Regardless of how braggy this title might seem, that’s really not the point of all this.
Yesterday at work, a guy was checking out at my counter. He had dark hair, glasses, and a nice smile. I didn’t notice these things until I was finished with his transaction and he paused to say, “In the most inoffensive, genuine way, I just wanted to tell you that you’re really beautiful.” That’s when I really looked at him.
He had stumbled over his words. When he was telling me he was trying not to offend me, I was somewhat concerned where he was going with the whole thing — and I can say that telling me that I was beautiful was definitely not where I thought he was going to go. I smiled, slightly flabbergasted, and said, “Oh, thanks. Thank you.” He turned awkwardly to exit the store. There might have been a, “Have a nice day,” but I don’t really remember.
I’ve never been good at taking compliments, especially when it comes to my appearance. After all, I really had nothing to do with my genes. So maybe it’s the fact that a compliment on my looks just feels unearned.
But it’s always been females who have complimented me before.
I hated being a kid with curly red hair. I probably couldn’t tell you the number of middle-aged women who ogled my mane, comparing it to little orphan Annie’s while I hid behind my mom, desperately clutching her leg and hoping we could leave soon. Not too long ago I was walking to a restaurant with a couple of friends and a woman passing us stopped to compliment my hair color. Again, I said, “Oh, thank you,” and continued moving.
When I started going to bars in my later college years I experienced men flirting with me for the first time, but it was always unwelcome. I’ve never liked flirting — it makes me feel cornered.
I hated men flirting with me even more when I was at work, stuck behind a counter where I couldn’t escape. At the coffee shop, one of my regulars developed a crush on me — he apparently asked my coworkers where I was whenever I wasn’t working. You can guess how uncomfortable that made me.
And it’s happened at my current job, too — men complimenting my shirt or staying unnecessarily long to make small talk about whether or not I like my job and how long I’ve been working there.
Mostly, it makes me feel yucky.
This time, that wasn’t the case. Maybe it was because he seemed so nervous to say that to me. Maybe it was because it happened at the beginning of my shift and I hadn’t lost all faith in humanity yet. But when he said that, it seemed undeniably genuine. He wasn’t objectifying me. I could tell because it didn’t make me feel small. It made me feel the opposite actually.
So much so that I spent the rest of my shift wracking my brains, wondering if I should have said more than just, “Thank you,” to him.
I used to long for this very thing — this validation from men that I looked the way a woman should look to be dateable, successful, influential, you name it.
Instilled with a roaring feminism thanks to all-women’s high school and college experiences, that part of me has been mostly repressed. But this encounter reminded me that it’s still there, and will rear it’s head at moments I have no control over.
Even now I don’t know what I would have said to this guy if I could do the whole thing over again. Perhaps, “Thank you, that was very sweet of you and I could tell you meant it. But what I want to know more about are your intentions.”
Because I’m still curious.