction at the time, but describes how he "got it" a few years later, after he'd married. 

My wife had a number of single female friends who would share the frustration of spending time with guys who buttered them up with compliments, appeared to be interested, and then suddenly flew off the radar.  It left these women feeling insecure and wondering what they had done wrong.

I think Rogers makes a good point, but I'm leery to point out one more thing guys might be doing wrong. In his case, he discovered he was in the wrong because of his motives; he had found a way to manipulate favor with women by complimenting them. (What woman doesn't enjoy a compliment?) And a woman who knew him well and guessed at his motives, called him out on it. I think Rogers' conviction was real and needed. However, I don't think a compliment in and of itself is a bad thing. 

First let's consider Rogers' takeaways (then I'll come back to where I disagree):

Let me say this to the single ladies out there who read this post: words come terribly cheap, and they can end up costing you a lot of pointless emotional energy. Don't surrender your heart to a man who has done nothing more than tickle your ears.

And to the single men, I'd ask you to consider whether you're actually interested before you drown a woman in compliments. I understand that a woman is ultimately responsible for guarding her heart, but you could help out a lot by guarding your mouth.

I think Rogers' point is well-intentioned. Flattery is not a type of communication Christians should be employing any more than gossip, slander or coarse joking. Speaking of those who flatter, Paul says: "For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive" (Romans 16:18).

I think it comes back to motives. If one is delivering a compliment to serve his (or her) "own appetites" — in Rogers' case to uselessly play at winning the girl's affection — then the compliment is flattery and fundamentally wrong. However, speaking from my own experience, God often used a well-timed word of praise or compliment from a single man to encourage me and build me up during my single years. Obviously too many compliments can create romantic confusion, but I don't think singles need to fear compliments. 

To drive home that point, consider another good word from Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” That's the litmus test: Do your compliments build others up according to their needs and benefit them? If the answer is no, refrain from what is most likely flattery. But I see no need to ban the compliment.

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  • --I feel like I talked about this somewhere else recently, but, compliments (to both the same and opposite sex) are ONLY awkward if you make them awkward. I tell my male coworkers they look "sharp" or "dapper" all the time, and I very very frequently tell my female coworkers that they are looking good. I'm not doing it to "curry favor" or manipulate them -- I'm doing it to affirm them, to build them up a little and it costs me nothing to be nice.

    It's all about your motives and their comfort level -- also, be aware of the compliments you're giving, for example, telling your single guyfriend, "You are just SUCH a great guy, why can't I meet a great guy like you?" is probably a bad move if you don't want to find yourself on the (deserved) recieving end of the death glare. Likewise, "You are going to make a great wife for somebody someday!"

    I have not a problem in the world with somebody telling me that I am smart, funny, zany, professional, upbeat or even that I have a nice and contagious laugh. Bring on the compliments. But my creeper-dar is well tuned and I'mma know the difference between "You look nice today" and "Mmm, girl, that dress is lookin' gooood on you." Also, I know the difference between a genuine compliment and flattery. :P A "Hey, I like that blouse" is waaay different from, "You just always look so amazing, I'm so in awe of your dressing abilities, I wish I could be just like you, but, you know, if I was a woman, you know what I mean?" or "You are just such a fantastic and Godly woman and I wish all women everywhere were like you, you're such an inspiration like *guuuuush*"

    Basically, treat other people like human beings. It's not hard. Use your noodle. :P

  • --There are several factors at play here. The first is the difference between showering someone with compliments and giving them a single compliment. A compliment-shower is manipulative on several levels, and it should set off every woman's, "Ok, you've buttered me up. Now tell me what you want from me,"-o-meter. If it isn't coming from a guy who wants her to do him a huge favor, it's inevitably coming from a "Nice Guy" who thinks that he can manipulate her into romantic interest by giving her a million compliments.

    Once you get past the fact that it comes off as manipulative, you now have to deal with the fact that giving that many compliments at once makes them mean a lot less. In fact, they essentially mean nothing.

    A single, specific compliment is going to carry far more meaning and come off as much less manipulative, especially if you're clearly knowledgeable in the area. It's also much more meaningful to compliment something that isn't completely obvious and clearly complimented quite often.

    For example, I have a number of female friends who are quite attractive, and guys tell them so all the time. Not only does another generic "you're so gorgeous" not mean anything to them, it also frustrates them because they only get complimented on their appearance. They have many more admirable qualities, and being told that they look like models gets old after a while.

    Moral of the story? Hold off on the compliments until you get to know someone and can give them an honest, specific, meaningful compliment.

  • --A man should not compliment a woman unless the woman is his wife, mother sister, or other female relative. It should be sparingly done and merited even then.

    American women have such huge egos that they do not need any ego-boosting. A man that compliments a woman soon finds himself relegated to the orbiter-zone, for consultaton when the woman wants easy compliments. And never for romantic interest. He basically puts himself into "loser" category that way.

