Taking a compliment


There are many idiosyncrasies of the Singing Librarian which people may find either endearing or infuriating, and one of the most conspicuous is my complete inability to take a compliment.  You could put this down to any number of psychological factors, or perhaps blame Britishness for it, but ultimately it’s probably just plain annoying.

Why write about this today?  Well, today at the Library of Doom, I was told by one of my colleagues that her mother said I was a handsome young man.  I did not take that well at all, in fact my response was actually unpleasant and needs to be apologised for on the morrow.  I intended to express that the combination of ‘Singing Librarian’ and ‘handsome’ is a rather insane one, but the way I said it was not good.  Not good at all.

And it’s true.  I’m not out-and-out ugly, but I’m really not handsome at all – in the great tradition of character actors, I just look pretty average or normal, but can mess around with my face to create interesting or amusing expressions.  More in the vein of John C. Reilly than Jim Carrey, though!  However, now that I think about it, people’s mums are relatively likely to find something interesting or attractive about my looks.  I suppose that means I should have no trouble if I ever want to be the May in a May to December romance.  But matinee idol I am not!

I has taken a long time for me to accept that I do have talent in the realms of acting and singing, though I will simply laugh if anyone suggests I’m a dancer.  I could probably be more gracious about accepting compliments in these skills, but I can at least acknowledge to myself that the compliment might be truthful.  Why not so with my physical appearance?  Beauty is, I suppose, in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder in the bathroom mirror certainly can’t find anything in that line to behold.

Can I simply blame this on being British and male?  I’m not convinced, but I do know I owe one assistant an apology tomorrow.

  1. The thing is, this is what I think, Singing Librarian, if somebody compliments me on my physical appearance I can never feel 100% flattered. I automatically think: “Why are you looking on the outside?” In the past 10 months I’ve lost 20kg. When I had the weight on, I had the constant remarks. Now the weight is off I get constant “congratulations”. I feel like saying: “So what? Does it matter what I look like? I am exactly the same person whatever I weigh.” Well, maybe I’m over-analysing, but I can understand your reaction to being called a “handsome young man”. I must say, I also find it very hard to accept compliments. I always find some way to deflect them. Even if the person is sincere, I feel uncomfortable. And I’m British!

  2. I’m not British (I’m Canadian) and I usually find myself wincing when people occasionally compliment me on my physical appearance. Except I’ve learned that the ‘correct response’ is just to say (or in my case, mumble) – ‘oh, well thank you’ – and then change the subject as quickly as possible. Previous responses – ‘oh no, I’m not really’ – just tends to make the person complimenting you compliment you even more. shudder

    Helen, I can understand your annoyance at people who feel they have to ‘congratulate’ you on losing weight. It’s like they are actually saying … ‘oh, you look so much better NOW’. I’m needing to lose about 20 kgs at the moment and so when people tell me I’m looking good I tend to want tell them to get their eyes checked. And I’ll also probably feel your same annoyance once I lose weight and start getting the – ‘wow, you look great!’ – stuff. Yeah, right. I’m the same person. And I don’t think I look particularly horrible NOW and that ends up with a whole mess of all my insecurities piling up.

    But why is it so hard to accept a compliment? Because I think it’s a very common thing and not only a British thing. Or is it only about compliments pertaining to how we look?

    If someone compliments me on my intelligence or thoughtfulness, etc, I am quite happy to accept the compliment.

    I’m quite sure, David, that when someone compliments you on your singing you can also accept it as a simple fact that someone else appreciates.

    But you balk at someone telling you that you’re handsome. Well, I have no idea what you look like (you could always send in a photo to my h2g2 friends photo gallery if you’d like to!) but for me physical attractiveness is all about how a person expresses themselves, and so I do actually find John C. Reilly very good looking.

    Frankly, simply being ‘handsome or beautiful’ is not any sort of personal acheivement since it’s mostly genetic and hereditary – not anything one has actually done. Sure, some people know how to make the most of what they’ve got physically, but this also applies to anyone. Knowing how to dress, what sort of haircut suits them best, whatever.

