9.42 Thank You!

A few weeks ago, I stepped into a bank, you know, to do some banking. At the teller’s station, she looked at me and started processing what I needed to get done. She stopped halfway through and said, “I’m really sorry, but I just have to say, you have the most incredible eyes. I’ve not seen eyes like yours, and I just wanted to tell you that.” I was a little taken aback - I can count on my one hand the amount of times strangers have said something (positive) about my appearance.

Right before the bank, I had met with a friend and complimented her about a project she recently completed. She paused, and said, “I’m trying something new. When someone compliments me on something, I just say, ‘Thank you’.” We both paused for a moment, and I said, “Oh, you mean instead of actively trying to talk the person out of their compliment in order to get them to agree that they were wrong to have ever complimented you in the first place?”

We both paused again. Yes, that thing.

Perhaps you relate? The impulse to not believe anything nice someone is saying about you. For me, a compliment often feels as though they are talking about someone else. Could be anything, whether it’s my physical appearance or something I’ve accomplished - anything.

As you might’ve guessed, this kind of thing can wreck havoc on relationships, especially of the romantic variety. Friends are one thing, they can have an understanding that this is a part of who I am, and subtly nudge me in the other direction. But with someone that is around me all of the time, this habit of completely negating everything I’ve done can be … tiresome.

For both of us.

After years of doing this, how has it eroded my own confidence? If my perception of myself in someone else’s eyes is so distorted that I have to talk them out of complimenting me, what do I think of myself internally?

It’s not only disrespectful of someone just trying to pay me a simple goddamn compliment, it’s kind of rude. After years of interviewing people - on podcasts and so on - I know how to ask people questions. How to keep the focus of a conversation on the other person, out of a fear that they try to pry into my life with …. questions. I am naturally curious about others, so this - I think - does not come off as simply masking my own anxieties about people getting too close. When I get into a conversation with someone, my brain is like a computer that is filing away everything they are saying, flagging certain ideas or points that might make good question fodder.

Everything, except names, I’m terrible with names.

The other thing that works well is the question flip. Whatever they ask me, I answer quickly and then ask them something related to it. Anything to keep the focus on them. The closing move is to reference something the person said earlier in the conversation, which proves I’m a ‘deep listener’ (I do consider this to be true) and I ‘care’ about what they are saying (I also consider this to be true). Maybe I shouldn’t have put those words in quotes.

Back to the bank teller complimenting my eyes. Usually, if someone actually said something like this to me, my internal reaction would be: Oh, me? Are you referring to my eyes? As in a compliment? That can’t possibly be true. Perhaps there is something that this person wants from me? But she is a bank teller and I am simply banking. There is no reason for her to be telling me this, other than that she felt compelled to in a natural way. But still, this is weird. She is weird. What does she want? Perhaps she is making fun of me? Being sarcastic? Yes, she is being sarcastic. I am a customer in her bank, she complimented my eyes, but for the purpose of making fun of me to some invisible audience. Maybe for the surveillance cameras? Maybe her and the rest of her colleagues will watch the footage later, all have a good laugh at my reaction to her compliment?

Instead of going down this rabbit hole, I simply said, “Thank you.”

Paul Dore