When A Compliment Is No Longer A Compliment

Imagine this…

A young woman is standing by herself at a coffee shop.  She is dressed exquisitely—her outfit is on point, her makeup flawless, and her hair placed in an elaborate coif.  She had just gotten her order when a man comes up to her saying, “Hey, I just want to say that you are gorgeous.”  She thanks the man with a straight face and goes to sit at a table alone.  He follows her over and sits down saying, “Seriously, you are fantastic.  I’ve never seen someone as wonderful.  I was thinking maybe I could get your number and we could go out sometime?”  She again thanks the gentleman, but tells him that she’s really not interested and apologizes.  He tells her, “Yeah, whatever you’re just a stuck up bitch” and leaves.  Her cheeks are hot with embarrassment and she waits until the man is completely out of sight before quickly existing the shop herself.

Courtesy of VisualPhotos

There are many who would just find an issue with the man’s last statement, him calling her a bitch, and wouldn’t perceive anything else wrong with this interaction, but there is something wrong.  Now, I’m not saying that a man can never pay a woman a compliment or anything.  It’s just that there is a fine line between giving a compliment and causing a woman so much discomfort that it’s actually harassment.  The first line of this hypothetical situation was fine (though there are always problems of basing a woman on her appearance, but that’s another post), but the second line is crossing over into harassment.  Wait! You’re probably saying, he was trying to make a date there’s nothing wrong with that.  Well, on most occasions that may be true, but within this situation she gave no indication of interest—no smile, no additional remarks, and she didn’t linger in hopes he said more, in fact, she walked away immediately.

Courtesy of CityBeat

Yet, this still does not dissuade the man (though a hypothetical situation there are many real life men who also can’t take a hint) and he continues to hassle and bother the woman.  The worst part is not even the moment she gets called a bitch or runs away from the store just to feel safe, but it’s the moment that she apologizes.  Women are constantly apologizing, often for things that they should not have to be, including their lack of interest in another person.  Regardless of gender, you should never be made to feel guilty because you don’t show interest in another person this includes friends (check out my post on my issues with the friendzone).

Courtesy of StopStreetHarassment

Now, I know some of you still think that this isn’t a big deal, but imagine this scene playing out in a place other than a public coffee shop.  How about at work? Or late at night when she was alone?  Just as easily as the interaction could have stopped after the first line it could have escalated way past the last one.  This is what it means to be a women in our society, you never know if a compliment is just going to be a single happy compliment or if it’s going to progress into something much more dangerous.  There are those who claim that the woman shouldn’t have been dressed so nice if she didn’t want the attention.  So, does that mean that if a woman wants to be left alone she has to go out looking like a wreck?  Or should she just stay inside and avoid it all together?

Again, I’m not trying to say that you can never approach or compliment a woman.  I’m just asking for understanding a woman may just not feel like talking, she may be wary of your intentions, or she might not even bat for your team.  Regardless, pay attention, if a woman shows no interest back this is not an invitation to try harder, it’s one to leave her alone.

What’s your opinion on the line between compliments and harassment? Is there one? And how do you find it? Let me know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “When A Compliment Is No Longer A Compliment

  1. This is a really interesting post. I myself feel guilty for denying someone when they compliment me or want to be more than friends, but I do not return those feelings and feel bad. But I understand how women should not feel this pressure or feel sorry for not liking a man/woman or whomever back. I also agree with you that a compliment can stray away from its positive message and easily turn into harassment, there is a fine line. Nice job!

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  2. That’s really interesting. I think it depends on the situation and the occurrence. For example, I get told that I have a nice smile a lot, and while it sounds like a compliment, and sometimes it feels like one, often it doesn’t. Normally it’s said politely and without a followup, but I feel like it’s an unnecessary comment on my appearance, and when smile comments first started I felt complimented right away, but a few minutes later felt like something awkward had happened that I hadn’t noticed.

    But as a different example, my friend and I were wandering through New Orleans a few years ago and some random old guy we passed on the street (everyone walking) was like “good day beautiful ladies!” or something like that. We both said thank you, and after we passed him, turned to each other and were like, is that what cat calling is like in the South?!? We could get used to this! And the reason I think neither of us was offended was because the guy’s comment was said in a “good morning” tone of voice, and he just kept walking — it felt like a compliment.

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  3. This was such a great post! It is similar to the one I wrote for this week called Smile Much?! where I was trying to make a few of the same points. I think people get really confused on the line between harassment and a nice compliment. You nailed it when you said it started being harassment as soon as she gave no indication that she was interested and the comments should have stopped there. It became an unwelcome invasion into her life. Just like the comments men (and possibly women) make on the streets about the body or appearance of women. There is no invitation for any discussion if someone is minding their own business while walking to work or to school etc. Therefore, it is not a compliment if you yell something at me while I am clearly not inviting you in for any commentary or conversation about how I look. I think some people have a hard time understanding why some women (aka me and you) get “bent out of shape” when a man is just “trying to be nice.” I think you made so many good points in this post that could clear things up a bit!

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