How to give a compliment

I am in our weekend getaway hotel room watching Melissa follow the rules for dating. She is sprawled on the sofa reading while I brush my teeth with her toothbrush because I forgot mine.

I snap a picture of her brush in my mouth. I play with animal filters. It seems like I’m too old for Snapchat, but she tells me, “You create content for a living! How can you ignore Snapchat?!?”

She says when you give a guy a compliment, he does not want something specific from a woman.

This is our life, now. I am trying to get competent at Snapchat and she is trying to get competent at compliments.

I tell her that at work you are supposed to give specific compliments. Like, if you just say good job then the person feels like you didn’t really notice anything he did. Also, people assume you are being more genuine when you are more specific.

For you cynics who are thinking of clicking away right now, you will be thrilled to hear that compliments make you more money. And they lay the groundwork for you to be able to rip the head of a co-worker later with impunity. In fact, when I searched how to give a co-worker a compliment I got a slew of articles in the search results about insulting a co-worker.

Maybe the reason it’s so hard for successful women to date is that men who aren’t your co-workers want to hear something like, “I really had such an amazingly great time. It was so very fun.”

Notice all the unnecessary modifiers in that sentence. They are not unnecessary to men. This is what Melissa tells me that her book tells her.

This advice rings true to me because I say to my husband all the time, “I love you,” and he tells me that is not a good way to make him feel good. He wants to be told he’s competent.

So now I tell him things like, “Thank you for making sure the cat placenta was not on the porch when I got home.”

Melissa sits on the sofa now, writing odd missives to her new boyfriend who was not her new boyfriend for very long before he had to take a long business trip.

I say, “Are those breasts real?”

Her breasts are very big and very real, so it’s a little joke. It’s a compliment joke. Which I make instead of saying, “You look way too thin and I’m worried about you.” Telling Melissa that you’re worried about how thin she is – that’s something she hears as a compliment, as in: get even skinnier and I’ll love you even more!

She made the new guy sign up for Snapchat because she loves it so much. She did not make him, of course, because that is against the rules. She lured him. You have to give the guy chances to make you happy. She gave him the Snapchat chance and he was up to the task.

The guys sends her handwritten hearts on Snapchat. Which makes me get all romantic and call my husband to tell him he is so great and I’m really really appreciative that he took care of the kids this weekend.

He says, “You have to come home early. I can’t take it any more.”

That is not my love language.

I try to stonewall him by creating an annoyingly asynchronous conversation about a serious topic, but I give in to come back early after he texts to me: “I hate you.”

I tell Melissa I need more attention because I am having to leave early.

Melissa is showing me how to put my hair in a bun. She says she likes my bangs but a bun is not a pony tail that failed. A bun is a bun. And she is the only person who likes my bangs.

My husband really doesn’t like my bangs. He saw me cutting them, in the bedroom, onto the floor, when we were supposed to be in the car driving to cello. He said, “We have to go or we’ll be late.” But he meant, We have to go before you start cutting yourself instead of your hair.

I am fast at cutting bangs. Seven-inch scraps drop to the floor. I think maybe he is right. That this is a cry for help. So I take extra care to make sure the bangs are even so no one can accuse me of being a drama queen.

With Melissa I realize I was just trying to find something I could actually get done. I wanted an accomplishment.

I do a few Snapchats and I see that she screenshotted one. It takes a lot of effort to save a snap, so I breath a sigh of relief: A compliment on my content is the best I can hope for right now.

43 replies
  1. Chevalisa
    Chevalisa says:

    I love you.

    Is what wants to be said.

    The combination of your transparency and your wit (in that order) make yours the one blog I HAVE to read. You help remind me of my true north.

    Thank you.

    And as a couples therapist, I want you and your husband to be happy. So there.

  2. Nicholle A Gulcur
    Nicholle A Gulcur says:

    You look French with your bangs! ;) oh la la!

    I read this years ago and enjoyed it. Not sure how I’d feel about it now, but Melissa might find something useful in it: If the Buddha Dated.

  3. Carol of Kensington
    Carol of Kensington says:

    I was preparing dinner tonight and my husband went out to the garden and watered the flowers and herb garden . I didn’t ask him to. I think he does it because he’s saying thank you for cooking up a storm with all fresh ingredients.

