Monday, 11 January 2016

A complete stranger gave me a

a rather nice compliment a couple of weeks back. Then he apologised,
      "I don't suppose I should have said that."
I smiled and thanked him and said I didn't mind. I didn't mind either because it was quite obvious that he meant  what he had originally said.
Since then we have had the Jamie Briggs affair and some sportsman doing something else considered inappropriate. (I haven't bothered to follow it. I am not interested enough to want to know.) Then someone else has been criticised for something else.
Now there is inappropriate behaviour which goes too far. It can cause great embarrassment and distress. It shouldn't happen.
But it seems to me that there is also behaviour which is intended to give pleasure. There is behaviour which is intended to say, "I like something about you" and the circumstances should then dictate whether it goes any further.
Each Christmas I make some gingerbread biscuits for the people who work in the greengrocer. It's a way of thanking a thoroughly nice group of people who are helpful and friendly and occasionally give me a bunch of flowers that still have plenty of life in them but they can't sell. 
A couple of days after giving one of the girls the biscuits so that they could be shared around one of the boys who works there came up behind me, very briefly put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Thanks for the biscuits Cat."
Another customer looked rather shocked and, fortunately when he had gone, said to me, "I wouldn't let him touch me like that!"
"I feel perfectly comfortable with it," I told her.
And I did. He always gives me a wave if he's driving one of their vehicles out of the shopping centre. He always says, "Hello Cat" if I pass him in the shopping centre itself. He's young enough to be my son - if I had any.
Her reaction bothered me. The reaction of the man who gave me the compliment saddened me. 
I have observed similar reactions elsewhere. Giving someone a compliment is now fraught with danger. Touching someone you don't know very well is not at all acceptable. It doesn't matter how good your intentions are you don't do it  - or so it would seem. We see danger at every turn.
The Senior Cat will tell people the story of the day he went to see the man who was then his GP, a man now sadly retired early. My mother had not been gone that long and my youngest sister was causing a great deal of worry. The Senior Cat had just admitted he was not sleeping well because of both these things. The GP reached out and, briefly, touched his hand. He didn't say anything, just touched the Senior Cat's hand. The Senior Cat has never forgotten that.
It's important to touch people sometimes. I am going off to do some work on reorganising a small library today. Three people are coming to help me. One of them is giving me a ride to the venue. We won't touch one another. She isn't that sort of person. She never gives compliments to anyone. It just isn't in her nature to do that. I may give her one in the future - but I doubt it. 
Of the other two. I have hugged one person on a special occasion and she has hugged me in the same way. We can exchange compliments.
The last person is different. I know I'll be greeted with a hug even though it is hot. She will have something nice to say too.
People are different. If a stranger wants to do nothing more than say something nice then it saddens me to think that they no longer feel free to do it.
And how on earth are people going to build relationships if "flirting" is unacceptable? Of course there are limits. "Stop" has to mean "stop" but does it have to mean "don't dare even start"? Are we in danger of losing something important in relationships with other people? 
When I was a mere kitten someone said something unexpected and rather nice to me. I felt embarrassed and I didn't respond. My paternal grandmother told me, "Cat, that was a compliment. You must learn to accept compliments graciously. It is the mark of a lady to be able to do that."
She was right.


Melfina said...

Thinking about it, my mother and I don't hug. Like ever. I have no idea why, she just doesn't do that. So, as a young adult, I was not comfortable with hugs. I've gotten better over the years, but I can still have a sensory overload sort of thing. Basically ACK, CAN'T COPE. That same ack at an emotional level, well, 7 suicide attempts, panic attacks, vomiting for hours, it isn't pretty. And I've spent a LOT of time pretending normal. I'm extremely friendly and outgoing, and yeah, I'm putting out "don't touch" without realizing it.
My 2016 goal is to compliment at least one person a day. Because I like telling someone they have great hair, or those shoes are awesome, or that eye makeup is great. It makes them happy, and it probably helps that I generally try to go with something they chose (hair's the only iffy there I think) and generally more women than men (hetero female) and most of the time they're just walking by and I see something that I like in an aesthetic sense and I kinda feel like women are always being judged in a kinda not-nice way at best, so it's kinda my attempt to give a bit more nice and less icky.
Compliments have become more tricky because I think we're all a bit more aware of the fact that they can be skeevy, even when not meant so.
Of course, part of that is that I'm empathic. If the people around me are happy, I pick that up. I also spent quite a lot of time learning manners, so please, thank you, smiling, holding a door, all that, well, I just do it. Habit. And people have seen that as me flirting when it's not and things could have been bad if I'd not had a large male friend next to me. I compliment other women far more because it's safer. The only place I regularly compliment strange men is at DragonCon when we're passing going in opposite directions in a crowd and it's just "cool shirt" because that feels safe.
I've never been sexually or physically assaulted. I've had a rude gesture once and two iffy situations that didn't go anywhere. Compared to most other women I've met, I'm insanely lucky.
So yes, it'll be a great day when I can compliment a man just as I would a woman, and yeah, I think everyone should be able to say "awesome hair" or "great necklace" and have it be completely okay and safe. I loved hugging my grandmother, and I still miss that, and I always will. But she was also the same woman who told me I wasn't allowed to be angry at my mother (which my mother immediately corrected in one of the very few times I've seen her ANGRY).
For good or ill, we're human, and maybe right now we've given up some of the lovely '50s politeness for attempting to make sure everyone gets some bit of say. It'd be great if more people said hello, please, thank you, smiled, all that sort of thing, but I'm willing to have less polite for more safe.

(I may have completely lost the thread of the plot in this, if so I apologize. It's a rather fraught thing, I think, for me, and I think for many women and men. We're all dealing with far more information and people then we ever really have before, and it's insanely messy and there's some amazingly smelly icky bits and there's also some wonderful bits and we're all trying to agree on which is which and fighting to keep the bits we think are icky away and the wonderful bits with us. Rather like having a baby, I'd think. Also, I really need to sleep. Like 2 nights of none at all need to sleep, so I fear I'm not organizing my thoughts well. I do hope I didn't offend, and I won't mind the cat hair if you don't mind the black and white and tan dog hair!)

catdownunder said...

Black and white and tan dog hair welcome - I'm glad you felt you could say that somewhere!

Anonymous said...

I am starting to wonder how the next generation will find a mate! We can no longer somebody we think we might like to share a coffee to start to get to know them. Back to arranged marriages? Please no!