Dear Celibate: The Wrong Compliment

Dear Celibate,

I met a really attractive and intelligent woman at a party a few weeks ago.  It was a public event at an art gallery.  She was a high school teacher in her early thirties (I'm 27) and seemed very educated and sophisticated.  She had classic curves - large bust, narrow waist, shapely legs/hips, etc., but not what I would consider "overweight", and was wearing an outfit that really flattered her figure.  We had been talking for about a half hour and really seemed to develop a great rapport.  We had even made tentative plans to meet for coffee sometime.

Then, things suddenly went downhill. There was a pause in the conversation and I commented that she had a “really nice, hourglass figure”.  I thought she would take it as a compliment but instead she became deeply offended.  She said, "Excuse me?  Why are you talking about my figure?"  I went into damage control mode and tried to clarify my comments but I think I only exacerbated things as she rolled her eyes and shook her head.  She told me I was being "inappropriate" and that she was "very disappointed" and started to walk away....then she came back and with a look of complete disgust, WHAP!, she slapped my face and departed.

As I stood there alone rubbing my cheek, I was trying to figure out why she was so upset.  It seemed like a harmless comment to me but maybe I don't understand women as well I should.  I do have her email address.  Do you think I should send her an apology note or should I interpret the slap in the face as a definitive way of saying she wants no further contact?


Dear Confused,

Wow, that's quite a story. I can't believe she slapped you. I'm wondering how the people who saw it reacted-- they were probably telling their friends the next day.

First of all, she is kind of a freak. At the least, she is probably from a very conservative and religious background. I polled some of my girlfriends to see how they would have reacted. None of them would have been so offended, but they all said it would have turned them off. It sends the wrong signal and you could look like a creep. It would definitely make most women uncomfortable and destroy whatever you had going for you.

Why? Complimenting a woman's body in your first conversation crosses a line of civility. The expectation is that you are having a conversation because you want to talk to her. You are not there to ogle her. By suddenly pointing out a woman's body, for whatever reason, you are alerting her to the fact that you are inspecting her body. Which says you have sexual intentions. When she thought you were interested in talking to her. So, either she bored you with her conversation, or you are a creep. That's why the woman walked away the first time.

She came back to slap you because she later processed your compliments as a sexual proposition. That offended her because it meant you thought she might accept. Because you thought she was that kind of girl. In her mind, you basically called her a whore.  Most woman know better than to read things that way.

Still, in the future, do not compliment a woman's body or any of her body parts when you have just met. Not unless you are prepared to back it up with a sexual proposition which you expect to be accepted.  Only after having VERY VERY strong social cues to that effect. (this is the wrong blog to discuss those cues.)  Even then, you're in high danger of offending a woman. Again, because it implies you thought she might accept and you don't know the woman well enough to know how she'll take that implication.

How should you compliment a woman in your first conversation? Here's a list of acceptable things to compliment:
  • Her dress (what you say when you like how her body looks) -- Don't compliment her shirt or sweater, she knows that you're really talking about her rack.
  • Shoes. (Don't gush if you want to present yourself as a heterosexual) 
  • Smile
  • Eyes
  • Hair
  • Glasses (I used to get a lot of those until I got my new glasses :(
  • Her Intellect, knowledge or wit (will win you super brownie points)
  • Say she is cute, attractive, stunning, if you have the stones for it.
  • Call her "Fascinating" and watch how far it gets you.
Don't use more than one compliment per conversation. That makes you sound desperate and cheesy.

SECONDLY, you asked if you should contact her. I would have said not to. But, in our email correspondence Confused told me he had emailed an apology. She replied graciously, but has no interest in further contact. Although, I think the fact she replied means she doesn't completely hate you. Keep your eyes on her. (NOT THAT WAY!) If you get another chance to talk and she makes steady eye contact or gives you a smile, go in for another conversation.

Love, JL


Notes From The Glass Ceiling said...


