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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Compliment or Flirtation?

Okay, here's strange topic for a happily married man to be writing about publicly:  'Compliments that might be misconstrued as flirting'.

What I'm about to say is about me and my perspective, but IMHO applies equally to men and women in both the online and offline worlds.

I'll begin by saying that most normal people want to feel good about themselves; about their achievements… about their position/standing… and certainly about their appearance.

Yet as we grow older, even as we collect achievements and advance in our positions… there are fewer and fewer opportunities to receive positive feedback about who we are; especially as pertains to how we appear to the world. 

Those of us who are married don’t have things like a busy dating life or scintillating social calendar to use as measures of our attractiveness/desirability.  Heck, most of us 'of a certain age' privately wonder if we're even still interesting or attractive (if we ever were!).

To be clear, I'm not talking about the feedback/compliments we should all be paying to our spouses and significant-others.  I try to be mindful of this.  But even when we are consistent about telling our loved-ones they look good and make us happy, when we get such a compliment, we secretly wonder about our spouse's objectivity and candor.

So, back to the subject at hand:  I'm talking about the compliments and encouragement friends, acquaintances and colleagues give one another (on and off-line).  It can be as overt as telling someone their hair or outfit looks nice… to innocuous things such as 'liking' an achievement they have 'shared', or offering a few encouraging words when they mention they've had a personal setback.

However, it gets tricky when these compliments and words of encouragement are shared with people of the opposite sex.  If the compliment is appropriate to the relationship, and both the giver and recipient of the compliment are secure and happy, the result is (or, at least should be IMHO), a self-esteem boost and a strengthening of the friendship.  But even so, when I do it, I try to make sure my  - or their - spouse is within earshot or able to see the exchange online… y'know, to minimize the possibility of misunderstandings.

Two Examples:

Me (addressing a female friend without my wife nearby):  "You look really nice, is that a new dress?" [a little creepy]

Me: (addressing a female friend with my wife next to me):  "You look really nice, is that a new dress?" [sweet]

See, same compliment; but totally different vibe based on the setting and audience.

But sometimes, despite the best of intentions, misunderstandings do happen, and compliments and words of encouragement (chaste, platonic words of friendship), are taken as something more than that.  And the vague, uncertainty of many online exchanges only increases the chance of such misunderstandings.

I've written all this because I recently received a completely inappropriate private response to what I had thought had been a completely appropriate public compliment.  And as a happily-married, unremarkable-looking middle aged man, it occurred to me that if this happened to me, it probably happens a lot more to younger, more attractive people who think their interactions are simply 'polite', 'nice' or 'supportive'.

I've unfriended and blocked people with whom I've had contentious or aggressive political interactions… but this is the first time I've had to do so for an overt sexual overture.

The world is getting more and more chaotic, and rules and customs seem to fall by the wayside on a daily basis.  But some things will never change:  I will continue to try to be nice to my friends, regardless of their gender.  And I will continue to love my wife madly… and faithfully.  

So please let me know if I ever say or do anything that seems to blur those lines.

Posted by David Bogner on November 27, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)