A few days ago I received a message that really pissed me off. It came from a friend of a friend who I’ve met maybe three times, and who has asked me out twice in the time since we last met.
This latest message followed my changing my profile picture on facebook and said, very simply “Looking gorgeous I see ;-) xx”.
Why did it piss me off? To be honest I could probably write at least two blog posts on that subject alone, but the basic gist was it felt a little like being catcalled by a guy I’d already – very politely – turned down twice. And the honest response I wanted to give? “I know.”
I’m not perfect. But nowadays when I look in the mirror every morning I can honestly say that nine times out of ten I’ll think “looking good” without needing someone else to tell me that.
But it hasn’t always been that way…
For years I hated the way I looked. And while I would comfortably call myself “intelligent”, “nice”, “strong”, “interesting”; my physical appearance was not something I ever complimented.
And when other people would give me physical compliments I’d do one of two things; I’d either metaphorically put my fingers into my ears and sing very loudly or, if the complimenter was an eligible bloke, I’d throw myself into attracting more attention regardless of how I actually felt about him, because after all I should make the most of anyone who found me gorgeous, right?!
The one exception to that rule was a past ex, who wouldn’t compliment me regularly but when he did… well that was the equivalent to him giving me the moon on a stick.
This was someone who regularly received attention from “gorgeous” girls, so when he gave me a physical compliment it seemed extra special. I loved those compliments; I thrived upon them! But over time that meant I became almost completely dependent on his word.
When he told me that he loved the way my half marathon training was changing the shape of my legs (note: even at my heaviest and most out of condition I have always been blessed with good legs!) I threw myself into training even more. When he told me he liked my hair lighter I immediately booked in to get more highlights, until I was practically blonde and my hair was a good 10 shades lighter than my eyebrows, and so on and so forth.
I was so besotted with this guy that it was as though compliments from him were the only ones that really mattered. Everyone else may as well have been talking in Swahili but his compliments, those I could understand, and those ones – as few and far between as they were – spoke to me in a language no one else could.
It wasn’t all bad of course; this was a guy who was very confident in getting what he wanted, and who encouraged him to do the same. It was him who encouraged me to go and study counselling when I was desperate for a career change but worried ab out being able to do it, him who told me to be a grown up and go to my first open circle when I wobbled at the idea of going to a spiritualist church on my own. But those things came with a price.
Because his compliments were few and far between, since he wasn’t one to stick around in one place for too long, and because if we're honest it can't be that sexy to have someone doting on your every word, eventually he lost interest completely.
By that point (or much earlier if I’m honest), I’d already come to crave those compliments – and time with him – like a drug. When I wasn’t with him I felt worthless, and when he stopped giving me the compliments, and his time, completely, I felt absolutely nothing about myself.
I’d say it broke me but that’s not true. I broke me, simply by refusing to love myself and instead by being so damned reliant on someone else’s opinion of me.
I’ve been in a relationship where it was the other way too, and while that’s a story for another day I will say that in the shoes of the complimenter I came to realise how unpleasant that experience must have been for him too (although I have a feeling my ex enjoyed it a tad more than I ever did too). It was draining and completely unattractive to be expected to keep not only my own self esteem buoyed at all times, but someone else’s too.
In the aftermath of both of those experiences (and plenty others!) I decided it was time to make a change. And so I worked long and hard on myself, and on learning to not only give myself the compliments I want, but to actually believe those words.
Now things are very different; when a compliment comes from someone I’m not interested in or in an inappropriate way, I don’t feel the need to jump in their direction just in case no one ever thinks that way about me.
That doesn’t mean I don’t like compliments from the right people, or at the right time – gods no! But it does mean that I don’t need the words of other people to make me feel good about myself.
I get my compliments regularly from the most important person of all. So when they come from elsewhere I can compliments for what they are, and choose my next response sensibly and based on what’s actually right for me, rather than on what will bring on the next empty fix.