Dee Dee wrote: “Ok, I don’t really know if this is a problem or not. Maybe you can help.
I like to compliment strangers. Maybe not every day but often. I work with people so I’m around them a lot. I do it with no agenda or motive or any particular intentions. Of course, I find myself doing this to women far more than to men. Just innocuous things like, “Oh, I like that fun polka dot bow in your hair!” or “Young lady, I must say your eyes are SO bright and blue. Wow!”
I don’t *think* I come off as a lecherous creep but you never know, I suppose. My GF sees this and either rolls her eyes or calls it my harmless “friendly flirting”. Sometimes she even says this is a nice quality, that I like to engage people and make everyone feel special. But you never know who takes it another way.
If a woman I’m randomly complimenting is with a suitor, I always acknowledge them, too, in an attempt to come off as polite and, well, NOT creepy.
I even notice myself doing this while watching TV! I’ll tell the missus, “Hey, I like the dress that actress is wearing” or “She’s really cute with that haircut.” This one kinda constant.
I’m becoming a little self conscious of this behavior and, in this day and age, I’m afraid of being out of line. Is what I think of as friendly chit-chat and compliments actually sexist/chauvinistic or just plain creepy? Do I need to scale this kind of thing back? Or am I being paranoid?”
Liz says: Based on the examples you have given me, no, you’re not being creepy or chauvinistic, and no, you’re not being paranoid to wonder these things. It’s a good thing when someone tries to look at themselves from an outside point-of-view. That is one way how we learn and grow, usually for the better.
What has our society become when we can’t compliment each other? Compliments are an easy way to brighten someone’s day, as long as they’re not backhanded (“I wish I had the bravery you do to not color my gray hair.”)
But I understand why you wonder if you come off as inappropriate. For one, in our culture it’s too easy for compliments to be mistaken for sexual or romantic interest. I once complimented a stranger on his colorful tie. All I said was something to the effect of “I really like your tie, the bold colors are eye-catching.” He paused, then coldly said “My wife got it for me.” He didn’t thank me, which is always rude, but I got the impression he only mentioned his wife because he mistook my compliment for flirtation. He wanted me to know he’s already spoken for. I was annoyed because there was nothing in the tone of my voice or body language that justified that assumption. And it’s not like we were in a bar and I approached him, he was a customer in the shop I was working at and I had been answering one of his questions.
On top of the person you’re complimenting mistaking your intentions, if you have a significant other you have to be concerned with how they perceive your behavior. It sounds like your girlfriend can see that your tendency toward flattery is innocent, so you’re good there. But if your girlfriend sensed that others were often mistaking your flattery for flirtation and she asked you to cut back and you didn’t, that would signal a lack of respect for her feelings and role in your life.
As with everything, context matters. When POTUS Donald Trump was in the news for complimenting the French President’s wife (“She’s in such great physical shape”) it was because in light of his past, it came off as lecherous. He has a long history of overvaluing women for their appearances and undervaluing them for their abilities and intelligence. Plus, the timing was off. Not to mention he complimented her body, not her clothing or friendliness, for example. When you, Dee Dee, are complimenting people you tend to focus on their clothing choices, which is telling them “I like your style!” But if you focus on their body, it can feel like the person is undressing you with their eyes, which can feel creepy depending on the context.
Other examples of context making certain compliments inappropriate or creepy: Boss/Employee relationships, Doctor/Patient relationships, shouting compliments to a woman who is clearly walking to get somewhere on the street, or complimenting minors.
You’ve clearly put thought into your actions by making sure you also pay attention to the boyfriends or husbands of these women. I think your girlfriend has it right when she says it’s a nice quality that you make people feel special. Letting others know that their taste or personality is appreciated is something that should happen more!