    If I ever compliment anyone, its for an accomplishment. And I usuallysay some thing like "thanks, that's cool." I don't refrain because I am playing some game; I just don't find something of merit.

    I do find myself on the receiving end of compliments from women and some men frequently. I don't let it go to my ego.

  • --@Greg, does this same generalization apply for American men? Most women I know have low self-esteem because the culture and church are always criticizing them, while men are much more likely to /appear/ egotistical whether they truly are or not because the American culture teaches men to always project confidence. Confidence is attractive while ego is not. Also, there is a big difference between giving compliments occasionally and being an "easy complimenter."

    On another note, I think compliments are very important for people whose primary love language is "words of affirmation." I appreciate compliments, but other ways of showing love mean more to me. I'm also not good at giving meaningful compliments, but I want to improve.

    I think it is wise for both genders to be careful how they give compliments to the opposite sex so that misunderstandings don't occur and to check their motivation.

  • --Greg,

    Have you noticed that a lot of "men's rights" advocates are angry and single? ;) There's a reason why.

    Everyone likes to hear that they look nice, Everyone wants to know they're valued, that they do good work and that they're appreciated. It has nothing to do with ego and self-worth, we all like validatation and kindness.

    I see no reason not to offer it to any stranger who deserves it.

  • --Good blog, and good comments.  

    @ Greg, I want to comment on what you said, though, about not giving compliments to any female who is not a relative.  For several months, I dated a guy who was a really nice guy.  Apparently, though, he subscribed to your line of thinking, because not once during those months did he compliment me.  Not so much as a simple, "Hey, you look nice today."  Nothing.  He did make a couple negative comments on my weight, though he tried to disguise it as being "helpful" as he then offered suggestions on nutrition.  After several months of that, it took its toll on me.  I know my "love language" isn't Words of Affirmation, but when he never said anything positive about my appearance, it hurt.  I wondered if he was embarrassed to be seen with me, or if he disliked the way I looked...especially when he was extremely reluctant to introduce me to his friends and family even after months of dating.  (I probably should point out that I did compliment him from time to time, usually with a sincere comment on his general appearance, a specific article of clothing, or on a recent achievement.)  So, Greg, before you assume that compliments are always a bad thing, consider the feelings of the girl who has put on nice clothes for you, who has bothered to brush/fix her hair, who has tastefully applied make-up, and who wanted to look nice so as not to embarrass you when you are with her.  It is likely that she does those things anyway, but I'd like to bet that she took an extra few minutes in preparation for a date.  To say "You look lovely tonight" when she truly does, should not cause her head to swell to the exploding point...and if that does make it swell, that would be a good indication that you need to run!      

  • --MissC1: I am reminded of the ex-boyfriend I once had who once took me to a Charity Gala. Several friends (and several strangers) throughout the night stopped me to tell me I looked "Beautiful" (not "good" not "nice" but literally "beautiful." "stunning" might have flown out there as well). My boyfriend said nothing and it really hurt me. When I asked him about it he said, "Well I only say those things to my Mom, really."

    yeeeaaaah. Ain't nobody got time for that.

  • --"American women have such huge egos that they do not need any ego-boosting. A man that compliments a woman soon finds himself relegated to the orbiter-zone, for consultaton when the woman wants easy compliments. And never for romantic interest. He basically puts himself into "loser" category that way."

    Sorry, but you're just plain wrong. I know quite a lot of women, and while they're not all walking victims, it is rare to meet one with a "huge ego." Either you're choosing to spend your time with the wrong women, or the problem is your behavior and how you go about complimenting women.

  • --Yes, thank you! I agree that we shouldn't fear giving or receiving words of honest appreciation. I dislike the idea that compliments (at least between men and women) should only be offered as build up to marriage. Are we only allowed to appreciate and care about each other within the narrow confines of romance? Is there only one extra-familial male I should care much about - my theoretical future husband? While I affirm that marriage is a beautiful, holy, profound component of God's design concerning the two sexes, I don't think it is the only purpose for the existence of maleness and femaleness. I think the world is supposed to contain men and women, and that just as the world would be impoverished without one or the other, individuals who isolate themselves from members of the opposite gender (or are only concerned with one member of it) also experience less fulness than God's gifts of creation and redemption offer.

  • --As the author of the original piece, I want to say how much I appreciate Suzanne's response.  I don't really see that we're in that much disagreement - it's just that she's waving a yellow flag, and I'm waving a red one.  

    My concern has nothing to do with her post, but is more with comments by guys like @Greg and the other men described by some of the ladies who have commented here.  

    Let me say this to @Greg and friends: if you think that withholding verbal affirmation altogether is an effective way to connect with the women you love, then (a) be prepared to enjoy being single for the rest of your life; or (b) pray that God will give your poor wife the strength to persevere, despite being in an emotionally-draining marriage with a man who is too stingy to see the beauty in his wife and tell her about it.

