Are all compliments “creepy”?
Happy Valentine's Lovers, let's discuss.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this tweet:
It’s an interesting question. I’ve definitely noticed that we (women) have become more averse to compliments/attention from strangers as a collective, which somehow feels like a complete contradiction to how we behave online. I want to clarify that I’m not talking about “catcalling” as a form of attention here. I have been “catcalled” since I was about 12 years old. It sucks and I’m sure many of you can relate. It’s never acceptable to objectify a person, especially when it causes anxiety around things as simple as walking down the street.
This essay is instead an exploration of compliments and connection. Women are becoming increasingly concerned for their safety when it comes to strangers’ advances (fair enough!), and we’re also more aware of our right to say “no” whenever things feel…off. Can we even build connections with randoms in the real world anymore? Do we want to? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
To be clear—when I’m referring to my own lived experience, I’m talking about the behaviors that exist between heterosexual men approaching women. Within this group, the data suggests that we’re actually rejecting more people than ever. Two psychologists, Tila Pronk and Jaap Dennisson, uncovered the paradox behind this; modern dating provides more opportunities to find a romantic partner than ever before, but people are statistically more likely to be single. This is because a “rejection mindset” has proliferated in recent years, meaning that continued access to unlimited potential partners (online) makes people more prone to rejecting potential partners. Could this rejection mindset be taking over our IRL experiences too? Perhaps. Pronk and Dennisson argue that over time, a rejection mindset makes people “close off” from romantic opportunities when online dating. A rejection mindset is also particularly strong among women, a group of people who are much less likely to accept potential romantic partners to begin with.
Interesting. I’m curious—how does this add up with your own lived experience? Do you secretly love being hit on? Do we only pass a compliment off as “creepy” when we don’t find the person giving the compliment attractive? What’s the line between feeling objectified and a respectful compliment? Are we just exhausted by the gendered world we live in and need a break from the male gaze? Why do we want to be validated online but not IRL?
When I posed these questions to the Diem community, many women expressed that they were only annoyed by unwanted advances if the person was unattractive. Honestly, same, and I’m here for this truly savage energy. But people also told me that they think IRL compliments are almost always creepy, which could be the product of our shared experiences as women, living through the #MeToo era, and/or the media telling us that “all men are bad.” But as I dug in a bit deeper, past many replies made in jest, a few more common lines of thinking emerged.
Across the board, Diemers expressed feeling “offended” when someone they perceived as less attractive than them thought he had a shot. This is hardly revolutionary reporting, but it is interesting to see that we still measure how “successful” we are at beauty and sex appeal as a consequence of who is approaching us. As psychotherapist, Susie Orbach put it, “we are taught to see ourselves from the outside as candidates for men.” I think most of us can relate to that.
“Mostly I think it’s because on some level I feel like that person must have thought “ok she’s on my level she would be a safe bet to put myself out there for”. Maybe it’s superficial, but I take pride in my appearance and the way I present myself, but I’m also self conscious (aren’t we all) around dating due to fear or rejection. I am always nervous to approach a guy, especially if they’re obviously desirable by a lot of other people. As the woman, I want to be the one that’s desirable, so if I am out with friends and want the desirable guy to approach me but the guy who I deem not desirable does instead, it just feels like a reflection of myself and makes me feel bad.”
Many Diemers also reported feeling guilty when they reject someone’s courteous advances. One person asked: “Is it inherently feminine to feel guilty about getting hit on by someone you aren’t attracted to?” A number of you commented on feeling “responsible” for the experience of the next woman in line, which was super interesting. To me, this signals that even when we’re getting hit on, we’re thinking communally about the effect a specific man will have on other women. This feels similar to our socialized responsibility to be the caretakers of humanity, often at the expense of our own feelings (yes, this is a form of people pleasing).
Lastly, women have long been viewed (incorrectly) as the gatekeepers to love and sex, and Diemers told me that accepting a compliment can sometimes feel like opening a gate that you’re not sure you want to open. The ability to cyber-stalk a stranger before going on a date is a modern luxury, and it makes strangers in bars feel all the more unknown. But at the same time, so many of so freely preen ourselves, posting thirst traps so anyone can literally objectify us from behind a screen. There was a really interesting and relevant point in the Pamela Anderson documentary (which you all need to watch), where she reflects on how she was treated in court after suing the distributors of her sex tape. She states that because she had chosen to pose naked for Playboy (an act she found empowering) the lawyers insinuated she had given up the “rights” to her naked body in this tape. Are there parallels we can draw here to explain why we feel okay with being validated as “sexy” online, but only when we’re in control of it? Why does it feel like we have less control IRL?
This is nuanced stuff, and I want to hear what you think. Why do we seek validation online but reject it IRL? Why aren’t we the ones going up to people at bars? Do you get mad when people hit on you in public? Tell me everything!!
What we’re reading…
Teen girls report record levels of sadness (NY Times)
The midlife woman’s version of New York Magazine’s Etiquette Rules (The TueNight Social)
The girl internet vs. The boy internet (Beccacore)
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Till next week,