So last night (or the night before, now that it’s gone midnight) while eating frozen yoghurt in a food court in central Melbourne, I was approached by a man who was probably between his mid twenties and mid thirties (I’m not very good at judging age… Though neither was he, I suppose). I thought at first he was going to ask me for some spare change. That happens a lot here.

I’ve lived through a similar scenario to this one before. Somehow, however, last time I was able to take it how it was intended, and afterwards I felt bashful but overall pleased. This time, I felt beyond uncomfortable.

“Hi there,” he said to me. He seemed to be working up the nerve to get his next statement out, as well as trying to ascertain whether or not I was paying attention. “Hi. I just wanted to  say, you’re face is really familiar to me. I recognise a lot of myself in you.”

I wasn’t sure quite where he was going with this. Satisfied that I was not going to have to deny him what little change I had, I sat up a little straighter, and frowned at him, a fair amount of confusion evident on my face, I’m sure.

This guy went on to describe how I looked terrified (which wasn’t something I was feeling by any means), and that it would get better. Life would get better. That I’d get out of high school and the people who do well in high school tend not to do so well in the real world. And how pretty I was, and how my life was going to get so much better.

I had to stop him and explain that I graduated from high school in November 2011. He seemed shocked, “but you look so young!”

“I get that a lot…”

He told me I was pretty at least twice more, told me everything would get easier another three or so times, and then after I’d awkwardly thanked him he left me alone, and I shortly thereafter scarpered off to find a tram.

See, I thought when I sat down at that table that I’d been giving off enough “leave me alone” vibes. I was obviously consumed in reading something on my phone, I had earphones in, was sitting by myself having not even taken my backpack off and was hunched over my froyo due to the cold (it’s never too cold for froyo). I simply don’t understand what this guy was intending to achieve by approaching me.

What’s more is he approached me believing I was about three or four years younger than I really am. There’s no way I would’ve been able to handle that situation back when I was that age. I’d have had a panic attack right there in the food court. And what would he have done then? I do appreciate his intentions, but surely he knows, as a person who evidently had a similar high school career to me, that telling someone “it gets better” is not helpful. I don’t know what it was that made him choose me either. Maybe it was the large girl sitting by herself eating less-than-healthy food thing. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it’s taken me about thirteen years to become comfortable in the way that I look, and having someone else come to tell me that I would feel better soon made me feel more like there was something wrong with me than any of the actual insults or the bad photos ever did. Don’t get me wrong, I know my weight isn’t exactly healthy and I could stand to be a lot fitter, but since actively deciding to work on bettering myself (and for myself I might add) I’ve come to accept that my body is my body and it can look however I bloody well want it to.

Being “pretty” or “beautiful” was never a particularly big deal to me. It wasn’t something I worried about. “Fat” was a much more prevalent insult than “ugly”. I don’t want you to think I’m arrogant or narcissistic, I don’t like myself very much about half the time, but I quite like the way my face looks, and even when I think maybe I could look more feminine, no one has ever made me feel ugly.

I don’t want to say that people shouldn’t compliment strangers. I think it’s lovely to receive a genuine compliment from somebody completely random. The day as a cashier that became so much better after being told I have “the most captivating eyes” by this little old couple was one of the best I spent in that job, and after being told by a boy who would probably have been a little younger than me that I was “really gorgeous” after picking up coffee in my break last April I didn’t stop blushing from the praise for about three hours.

Compliments are lovely, but they should be given out with caution.

Some things to consider before approaching a stranger to tell them how nice they look:

  • Does the person look like they want to be approached? If they are giving off vibes that say “leave me alone” you interrupting them (making them take out earphones to listen to you or come out of a book etc.) will probably annoy them, and you could come off as more pervy than complimentary. Your aim in complimenting someone should be to make them feel better, not more uncomfortable.
  • Does the compliment you intend to give them require any explanation or expansion? Leave it out. Seriously. Give the compliment. Leave. It’s that simple, and way more effective if you don’t stick around to chat. Don’t expect a thank-you or a compliment in return. That’s not the point here. The person will likely feel a bit taken aback by you, and you shouldn’t prolong the interaction unless they obviously indicate that they want you to stick around.
  • Be careful about the nature of your compliment. Especially if you are a man complimenting a woman, words like “hot” and “sexy” will tend not to put you in their good books, and will more likely make them feel wary than good about themselves. There are of course women who are exceptions to this rule, but even so, avoid compliments that are sexual in nature. Complimenting someone isn’t about getting in their pants. It’s about making them feel good. This rule does of course apply to everyone of every gender, posing it to anyone of any gender, but the man to woman is the most common scenario and I have little to no experience with other gender combinations in this situation.

I’d really love to know what other people think about this. I’m obviously writing from my own experience and these are simply my opinions, but would love to hear alternative views and and insight on these kinds of situations.

Until next time,