I’ve never been good at accepting a compliment. I cannot explain the part of me that needs to negate the compliment. I always want to make it even, by knocking down whatever it was they just praised. I wish my brain automatically returned a compliment with another compliment, but instead it freaks out and explains why whatever it is isn’t all that great in the first place.
She says: “I love those shoes.”
I say: “Thanks! They were three dollars!”
This happens often. If you compliment my outfit, I immediately feel the need to tell you how it’s basically a rag I found in the street, that I got it at Goodwill, have had it since high school or how it has a hole in the hem. The worst example of this was when I did it with my wedding dress. Once the woman found out how little I paid for it, she seemed much less impressed with my gown. I negated my compliment so much I turned it into some kind of insult.
Yesterday a rare thing happened. Two women were complimenting my outfit at the same time. Not just a skirt — they were chatting about the entire outfit. That’s the word they used — “outfit” — like I’m a real girl! They were talking about how hard it is for them to put together three separate things and make it look like they go together, but I had to go and ruin it. Unaccustomed to this level of attention, I freaked out and said, “It’s because I dress like a thirteen-year-old girl! It only works on me because I can’t be sexy or classy like you guys.”
They both stopped and stared at me with the same expression. It read, “Did she just call us ‘classy’? Does that mean ‘old’?”
I meant that I was flattered that they thought I looked cute, but every day I admire what they’re wearing because they actually wear outfits. All the clothes go together on purpose. If I look put together it is totally a happy random accident. But instead of being gracious, I somehow insulted all three of us at once.
An hour later, a man at the post office asked about the shirt I was wearing. “It’s awesome,” he says. “Where did you get that?”
I pulled at my shirt. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “I think I got it at Hot Topic.”
“That’s okay,” he says. “That’s a good store.”
“No. And I got it a few years ago. I’m sorry.”
“It’s still a good shirt.” He left, shaking his head.
Why can’t I just thank someone and let it be? Thank them and tell them their shirt is awesome, too. What is wrong with me?
Sometimes I’ll get on a roll, too. That’s when it’s really horrible.
“Hey, Pam. Nice car.”
“Thanks, it’s not new, and the cheapest one I could find. I should have been better at haggling when I got it, because I think they made me pay more than it was worth, but it was a long time ago, and back when you could make money in the dot com world. But I lost all of those jobs. And then I still had car payments, which was insane. So I was working as a personal assistant to a woman who made me clean her house. And then her old assistant saw this car and said, ‘Can’t you take a few minutes to clean your car? People can see you when you’re driving.’ And I was like, ‘I’m completely broke. I was at the free clinic yesterday. I cannot afford a car wash, bitch!’ So I had to find the cheapest car wash in town because they don’t have drive-thru car washes in Los Angeles like they did on every corner in Texas. And here’s where my car has a dent. See here? Santa Ana winds slid a tree along the side, which is why there’s this huge scratch. What? Oh, you’re on the phone? I’ll stop talking.”