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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Good looks and bad

So my wife and I were having a friendly debate over what constitutes friendliness and what constitutes flirting.

At issue was the depth, context, and frequency with which you compliment a member of the opposite sex, whether co-worker, neighbor, friend, etc.

For example, I might tell the wife she looks beautiful in a particular outfit. But I'd be uncomfortable telling that same thing to a female co-worker or friend or neighbor.

Being a guy, my instinct says compliments are no big deal, just another collection of words strung together. But being a married guy, I'm a little more careful as to what I say, how I say it, and to whom, because I don't want a nice gesture misinterpreted. I know I'm not the only guy who thinks about this stuff in this way.

My buddy says I'm being uptight. I say I'm being smart.

What do you think?


  • I think it's all in your "presentation".If I get a compliment from a guy co-worker, well, first, you need to pick me up off the floor(I work in IT with developers-love them dearly but they're generally not strong with people skills..). 99 times out of 100 it's said respectfully. That 1 time, though,it comes out lewd or off-color, makes me want to avoid that person forever. And I find if I give a guy a compliment, they usually don't know what to say - what's up with that, James???

    By Anonymous dogncatmom, at 3:25 PM  

  • You're being smart James. Can't be too careful in today's world. People misconstrue things all the time.

    If someone at work were to tell me I look beautiful it'd probably give me the heebie-jeebies (unless it was a female I consider to be a friend).

    By Anonymous Freddie, at 3:40 PM  

  • You're being smart. Freddie is right. Unless you're friends with the person outside work or at least very friendly at the office it's kinda skeevy to tell someone they look hot. Now, I think it's perfectly ok to say "I really like your dress" or "That's a great color on you." Those are non-threatening. It's all in the delivery, like dogncatmom said.

    By Blogger Melissa, at 8:59 PM  

  • I will tell a total stranger "That's a beautiful suit, and it fits you perfectly". I don't discuss anything of the sort with anyone with whom I have a professional relationship.

    By Anonymous og, at 9:41 PM  

  • We are in the midst of sexual harassment training. Not how to do it, but... you know. How to avoid it.
    My boss has complimented me on outfits. In no inappropriate way whatsoever. The fact that he notices is rather pleasant.
    However, after having the training I could sue his ass. Which I've mentioned. After which, he laughs as do I.
    Some things are stupid. Some things are obviously inappropriate. I'm capable of telling myself which are which.
    Some stuff is so beyond worrying about, and that is what is so sad about this whole discussion.
    In fact, I've complimented female coworkers on something and we all caveat it with "Not right! Not right!"
    Has nothing to do with real sexual harassment.

    By Anonymous Frothmistress, at 1:31 AM  

  • You're being smart, James. Though telling people they look good, when they do, is probably a Good Thing. It's all in the phrasing, I s'pose.

    Being in the fortunate position of not having to go out to work I don't have to sort this one. Though I do compliment 'my old ladies' at church. Not much chance of being misconstrued there. Whew!

    By Anonymous bronchitikat, at 4:21 AM  

  • Here's what a Human Resources trainer would tell you: Would you do or say this thing if your spouse or significant other was there to see or hear you (and presumably to stab you with a fork, or at least with a piercing glare)? If not, then you've crossed the line.

    Another option is to get "Fashion Police" added to your job title. And make sure you compliment colleagues of both sexes when they look good.

    By Anonymous Not in HR, but I've been trained, at 7:22 AM  

  • of course you're being smart. you carry your wife with you wherever you go. that's what that ring is for. i would hope she would do the same. riddle me this, batman, how do you subtly tell a friend you were flirted with casually as a single soul that now you are married and feel funny about having lunch with him alone? you're not doing anything wrong, but now that you're married you view the situation as something that doesn't feel right? thanks abby.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:57 AM  

  • My question is this: How do you let a friend you flirted with when you were single (yes, I never dated him) know that it feels strange having lunches alone with him now that you're married?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:00 AM  

  • My question is this: How do you let a friend you flirted with when you were single (yes, I never dated him) know that it feels strange having lunches alone with him now that you're married?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:00 AM  

  • you're being smart james! do unto your wife as you'd have her do unto you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:01 AM  

  • As a married guy, you should bet on safe rather than sorry. Married guys get years of training on how to hold their toungue and how to say something like a woman would say it. In a woman's world, compliments and friendliness are a minefield of hidden emotions and unspoken innuendo. When determining if a comment is friendly or flirting, ask a woman. Men typically don't look past the compliment for obscure meaning--it is what it is. Thanks and have a good one.
    Women get frustrated by this (especially when they are flirting with an oblivious guy) because they have to be overt about their intentions and desires (which women obviously don't teach each other since they are so bad at it). The mystery and intringue of flirting is lost on men because there isn't enough time in the day to work, fix the car, get beer, watch the game, and hear about their lady's day and then decipher an offhand comment. Something has got to give and caring about the nature of a passing comment is it. That's why men get so frustrated having to discuss their reaction (or lack thereof) to a perceived attempt at flirting by either a significant other or her friend. We just don't see it as something worth wasting breath on. Any man who tells you different is lying to avoid wasting further time or brain power on it.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 10:51 AM  

  • Ohhh, WOW ... Has the world become sooo difficult to live in??? So one can be sued if one give a compliment??? I give compliments all the time, both to men and women, children and ... even when I walk my dog and we meet another dog we stop, I stroke the other dogs pelt and say: " wow, what a nice dog you are" I've never been sued yet.
    But i assume you are smart, James.

    By Blogger Kirsten N. Namskau, at 1:58 PM  

  • James, keep doin' it how you doin' it! Making mention of a co-workers clothing, figure, perfume, weight, hairstyle, walk, etc., will get you into big trouble. (No matter what color your wife is!) :)

    By Blogger Angie, at 3:50 PM  

  • Interesting comments all. Some of you misunderstood my intent. I'm not talking about approaching strangers or people I'm not familiar with. I'm talking people I know well. And I'm not talking unsolicited compliments. I'm talking those that are asked for. It's not harassment I'm worried about. It's disrespecting my wife.

    For example, I had a co-worker who was also a a friend who used to fish for compliments - from everyone, not just me. I don't know. Maybe it was insecurity. Well, I made it a point to steer clear 'cause the things she was looking to hear went a little deeper than I was willing to say. I was always good for a "you look fine, don't worry about it" or a "no, that color doesn't look horrible on you." But she wanted the "Oh, you're hot!" and the "If I was single I'd totally hit on you!" And while some co-worker/friends might've been OK w/that I wasn't.

    Another example of how tricky compliments can be: I once casually and innocently mentioned to my wife before we were married that a female friend was having trouble with her inattentive/abusive boyfriend. I said something to the effect of "She can do better than him. She's really pretty." I might've even used the word "beautiful."

    Well, I remember my wife having a funny look on her face and for the world of me I couldn't figure out why. Only later did it come out that I had used a word to compliment a platonic friend that I hadn't even used to compliment my own then-girlfriend for some time.

    Opposite sex compliments really are tricky.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 3:53 PM  

  • James, by your own definition, "Mein Kampf" could also be considered just another collection of words strung together. I come from a day when, some three decades ago, a second-line manager of a major corporation made a female employee parade herself in front of the primarily male audience in a staff meeting so they could "get a good look at her" after she had won some sort of award.

    Regarding dissing the missus, that's all wrapped up in her self image. If she loves herself as much as she loves you, it'll roll right off.

    Personally, I keep my comments to myself and just choose to drink in the wonder of the female form in silence and pray to God that he never takes away my sense of vision.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 6:34 PM  

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