The Pitfalls of Flattery

Flattery is like cologne water: to be smelt, not swallowed.”
— Josh Billings

I noticed something today. I’ve been complimented on my outfit for five consecutive days. This has happened before: fall of my senior year of college – my super senior year, I guess – I had a little extra money from an unexpected refund so I spent almost all of it on clothing. For the entire month of October that year, someone remarked at least once a day about how nice I looked. It got to the point where I expected it. And today, though I remember receiving those compliments, I only remember the source of two of them: one from a woman I cared for and deeply respected, and one from the guy on campus who was particularly known for his style. Every other superlative clumped together into a single group applause.
Now, young men specifically, take this lesson to heart. Imagine you’re a woman of particular beauty and style. If I could dress myself in such a way that I got complimented daily – and remember, I’m a weird-looking, surly gent – just how often do you think attractive women hear about their looks? Now just how meaningful do you think they find it when just another guy comes up to them and offers their unmerited approval? (By the way, insert this into your lexicon: JAG, the Bill Belichick term for “Just another guy.” I will be using the shorthand in the future.)
I’m not saying women (or men) don’t appreciate being praised. What I’m saying is it’s not particularly meaningful to hear unless you are a person from whom they want to hear praise. This extends beyond just superficial things: I can tell you a compliment on my cooking means far more for me if it comes from someone I care about or someone I know has a good palate. Also, forget the fact that hearing something over and over can sometimes cause us to stop believing it. Just understand, we are suspicious of people we perceive are trying to flatter us. And if we don’t have a reason to care for their good opinion, that’s exactly the conclusion we’ll draw.


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