When Compliments Get Weird

Good Morning and welcome back to Morning Wellness, the blog that dissects weird and extremely specific emotions that are experienced by maybe no one except me.

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I’m just kidding – I really hope that’s not your interpretation of this blog – but this entry might be pushing it.

Basically, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about when compliments go wrong. I’m not referring to trying to compliment someone but accidentally offending them instead (though that is another cringe-worthy situation) – I’m talking about those moments when you try to be nice to someone but something weird happens in the middle that turns it around and makes you feel like crap.

The other day I was at lunch with someone who is an authority figure/mildly (okay, majorly) intimidating. She was talking for a long time about her workout habits, which entailed waking up at 4:30 and going to the gym for 6 days a week, plus eating a diet that complements her fitness routine. I was obviously impressed and was also looking for a way to connect with her, so I gave her a genuine compliment and said, “That’s so amazing! I would be so tempted to just not go to the gym, and I could never not eat sweets!”

Her response was something I didn’t expect at all: She tilted her head, crinkled her nose and said, “Really? It's not hard.”

Like…I was weird for thinking it would be hard to wake up at 4:30 every morning and not eat sugar. I almost can’t even explain it, or why it made me feel so strange. I think it was because I was searching for connection in that moment – a potential bonding experience between us, with me saying, “Wow, that’s incredible, I’d find that so difficult,” and her saying something like, “Yeah, it’s definitely tough, but I’m motivated” – that would leave her feeling good because I expressed admiration, and would leave me feeling good because I was able to give her a compliment.

But instead, her response put me on the defense, and I sort of stumbled over my words. “Yeah! That’s not hard for you? It’s just me??” and she just kind of shrugged, and the interaction just totally did not go as planned. I felt like her response had some deeper implication – that I was lazy and had a bad work ethic because I would find it hard to go to the gym that much – and I sort of quieted up and coiled into myself, ashamed that I had chosen to speak up in the first place.

I’m not writing this to put any blame on this person…and anyway, it’s totally possible that you’re reading this like, “What Lindsey? That is so not a big deal, you’re just sensitive,” which could be entirely true, since I’m a Pisces (just kidding, I have no idea what it means to be a Pisces).

My big realization with this situation was really just that we can’t say anything with the expectation that we’ll get a certain response. Cause we really just don’t know. We only can control what we will do and say, and that’s really all we should focus on: saying what we think is kind, good, and intelligent, regardless of the response we get.

I don’t regret initiating the conversation, but if I had to do it again I think I’d change my response to her reaction. Instead of getting defensive and ashamed, I would just say, “Yes, I find that very admirable,” and be confident in the intention behind my initial comment. I can’t control whether this person thinks I’m weird for wanting to sleep and eat cupcakes, but I can control my own response and let go of my expectations.