This International Women’s Day: A short guide for guys who are confused and don’t want to do anything creepy.
Romance is dead. Flirting and chatting people up on the street is just creepy. You can’t even open your mouth next to a woman these days, because everything you say is sexual harassment.
I hear guys say those things all the time, especially since the #MeToo movement. But there is really no reason to be afraid or confused!
How do I know?
I’ve been walking around complimenting women (and men) I’ve never met before for years and never have been accused of catcalling or met with anything but joy. I’ve been told I made people’s days multiple times. Just last week, my partner and I had a nice conversation with a woman we complimented in a sauna, even though we wore nothing but our towels.
So listen up, here’s how you do it:
Real compliments are disinterested
We can all tell when people say nice things to us only because they want something. If your compliment is actually an attempt to strike a conversation you hope might end in bed, it’s not a compliment. It’s an attempt at manipulation. Women can smell this a mile away.
You should always give compliments simply because it’s nice to tell people nice things. You should always be prepared to say it and just keep going your own way, expecting nothing else from the interaction. If anything does follow from it, this is purely a nice side effect that you should never expect from the start.
Disinterested compliments make people feel good. Compliments that have an ulterior motive don’t. They just make people worry what will come after.
This is the most important thing: the aim of your compliment should always be to do something nice for another person, nothing more, nothing less. Now, assuming you’re on board with this, here is how to give compliments that will actually make people feel good.
Compliment her clothes, not her body
Remember the woman in the sauna I mentioned? Don’t worry, we were complimenting her gorgeous robe.
It will always seem creepy if you tell a girl you don’t know that she’s got great legs, boobs, or ass. Even if you say she’s got a great smile or beautiful hair, it’s still quite a cringe.
First of all, it’s objectifying. In our culture, such compliments imply that you are reducing her to a body part that you have an interest in. Nobody likes that.
It’s also simply too close to the body. You haven’t even met yet and you’re already reaching deep into her private space. It’s just too much, too quick.
Instead, a good compliment should focus on what she puts on her body. Say that she looks great in the dress she’s wearing. Say that this top looks amazing on her. This way, you respect the barrier she put between her body and the world, and show appreciation for her as a person, not a body part.
Compliment her actions, not her self
Complimenting the clothes has one further advantage: you are recognising her actions, her taste, and her choices. You treat her as a person who has made the decision to wear them, presumably also thinking she will look good in them.
This just doesn’t work with body-focused compliments — we don’t choose the way our bodies look to the same extent.
But this extends beyond clothing. Perhaps you spotted her during a game and want to compliment her tactics? Or she was dancing and her moves were fantastic?
In all of those cases, you recognise her as the active agent of the interaction: you are merely appreciating the way she decided to present herself, hold herself, and express herself. She’s not just an object of your appreciation, she’s a subject who does things worth appreciating.
Be kind, calm, and positive
This one should go without saying. A compliment is soft and kind, uses no crude words, and introduces itself in a positive manner.
If you shout ‘Hey babe, hot ass!’ on a street, it’s a catcall. She’s not your babe, her ass is none of your business, and she’s got better things to do than to listen to your pathetic attempts at courtship.
If you calmly approach and say in an upbeat voice: ‘Hi, don’t mean to stop you, but this dress just looks amazing on you,’ it’s a compliment. You use no threatening language or movements, you acknowledge she’s probably got better things to do, and you use kind and positive words.
Avoid talking about yourself
You probably know by now that you shouldn’t talk too much about yourself during a date, but how does this extend to complimenting?
We signal something subtly different when we say: ‘I love your dress’, or: ‘This dress looks great on you’.
This little linguistic change signals that this interaction isn’t about you, it’s about her. You’re not starting it because you want something — her attention, her response, maybe her sexual availability. You’re starting it because you want to make her feel good. You’re doing it for her, without any ulterior motive.
Leave her the choice to follow up
Fair enough, sometimes you will hope that a compliment might turn into a conversation. But for heavens sake, don’t press for it!
For example, say you complimented her dress and it made her smile. If she doesn’t immediately pick it up, just smile back, say bye, and keep walking. You’ve just made her day better, great job!
Don’t ask what she’s up to tonight, don’t even follow up with a question, like: ‘where did you buy it?’ If she wants to talk to you, she’ll tell you anyway. But if she doesn’t, she’ll just feel pressured and uncomfortable. You don’t have the right to take up her time, so unless she gives it to you herself, you just walk on.
Think of it this way — you passed the ball to her with the compliment. It’s her decision now whether to pass it back. By letting her decide, you acknowledge her autonomy and treat her with respect.
If she does pass it back, great. If not, that’s also great. You made her smile and you’re probably smiling, too. Congrats, you made both of your days better.
Don’t do it when it’s clearly not wanted
We all sometimes just want to be left alone. You might be the greatest guy in the world, be kind, non-threatening and have your complimenting technique down to perfection, but it’s all irrelevant if she just had a bad day and can only think about getting back in bed.
It doesn’t matter, it’s not about you — she’s just not in the mood and even if you think you might have some chance of piercing her gloomy mood with your compliments, the truth is, 99% of the time you’re going to fail, spectacularly. It’s not worth it. This is a job for her friends, not a random stranger.
There are some clear indicators that she doesn’t want to be approached. If she’s listening to music on her headphones, don’t talk to her. If she’s reading a book on the metro, don’t interrupt her. If she’s wearing baggy, indistinct clothes that hide her head to toes, don’t try to compliment her dress.
Just leave her alone and move on with your day.
Context is key
Everything has its place and time, and a compliment that might make one person smile might annoy another. The general rules above are a good start, but you still need to use your best judgment.
Are you complimenting a random person on the street, or are you at a party thrown by a mutual friend? Are you dancing at an awkward disco during a company integration camp, or are you on a weekend crawl through the sexiest clubs of Berlin? Is she an outgoing extrovert, or an introvert who finds human interactions stressful?
As with many things in life, complimenting is a skill: the more you do it, the better you get at it. I’ve given you something to get you started, now go on and become a master.
PS. Please compliment men, too! Men get way too few compliments in our culture and there is no reason why you shouldn’t appreciate a guy who looks great or did something great. It might be a bit awkward since we just aren’t used to it, but trust me, it’s really nice!