    He also opened a nice Riesling and we ate, drank and chatted as if we were in the early days of dating. Compliments come in many forms.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I was recently on YouTube and noticed a Ron White video. I like his comedy so I played it. It was his Dr. Phil story. At the very beginning of the video, he starts off recounting a day playing golf with Dr. Phil and he asks him – How do you feel better about yourself, raise your self-esteem? Dr. Phil responds with – “Finish the things you start”. I like that answer as it resonates with me. Finishing the things I start raises my self-esteem as well as making me happy. And it’s a good argument for perseverance.

  5. Blandy
    Blandy says:

    That Snapchat link is awesome. I was going to try because Michelle Obama is on Snapchat, and I figured if she can do it I can do it, but forget it. I need to figure out how to convert customers on Pinterest first.

  6. Q
    Q says:

    I’m not sure which is more disturbing: sharing a toothbrush or cat placenta on the porch. But, maybe that’s just me.

    And speaking of me… next month, I’m leaving my job after 25 years. My job became soul-sucking the last 10 years and consumed my life. And now I realize I dont actually have a life.

    So, please write more often: I need your words to keep me sane & get through the next five weeks & then Get a Life.

    Thanks, sis.

  7. Scotti
    Scotti says:

    What is the difference between a bun and a ponytail gone wrong?! As the mother of a 2 year old and 4 month old, I’m pretty sure my hairstyle falls into the latter category. I swore I would never have mom hair or mom makeup and now it’s likely that I have both. Please post pics so I can assess and correct.

    • Cay
      Cay says:

      A bun is hair twisted into a doughnut shape. A failed ponytail is the ponytail pulled halfway through the elastic to form a loop.

      I am wearing a failed ponytail and my baby in a carrier. I am so mom right now that I feel like I’m living in someone else’s body.

      I don’t know if or when I will ever exit out of this state, or what I will look like when I finally do.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        You will come out of that state, no doubt about it!!! Just wait until your little one gets to be independent! I have three kids, the youngest will turn 5 in a few months, and I really can’t even remember their infancy, but I do know that I made it through somehow! Hang in there, ask for help, get a few mom-breaks during the week! It’ll all work out!

  8. Elly
    Elly says:

    Snapchat is amazing. What are your usernames? Would love to follow along with your daily thoughts Penelope and see more of Melissa’s glam life in SF.

  9. Bren
    Bren says:

    Love popping by your life, Penelope!
    This whole dating thing has me perplexed – I’m and looking forward to my three daughters dipping their toes into the dating pool over the next few years. *concerned sigh*

  10. Pecunia Diva
    Pecunia Diva says:

    I think people who love themselves and whose inner dialogue is filled with understanding tend to give more compliments. Do you agree? I think people who are super critical and harsh on others are often the hardest and harshest on themselves. So really, if you want to give more compliments, then start by loving yourself more.

  11. Kyle L
    Kyle L says:

    Haha, very entertaining and insightful article! I can’t believe “I love you” wasn’t good enough to your husband! That’s the way to my heart :) I’d just die laughing if someone thanked me for cleaning up a placenta!
    You’re such a great writer! Keep up the fantastic work!

  12. Yolande
    Yolande says:

    i know that Snapchat is getting viral and all but is it weird that i am not into it ?
    oh and i too agree that bangs make french too ! ha ha

  13. Paul Docherty (
    Paul Docherty ( says:

    Lovely article. Giving compliments can be tricky, but my life experience has taught me that receiving compliments can be just as difficult. Just as some people are not so well programmed to give great and appropriate compliments, some people are equally not programmed to receive compliments well.
    A digression for future writings?

  14. klg
    klg says:

    Artículo precioso. Dar cumplidos puede ser difícil, pero mi experiencia de vida me ha enseñado que recibir elogios puede ser tan difícil. Así como algunas personas no están tan bien programadas para dar grandes y apropiados cumplidos, algunas personas no están igualmente programadas para recibir elogios bien.
    ¿Una digresión para escrituras futuras?

  15. PheroJoe
    PheroJoe says:

    It’s amazing that people need a tutorial on how to give a compliment… but if you are a real people person, you already knew this a long time ago! Going the extra mile to pay attention to someone, that others might not notice or care to appreciate is an excellent way “win friends and influence people”. Thank you Dale Carnegie.

  16. Anna
    Anna says:

    Making compliments is really an art and it is not given to everyone, thank you very much for the advice, it will surely help a lot of people

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