If you’re lucky then from time to time compliments will happen.
Somebody might say they like your dress, or your new lunchbox or your selection of scented deodorant, and it’ll all be very nice for everybody involved.
But for those who have – at some stage in their lives – experienced some of the more unfortunate types of comments that can be made about a person’s appearance or existence, compliments can be a hard thing to comprehend.
When you’ve taught yourself to be permanently on guard, ready to play verbal karate against anybody who happens to dislike your shoes or your hair or some other crucial life choice apparently open to public scrutiny, a genuine compliment can take you by surprise. And, as a result, you are constantly at risk of taking a chop at any innocent dude who tells you that they think you have good taste in nail varnish or trainer socks, because you automatically assume they’re out to get you.
On my list of strengths you would see: a keen eye for pun opportunities; ability to remember everybody in the world’s birthday and thus make them think that I am a stalker/identity thief; and a permanent, unfaltering openness to dessert. And on the weaknesses list, among many others, would be: extremely limited willingness to participate in sporting activities (AKA laziness), heavy dependency on crisps; and an inability to accept a compliment without making (often sh*t) jokes. It’s like an illness, for which the cure is just to stop it.
So here’s how I intend to do that:
Step one: Remember that compliments are not traps
Contrary to popular school playground opinion, life is not actually a race to see who can say the nastiest thing about another person the quickest. And compliments don’t just exist to lure you into a false sense of security before hitting you hard in the face with the fact that actually, no, your eye make-up doesn’t look exceptionally even today, it looks like you put your mascara wand into the mouth of a dog and told it to poke you in the eye.
But this can be hard to remember, so those of us in verbal karate mode are always ready with an insult for ourselves just in case, such as these:
“Hey Charlotte, I like the new fringe!
Ah yes, whatever takes the focus off my face, eh?! (*This one doesn’t even work. A fringe does the precise opposite, FYI.)”
“Very strong handbag choice, lady!
Oh this? It was so cheap they basically paid me to take it off the premises! “
“Ooh have you caught the sun?
Nah, I think I kept my face in the oven too long when I was poking at some salmon I’d accidentally cremated last night – woops!”
…whilst the other person looks on, wondering if you’ve either gone mad, or perhaps you just didn’t hear them properly when they said they liked your hair/bag/face/voice and maybe they should write it down for you next time to be sure.
People don’t compliment you so that they can be outraged at your acceptance of their words. They don’t say “Well, aren’t you good at making a casserole!” so that they can then bitch amongst chums later about how arrogant it was of you to believe that they did indeed enjoy the way that you merged meat with vegetables and [whatever the liquid that goes into a casserole is] for their enjoyment. That would be a very strange way to live your life. Now, of course, it is possible to overdo it – don’t stop them mid-sentence to call and tell your mum, or to change your twitter handle to @COOKOFTHECENTURY – but beyond that you are allowed to just believe nice words when they’re said to you.
Step three: Just say thank you and carry on with your day
Yep. That’s it. Simple, eh?
Learning to accept compliments – and that the whole world isn’t trying to bring you down, one joke about your taste in necklaces at a time – is all part of our journey to becoming a truly confident human. Being an adult means having the freedom to – as much as possible – only spend time with people who bring us joy so, rather than constantly having to keep our arms up to fend off nastiness, we can let them rest by our sides, only raising up for a hug or a high five or take a well-earned slice of cake.
And it leaves our marvellously quick minds free for more useful activities, like playing along with Countdown or spotting opportunities to make a good pun.
Because life’s far too short to miss out on too many of those.