Stop watching old black and white movies as well, I guess. They are all miserable lies and will do nothing but get you into trouble. That free and easy way of communicating is long gone, for better or worse. As for us neophytes, we must stay between the lines or get slapped. It is so ironic. Back in the day,(way back when marriage and virginity were a little more in vogue) that comment would have gone over without a thought. Today, when most folks are sharing a bed within three dates or less, you and your comment get a public spanking.

I mostly agree with Celibate, but the entire situation confirms my suspicions that some people really enjoy getting angry at other people, and making a thing of it.

If you ever see her again, and she keeps being nasty to you, you could always just tell her "Glad I could be there for you." After all, you obviously gave her what she wanted.

Stephen said...

Two things. First, add eyes to something you can compliment.

Second, a woman with a figure who is in her late twenties or older is going to get a steady stream of propositions and find herself concerned that no one sees her as other than an hourglass and that any conversation is just an attempt to slide by and then move on to the point.

It is a hard world for women out there.

Notes From The Glass Ceiling said...


It truly sounds like it's a bit harder to be a man, getting slapped in public for an honest compliment however unappreciated. Would a guy EVER get away with doing that to another woman or man for any reason? Please.

Seriously, this PC thing has to have some limits. I appreciate the origins of PC-ese, but enough is enough. Don't we all know by now that bad people are just made worse with the ever-more stringent rules of PC, and that good people sometimes say things that are not perfectly organized and filtered before delivery? I am not pretending that we can turn back the clock, or suggesting that we should. What I AM trying to say is that anyone who really believes that Confused SHOULD have been slapped by this woman, should be...slapped.

Here we all are, expected to be not only completely politically correct at all times, but to be witty and original too. Who can do it?

There are times when a woman can and maybe even should slap a man, but most of us are pretty sure when the line has been crossed and when it has not. In this situation, the woman was wrong. Full stop.

What do you mean by "add eyes to something you can compliment?"

Notes From The Glass Ceiling said...


I get what you were saying now about "add eyes". Sorry.

I should probably add that I get why she was upset, and I admit that there are better ways to compliment a woman. Still, her reaction was pathetic and dwarfed any faux pas on his part.

Kevin Barney said...

I agree that she overreacted, and I generally agree with JL's response to you. The only spot where I'm not sure I agree is in offering *any* physical compliments during a first conversation like that. Just have a genuine conversation, and then ask her out for a casual coffee date or something. That will be enough to signal you're interested in getting to know her better, and by her response she'll let you know whether she's interested as well. Physical compliments during such an initial conversation are simply too fraught, even if it's only the eyes or shoes and not the figure, legs, etc.

Stephen said...

I think also the fact that she was about seven-eight years older than he was makes a difference. If you are out of someone's "date" range, you can provoke a more intense reaction when it looks like you are coming on to them rather than enjoying their personality.

SavvyD said...

It's not so much a matter of PC as if you are talking about her figure, you are *obviously* checking out her body. The dude specifically mentions "nice bust". Yeah, you might think that, but you might do best to be respectful and say that dress flatters her.

Maybe you came across as a creepy creep. Unless she's in a bikini contest, you want to give the impression that her body was not the only thing you were checking out. You might also try, "I really enjoy talking to you, I'd like to see you again."

I'd definitely avoid "I look at your pants and I need a kiss" (from the song Bloster in the Sun) or "Can I buy you a dress or something, can I buy you some jewelry or something? Would you go out with me or something? Would you sleep with me or something?" (from the song Sweet Misery Blues.)

Or next time, bring salt to make your foot taste better.

SavvyD said...

PS I recently got a ride in a tow truck as my car wouldn't start and the driver started to tell me about how he had helped several couples become pregnant.

Sounds interesting, right?

Then he revealed that his friends would come over and he would let them look at his porn and that lead to their pregnancy.

I told him that was not something that most customers want to hear. Amusing, but better to be shared with friends than with a customer.