Zach and I came out of Giant Eagle just as two tan little teenage girls walked in. They missed the whistle of the boys driving by the entrance, and it landed on me and my hubby. I appeared to ignore it so the boys wouldn't feel stupid, but for a split second- my heart remembered the feeling it had the last time I was whistled at by strange boys in cars, and I blushed a little.
Happily, during that time I truly did appreciate my "teen prettyness," and never took it for granted. It was a gratitude born from some relatively unique circumstances. I grew up with two parents who didn't do the compliment thing- not to each other, not directly to their kids' faces, or anyone else. I remember a few random remarks of admiration about the way our sister ran so beautifully, or how pretty my friends were. Once my dad said he noticed how patiently I waited for my mom or someone to get off the phone, and for the rest of that month I walked around thinking "I'm patient. I am a patient person." But over-all, it was just not something that they were into.
In elementary school, I got glasses and became the lowest of the lowly nerds. I even had a group of kids chanting the "Freddie Krueger" song at me with my name in his place. It was bad. So, aside from a handful of some very memorable positive comments, compliments were pretty much a foreign language spoken in a country called "Adulthood."
After a few curious encounters with this language in middle school, (I still remember the Jackson twins saying I did a good job singing in 11th grade choir one day. I pretty much thought -and still think- they were the nicest people in the world) highschool rolled around. People actually talked with me, and I was thrilled. Boys flirted, and I was thrilleder. I dreaded the end of highschool when all of the nice people I had met would go lead lives without me. But it wasn't so bad. Graduation brought in a new era of employment and dating; and it thrust me unsuspectingly into the world of compliments.
My eduaction in Complementese started with my first dates. Of course, you're going to be complimented by your date... it's just polite. But I wasn't used to it. At all. Had absolutely no idea how to react. Usually, I just plain disagreed with whatever I didn't believe. Which was pretty much anything subjective. I appreciated and understood compliments about my artwork, or things I had worked on- but if it was about the color of my eyes, or my smile or something- they might as well have said "I think you are like a pair of utility scissors."
Finally, someone I'd been dating awhile said, exasperated, "Just say 'Thank you!' Don't you realize how frustrating it is when you don't just take a compliment? I want to give it to you. So take it!" That sunk deep. And not because I now believed all compliments. I simply now realized, embarrassed, how annoying it was for someone to go to the trouble to take a second to make me feel a bit happier, and me turning it into a minute. So after that I really tried to shorten my reply to "Thanks."
But I still found myself unable to restrain the inclination to explain compliments away. If someone said they liked my hair, I'd say "Thanks! It doesn't actually grow this color, though." My cute outfit wasn't picked out by me, being thin was only a side-effect of being tall, being tall was okay- at least I could reach things for people, if you thought my eyes were blue, you should see my sister's.
Unfortunately the explain-away inclination was still in full effect when I received what I fondly recall as my favorite compliment.
Picture it: Sicily.. 1923. Okay- no that's Golden Girls.
Picture it: Salt Lake City 1997. I'm working at JayLynn Studio, and today I curled my hair and wore my favorite dress from Haroon's. You know the kind they had that was made with layers of light- fluttery material? With wildflowers on them? You'll see a video of it in a future post I've been working on. Anyway. There was a customer waiting alone at the front counter, and getting impatient. I came out of the back room as soon as I could and saw a guy in his mid-thirties and a suit with a frown on his face. He didn't hear me coming, and turned in my direction to come find someone. I startled him. His jaw dropped as he looked me up and down and stammered accusingly, "Y-Y- You're beautiful!" then proceeded to almost literally stick his foot in his mouth and try to get back to business- as if he couldn't believe he had just said that out loud. Ha! And what did I do? I said "Thanks! It's probably just this new dress."
Thanks to the kindness of many people who did do "the compliment thing," over the years I have had practice reacting more and more normally to an originally almost painful situation. Although it started rather awkwardly, I even learned how to give compliments. And then found myself thinking effortlessly of more and more compliments to give. Maybe the evolution is complete. Maybe I've a little way to go, yet. We'll have to try it out:
You've made it to the end of this completely self-absorbed post! What a great blog-reader you are!
How did that compliment come across? Awkward?