Understanding the difference between manipulative praise and honest appreciation is important.
It was recently made very clear to me by a woman friend (and not for the first time) that at my age (or probably at any age), when I meet a woman, she’s already heard enough flattery to fill a stadium and been told she’s ‘beautiful’ a million times—often by men who disappeared after sex or treated her in some other way that seemed to contradict their declared admiration.
The fact is, most women quite understandably never want to hear any more flattery from a man.
Any observation from me about her beauty, attractiveness, or other aspect of her apparent marvelousness is likely to turn on her male-bullshit filter, which will filter me out in the process.
This is true for most women, of any age or experience. Except perhaps the very insecure, who will hold on to any validating statement from anyone, as if they were clinging to a life raft (and it’s the ‘from anyone’ part that can make them so unpredictable to be with) and the elderly, who know that you’re (probably) saying it to them in fun, rather than as any attempt at getting in their pants, so they can enjoy it good-naturedly for what it is.
Even those who might be considered conventionally ‘unattractive’ can do without it.
Although I have to add that, in my experience, there is no such thing as an unattractive woman if she is at ease with herself, and enjoys meeting people. In contrast, some of the most ‘unattractive’ women I’ve met have been model look-alikes, who have been chased as trophies by so many men only interested in having a female adornment to boost their ego. They often have a bitter and frustrated attitude towards life, and towards men, which expresses itself in their facial expressions and body language.
I do draw a clear line between ‘flattery’ (meaningless cliche’s as a way to try and manipulate someone, often, with women, into getting their kit off) and an honest ‘compliment’, which is an expression of appreciation, which can be believed; a gift given with affection. If a man (or woman) expresses the pleasure s/he feels in my company, because of how they think I look or for whatever reason, I try to just accept and enjoy it and hope they’ll do the same!
Understanding the difference between manipulative praise and honest appreciation is also important for me in how I relate to my children.
I try to never flatter my son, telling him “you’re great”, “you’re clever”, and so on, even though I may believe it. The risk for me is, that feeling might be more to do with my pride in having had something to do with providing the genes for him to become so wonderful. (Which is a silly pride after all, because they were only passed on to me in the first place!). The point is, I don’t want to encourage him to become in any way dependent on other people’s opinion for his sense of self worth, least of all mine.
I want him to be able to decide for himself how ‘good; he is, irrespective of what anyone else thinks; that to me is the path to emotional wellbeing in his life.
But I will say things like: “I really like your voice” (as it’s true) or sometimes, ” come on, you’re a clever kid, you can do better” (which is also true); or after he won the talent contest at his school, I remember saying, “you looked like you were really enjoying that” (again, true). I think he appreciates this way of me responding to his reality, not trying to co-opt him into mine.
By the same token, I will never tell him “you’re stupid/lazy/selfish etc. etc.”; none of which are true. However, I will certainly share a feeling with him that something was a really dumb thing for him to do. And as he’s usually already figured that out for himself, he appreciates me not having to beat it in with hammer; which again might be more about expressing my feelings of disappointment/frustration than the best way for him to learn and develop as a confident/competent young man
Truly empowered individuals are the ones who only respond to their own evaluation of themselves.
On the negative side of the scale, such people may be psychopaths and dangerous. On the positive side they are more likely to be visionaries and leaders. Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference. But think Jim Jones versus Ghandi!
My definition of “charisma” is a person who believes implicitly in their own version of the real world, in no way requiring affirmation or approval from other people.
Others who lack that same self-belief are drawn to those individuals to provide “the answers”, and some sense of certainty in an essentially uncertain world. This is precisely how cults, and cult leaders operate. This is how fascists have always operated. One of life’s enigmas is that some women seem to be attracted to men who have such a complete sense of certainty about them, even if those men have committed evil acts. The reality of murderers receiving love letters on death row comes to mind. I can only assume, that the sense of certainty that these men exude, is appealing to women who have been always raised to look outside of themselves (mostly to men) for approval, and a sense of knowing what life, and the world is all about.
However, what you say if your partner asks you if she looks in any way larger in that new dress she’s bought (or the old one she dug out of the wardrobe) will require you to balance telling the’ truth’ with what you think she would like to hear. But you can avoid any kind of flattery, that she won’t believe anyway, by simply saying: “I have no idea what you’d call ‘fat’, all I know is you surely look good to me!”
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