What do you say?

“You have great hair.”

I was putting down my yoga mat at the studio. I turned to the woman who had spoken to me, she was sitting on the floor, stretching. I had never met her before.

“Pardon me?” I asked.

“You have great hair.”

My hair had been up in a ponytail all morning because I had been writing – fighting, really – a troublesome section of my new book and so now that my hair was out long, it had that weird kink in the middle where I had secured the elastic too tight. As I was writing, I had thought maybe the words would come more easily if I could feel some air on the back of my neck. It hadn’t really worked.

My last haircut was seven months ago. I’ve recently started using this special shampoo in an attempt to combat my eternally oily scalp and it leaves the ends of my hair feeling dry. But I hadn’t even washed my hair in two days.

I considered telling her all that. I wanted to explain why she was wrong and list all the ways in which my hair was not at all “great.” I thought I’d tell her how I always wanted to have straight, blonde, angel-hair thin strands that hung passively to my shoulders, not the wild curls that make their own decisions about where they are going. I was about to tell her that my dark hair is increasingly streaked with grey and, while I don’t take issue with the color, I do not understand why those hairs are a different texture and they stand straight up in the air – as if they are waving in the landing of middle age, directly upon my head.

But then I looked at her, staring up at me, offering me a smile and this kindness.

What do you say?  We ask little kids when they are given a gift.

Thank you. They recite.

When did we forget what to say? When did we get so full of self-doubt and self-hatred and whatever else this is that masquerades as humility? It’s not humility when we reject someone else’s gift of kindness. It’s not modesty when we shut down someone’s attempt at connection because we are unable to get over ourselves and our insecurities. It’s just rude.

Maybe it was something about being in a yoga studio that reminded me to be grateful. Yoga has a funny way of doing that. So instead of taking her compliment and bashing it into the ground with all these bullshit issues about beauty and femininity, I said:

“Thank you. You made my day.”

As I was walking out of class, I said to the woman in front of me:

“I love your leggings.”

She shook her head, “Oh, no, they’re cheap. I just got them from that consignment place downtown.”

“I really don’t care – you look super cute.”

She grinned at me and laughed.

“Well, thank you.”

Maybe someday, we’ll all remember what to say.

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22 Replies to “What do you say?”

    1. men can do it just fine. Maybe you mean men don’t compliment about appearance too much. I met men who often compliment friends about their ablities, and it didn’t sound strange at all. You should try it!

      1. I agree with that, I’ve heard lots of men complement on abilities. But I’ve even heard lots of other complements, like – “dude, nice suit.” Not strange – I love it!

    2. I’ve gotten a bunch of compliments while wearing a Deadpool-Hello Kitty T-shirt on rocking the Deadpool-Hello Kitty T-shirt. It’s not just presentation, sometimes it’s content.

  1. I promised myself that the next blog you post, i wouldn’t reply because i didnt want to bogart your board with my responses….however, this is yet another post that i find completely relatable… I have this inner turmoil when someone compliments something of mine that i think it just average, or I just feel the need to tell them my entire history on it. It’s mind bottling…..glad to see there are more like me out there.

  2. I love to compliment people. And it comes from a genuine place. But I too, like the leggings lady have always been one to start my response with something negative because I didn’t see myself as someone people could admire. If I want them to accept the compliments that I give to them, I must practice and get natural at accepting theirs. We are all worthy of a few compliments (every single day)!

  3. Love this post. This is something I’ve been working on and the difference in how I feel when I simply accept the generosity of someone’s kind words with a thank you vs giving them a two-minute rundown of why they’re wrong has been eye-opening. I’m realizing that life can be much more enjoyable when I just get out of my own way sometimes!

  4. BIG YES to this, I used to do that too, whenever someone said something nice to me I would diminish it. Not anymore, I thank them with a smile (even if a part of me still don’t believe what they said to be true) and it feels a lot better. 🙂

  5. Loved this! It’s taken me a very long time to be able to accept any form of compliment with a simple ‘thank you,’ rather than responding with a barrage of reasons why they are wrong…

  6. Loved the flow of your writing. After reading this i am sure all of us would remember what to say when we get a compliment.

  7. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I don’t know why we can’t just say ‘thank you’ and move on. I know I, personally, never give insincere compliments and it makes me sad that people feel the need to dismiss them.

  8. Thanks for this post. I have found myself denying compliments, too. I think somehow it’s connected to my occasional refusal of chivalry from men. I’ll say “No, I’ll get it,” etc. when a man wants to lift something, even open a door. I will venture to say that the fact that my generation was caught between the June Cleaver and Helen Gurley Brown stereotypes has caused me to hold back on accepting assistance or even a compliment. Hmmmm. Thanks for giving me something to ponder.

  9. My favorite section: “It’s not humility when we reject someone else’s gift of kindness. It’s not modesty when we shut down someone’s attempt at connection because we are unable to get over ourselves and our insecurities.”

    What’s strange is that it almost feels wrong to take a compliment sometimes. You’re right, it is rude to not accept something nice someone else is giving. But it so strange to just leave it at thank you rather thank a “Thank you but …” I’ve been working on this lately. I think just saying thank you, not invalidating the compliment, is a form of self-care. And, bonus, it’s also polite. 🙂

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