Is that a Compliment or Are You Just Trying to Confuse Me?

I used to think a compliment was a compliment.

Of course I also used to think that life was like a math equation.

That is, I thought that if you did the right thing, then good things would happen to you. And, if you were greedy,  mean or cold-hearted, then bad things would happen. In other words, in the balance sheet of life, everything would add up.

I also believed that if you watched what you ate and exercised on a regular basis, there was no reason you shouldn’t be able to fit in the same sized jeans you wore in high school.

I was clearly delusional.

Now that I’m older, I’m a bit more realistic.

I also find myself analyzing every compliment I receive.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those people who thinks all  compliments are back-handed or have some hidden meaning.

I’ve simply found that compliments say more about the people who give them than about the people who receive them.  They provide great insight into motivations and personalities.

For example, I used to go absolutely crazy with friends who would criticize people behind their back only to make insincere compliments to their faces.

Not that I necessarily felt the need to be rude to people whom I disliked or didn’t respect (at least most of the time), but I certainly didn’t feel  the need to lavish them with phony compliments.

But, to be fair, that’s a trait that can actually be very beneficial. Personally, my lack of it has cost me dearly at times. Because what I figured out was  that the people who give such compliments simply want to keep the peace. It’s more important to them than being self-righteous. That’s very admirable.

Not that I’ve been able to change my ways all that much, but at least I understand.

What I’m still trying to understand are the compliments that come from my own family.

I didn’t grow up in a family that threw compliments around. And I didn’t marry into one either.

That’s not a bad thing at all, because the compliments that I did receive are definitely memorable…not necessarily ones to treasure.. but definitely memorable.

Take my husband.

Nearly 20 years ago, before we were married, he told me that I was “a worker.” He then explained. “That’s the highest compliment you could receive from my mom’s side of the family. ”

The effect of this compliment was short-lived when I realized that, while his grandmother may have appreciated  “a worker,” my husband had higher regard for people who can sit back, relax, enjoy life, and watch  the same episodes of a favorite television show over and over and over.. AND OVER again. Based on that, I’m surprised he married a woman who has a hard time sitting still for five minutes and feels guilty if she’s not accomplishing something 24 hours a day.

More recently, I was confused by what, I think, was intended as a compliment from him.

We were discussing why married couples complain about their spouse’s personality traits.  My comment was that personality traits don’t change no matter how long you are married, so they shouldn’t have gotten married to begin with if they were that annoyed.

This  led to the question as to whether people can and do change and inevitably to my asking “have I changed?”

My husband thought about it a minute, then told me I had. When I asked how, he said “You’re more mature.”

To put this in perspective, my husband has complete disdain for women whom he considers “immature.” I’m not exactly clear what his exact definition of immature is, but I think it has something to do with people who get upset when the world doesn’t revolve around them, or who expect life to constantly be exciting or who put their own wants and desires above all else.  That’s based solely  on my keeping a list of all the people, mostly women, who he has identified as “immature.”

Logically, one would think that the definitions of mature and immature would be exact opposites.

But, in this case,  I’m not so sure.  Because after considering if I had ever been one of those women, I realized that, for the most part, I hadn’t been. So his definition had to mean something else. But when I asked him what he meant, he couldn’t explain, and I was a bit worried.

Maybe because when I hear the word mature, I immediately picture a matronly woman buying clothes in the “old  lady”  section of the local department store.

I’m not there.. yet.

So, I gave up trying to figure out exactly what my husband meant and just decided to take it as a compliment. After, all, as I said before, compliments say a lot about the person who gives them.  And my husband is a great judge of a character, so he had to mean something positive.

At least I’m pretty sure.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a theater kid in high school, a band kid at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on July 30, 2011, in Family, My life, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hilarious! I like the end. “I decided to give up trying to figure out exactly what my husband meant.” Sounds like the secret to happiness for wives everywhere……

  2. Hi…came across your blog on Google search somehow. I dont hang on to everyone’s word, you know? I dont put time into trying to guess if what someone says to me is sincere or not. If someone compliments me, I simply say “thank you” and keep steppin. My esteem is great and I don’t need validation from everyone nor am I overly suspicious of “words”. Just me….

  3. I think that focusing on whether someone is sincere or not means that there is a lack of Trust (in close relationships and casual ones) and a lack of esteem (self-esteem). I personally dont have the brain energy to care about whether someone’s kind words are sincere…or not. When someone says something nice, I say “thank uou very much” then I keep on steppin’ (lol). People shouldnt trust everyone they meet, but when it comes to kind acts or words, I accept them and return them. That’s it.

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