Friday, 6 January 2012

Paying a woman a compliment... and how not to do it!

This week, I had a very interesting request for advice, from a young man who had found my blog. 

To get to the point quickly, this is [roughly] what happened to him:

“Steve” went to an art gallery opening.  He got chatting to an attractive, intelligent woman.  He really liked her.  The conversation progressed and tentative plans were made to meet for coffee. 

“Sarah” mentioned that she was divorced (no kids), then suddenly, the conversation went downhill.  At this point, Steve decided to compliment her “nice, hour glass figure”.

[Hmmm!  Did I hear a sharp intake of breath from any of you women out there..?!]

He thought Sarah would take it as a compliment, but she was very offended.  And the more Steve tried to save the situation, the worse things got.  At first she rolled her eyes and shook her head.  Next, she said he was “inappropriate”.  And finally, she slapped his face and left.

Before leaving the gallery, the owner, who had noticed Sarah’s altercation with Steve, went up to her and sympathetically enquired whether she was OK.

Then, as Steve nursed his stinging red cheek and wondered “What the hell happened there?” the gallery owner told him it wasn’t a ‘pick-up joint’ and asked him to leave!

When Steve e-mailed me, he wanted to know what he had done wrong.  Whether mentioning her figure was ‘inappropriate’, whether her response was proportionate and whether he should write to her to apologise and explain that he had no wish to offend her.  He was also concerned that she might feel more sensitive because she was divorced.

I had a good long think about it, because I do, without a doubt, feel it was very harsh to slap him round the face.  But at the same time, I have a number of friends who have curvy figures (OK – lets get to the point.  When I say ‘curvy figures’ what I really mean is, THEY’VE GOT BIG BOOBS!) and they are very sensitive about it.  And as a divorcee, I am conscious that there are certain men who think that divorced means “desperate” and “should be grateful for any attention received”.  Alas, sad misguided men, not so!

Going back to boobs…  don’t get me wrong!  Many ladies are thrilled to have huge boobs, but others are considerably less than thrilled.  And several of my friends have commented at how upset they get, when they meet a man who stands talking to them whilst overtly staring at their chest!  Men!  Take notice!  Unless you’re talking to a surgically enhanced bimbo, who couldn’t hold a conversation anyway, look a woman in the eye when you’re talking to her!   And for GOD’s SAKE – DON’T MENTION HER BOOBS!

Now – I realise I have gone off on a bit of a boob rant…  and boobs were not mentioned at the gallery – but to tell someone they have an hour glass figure, suggests that this may be what you’ve noticed!

I do understand that Steve was trying to pay a compliment.  But I also understand why she may have found it too personal.  So where do you draw the line?

I have thought about this point long and hard.  The answer is so obvious, I didn’t notice it!

The rules for men are the same as the rules for women. 

If a woman pays a man she’s just met a compliment, it is likely to be on the lines of:

- You have nice eyes
- I like your jacket / shoes / shirt
- You’re funny
- You have a lovely smile

All fairly innocuous, right?  I may be completely wrong, but I don’t think it’s often that women comment on men’s physiques unless they are trying to send out the signal that they’re ‘up for it’ and ‘easy’.

So there you go guys.  Keep the compliments limited to personality, or eyes / smile.  Do not mention any body parts between the shoulder and the knee.  Keep those more personal compliments for later on, when you know the person more intimately.  And that way, you should know more about the person, the bits of their body they feel sensitive about and what is likely to offend them.

Well, on the upside, Steve decided to send Sarah an e-mail apologising and explaining his behaviour.  And Sarah e-mailed back, apologising herself for being over-sensitive.  And so, they met for coffee…

I hope it all ends happily ever after… but we’ll have to wait and see!


  1. I would have been totally creeped out if a man I'd just met made any comment whatsoever on my figure. Totally inappropriate. Actually, is you have to start searching for compliments to fill the gaps in conversation there's a problem there anyway!

  2. I think your advice about delaying physical compliments until a bit later is spot on. In this day and age it is far to dangerous to lead with physical compliments to women.
    Another thought from an American, I've often found that British women are more reserved about their physical appearance, especially boobs. I find this fascinating when considered in conjunction with the American rep for prudishness. Last night I was Twelfth Nighting with girlfriends and today I queried my aerobics class. I realize that 20 or so women is barely above anecdotal, but all of us would have taken the comment as a compliment. Furthermore, a few noted that American women tend to be curvier in general, while much of the European gene pool is ectomorph. (This is an odd link, but has good explanations of the body types.) They thought that the compliment would be more likely mistaken because hour glass figures tend to outlier status, so that y'all are more self conscious of curves.

  3. I love this story! I hope all went well on the coffee date. I would have thought the slap in the face was a strong indication that he had "struck out" with her and she would want no further contact with him. Good for her for thinking things through and offering him a second chance. Kudos to him as well for "taking it like a man" after he was slapped and not being resentful about it, but analyzing his own behavior instead. Gotta love a man who can shrug off a slap and be so sexy :-)



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