  • --joshualrogers,

    I don't think Greg is talking about witholding words of affirmation from the woman you love (i.e. wife or serious girlfriend), but rather in settings where that repoire hasn't been established yet such as in the workplace.  There is a real fear among many men (because ithe issue is addressed so often in sexual harassment/assault training) that by saying ANYTHING puts them at risk for being interpreted wrongly.

    The problem is not necessarily the words themselves (unless they are flagrantly vulgar or inappropriate) but in the way they are PERCEIVED by the woman.  For example, if a man were to say, "Looking good there, (Ms. X)" that may be taken as a compliment or may be taken negatively.  And unless she voices her discomfort with that expression directly to him, he may never know how such comments were received.  Obviously if she says, "Stop saying that please" he should comply.  But sometimes, depending upon circumstances, he may not know until he's formally reprimanded for creating a "hostile workplace enviornment".

    So rather than take a chance at having one's career in danger, or just simply being called a cad among some ladies, often they just keep their mouths shut.

    "If you like him, it's flirting.  If he gives you the creeps, it's sexual harassment"

  • --I'm sooooo wary of compliments from men.  I won't believe a stream of compliments unless I know the guy really well.  

    (I've been the recipient of unending compliments until - finally! - I crack and think, okay, he MUST really like me, only to have him vanish the minute my heart starts to get attached!)

  • --Alyson, you wrote "Most women I know have low self-esteem because the culture and church are always criticizing them, while men are much more likely to /appear/ egotistical whether they truly are or not because the American culture teaches men to always project confidence." What American culture and what churches are you talking about? American culture and churches are awash with you-go-girl affirmations and a constant barrage of "man up, you loser/idiot/manchild/moron" satire and sermons for the men. Also, you might be noticing the braggadocio of the most attractive men while totally ignoring the "creepers" and "losers" you wouldn't mate with if the survival of mankind required it.

    Ashley, you said "I see no reason not to offer it to any stranger who deserves it." And you probably won't ever have to worry about being accused of being a stalker or potential rapist. I actually saw a common definition of sexual assault recently that was basically making someone feel bullied. You could be a virgin man and interact with a woman solely on an Internet chat room miles away and technically "sexually assault" her by that definition. You say "Everyone likes to hear that they look nice," No, I think women do. Even the strong, powerful, independent ones like you and others in these comments who assumed the compliments must be about appearance. If you look closely, my comments about compliements were about accomplishments or achievements. You know, things that are more than skin deep. And I don't know what kind of male being would tell his mother she looks beautiful. That's weird. Maybe a "Nice car, Mom" would be more appropriate.

    MissC1, would it have been better had he just not mentioned the weight issue? Sounds like it was a problem for him and probably shouldn't have gone out with you if it was such an issue.

    GrinandBarret, my observations of women and their estimations of themselves are only from my experience in the American workplace, American universities, American churches, American blogs (feminist and churchy ones) and those blog commenters, and American media (TV, print, radio, Internet, movies),

    Joshua, you said "if you think that withholding verbal affirmation altogether is an effective way to connect with the women you love". I don't love my co-workers like that.

    And as to MikeTime's mention of false sexual harassment accusations in the workplace. I've been there and barely dodged that one. That's one close call I don't want to repeat. If you somehow make the wrong woman mad at you, you might also find yourself on the receiving end of a spiteful false accusation.

    And as for not complimenting leading to driving women away and perpetual singleness. Well, I think you'll find pickup artists have a lot more success with teases and subtle negs than compliments, especially the vomit-inducing "You're so pretty, Princess" kind. I've found teasing works much better than compliments with my female acquaintances. Especially since compliments would be way out of character for me.

  • --Yes there is a lot of male-bashing in the culture and church, and it is wrong to bash either gender. But the culture and church is also constantly criticizing women for not being perfect. The church is particularly bad about this. They expect women to do twenty different things in the church, be perfect mothers, perfect wives, perfect Christians etc. All of those things are important, but no one can be perfect at everything or volunteer every single time there's a need. Also, the pressure is generally more from the other members or church leaders than from the pulpit so you would be less likely to hear it. Not all churches are like this, but it is common.  

    I can't take the shallow insult seriously since your past posts have made your feelings about all women Loud and Clear, and you have jumped to conclusions countless times before.

  • --Alyson, you wrote "They expect women to do twenty different things in the church, be perfect mothers, perfect wives, perfect Christians etc. All of those things are important, but no one can be perfect at everything or volunteer every single time there's a need."

    How is that necessarily sex-specific? Does this not also apply?

    "They expect men to do twenty different things in the church, be perfect fathers, perfect husbands, perfect Christians etc. All of those things are important, but no one can be perfect at everything or volunteer every single time there's a need."

    And as to the shallow thing: I just find it amusing that strong, powerful, independent women keep falling back onto the brainwashing of the oppressive white male patriarchy. That's all. You might even think it was innate if you didn't know better. Almost like men and women are innately different in a bunch of ways.

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