    The most beautiful looking people I know are not stereotypically beautiful. It has to do with who they are, how they express themselves, that special light that comes out of their eyes. And above all – their sense of humour! I mean, you can be intelligent and not have any sense of humour at all, but you can’t have an amazing sense of humour without also being intelligent. And I happen to find intelligence very sexy indeed.

    So maybe next time someone compliments you about being handsome, David, you should just appreciate their good taste and make a humble thank you … and then change the subject as fast as you can! 🙂

  3. *Searches through Staff Development Handbook for a course on taking compliments* ( =

    Whether you believe the compliment is true or not, it is always best to try and receive it graciously [She says, being a total hypocrite!].

    It shouldn’t matter what we look like, but human nature being what it is (in my experience) it does, in the sense that people [in general] think it does and act accordingly. If you don’t conform to society’s idea of pretty, attractive, handsome or even just plain normal people might give you funny looks, make unpleasant comments, shun you (especially in times gone by), or whatever.

    However, in reality, in terms of the things that matter like morals, love, and all that jazz it doesn’t.

    Helen, I don’t think the people paying you compliments mean anything bad by it – I guess they are assuming that you’re happy you lost the weight and want to share in your happiness.

    I hope this makes some sort of sense and that I haven’t missed the point(s).

  4. I have schooled myself to take compliments graciously (smile, say ‘thank you!’ change subject, keep in mind that the complimentor is wanting to be nice and generous and my hang-ups are not their problem). They still make me want to burst into tears. I feel completely panicked by them. I think, in my case, I am expecting the complimenter to suddenly do a double take, glare at me, and say ‘Hang on a minute! You’re not pretty/ clever/ funny/ a good cook at all! You tricked me! How dare you!’.

    I am absolutely stricken with a guilty sense that I have somehow cheated, and am not in the least whatever-it-is, and now I’ll have to carry on pretending to be whatever-it-is, or be FOUND OUT, or be found out anyway, and then everyone will flick me with wet towels and refuse to sit next to me at tea.

    Is this British? Is this my parents’ fault (probably, but I shan’t bore you)?

  5. And look how carefully I have avoided telling David that he IS a rather nice-looking chap, for fear of aggravating him… But I’ve met him, and I KNOW….

  6. Goodness, Reed – yer even weirder than me! 😉

    I mean, if someone compliments me on my cooking I have no problem receiving that compliment because I happen to know I’m a damned fine cook. If I am complimented on being intelligent or clever I might blush a bit but also accept this is probably true (well, depends, some people say this as an accusation!). But I cannot seem to accept compliments on my personal/physical appearance.

    I don’t know what you look like, Reed, nor have I ever sampled your cooking. But to think you might feel embarrassed about people finding you clever/funny/intelligent is, as you say, your own problem. Sorry if this embarrasses you but when I think ‘Reed’ I immediately think ‘clever, funny, intelligent’ and some other nice stuff as well. And well, that’s not my fault is it? 😉 It’s clearly your fault for being all of those things. So like, live with it already . . .

    Where is that tongue-out smiley when you need it?

  7. With reference to my comment above, someone actually did shout an unpleasant comment about my appearance at me on the evening of the very same day that I wrote the comment. Coincidence or what?! A beautiful illustration of human nature in action. Serves me right for using stupid phrases like ‘all that jazz’…

  8. What you said. All of you. And not being able to take a compliment is not a strictly British thing or I wouldn’t have such trouble accepting them. I’m about as American as you can get in all senses of the word. Not only have I had to school myself to accept them graciously, but I also deal with the niggling underlying thought that now I have some expectation I now have to live up to. I hear, “Oh, you’re such a good cook!” and think, “Darn. Now I always have to have great bread and what if my cake falls?” At least I am not like the guy I knew in college who would respond surlily to a compliment, on the lines of “Why do you think that I give a rip what your opinion is about how I look?”

  1. February 15th, 2010

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