Backhanded Compliments That I Often Receive

Backhanded Compliment #1: “Wow, I love what you are wearing! I could never pull that off.”

What they think they mean: “I think you look ridiculous and I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that. I somehow want to mention it to express my distaste with your fashion choices, but I don’t want to be totally mean about it.”

I enjoy fashion, mostly accessories, unique patterns, and layering items that don’t normally go together. And of course I enjoy compliments on my sense of style, but somehow I get the aforementioned compliment instead. And just what does “pull off” really mean? Do they mean that my watch fob necklace complements my bone structure and not theirs? Am I more adept at hanging necklaces around my neck and lacing combat boots than the average person?

If they wouldn’t wear what I am wearing, then they don’t care for it. Fine. It’s opinion. Then say nothing. I happen to think Sketchers shoes are an abomination, but I don’t tell every person wearing them that they are brave for wearing them. If you do like what I am wearing, let it inspire you to make some bold fashion choices for yourself. My entire teen years were spent trying to recreate Angela Chase’s outfits from My So-Called Life. Maybe I still sort of do that.

What they really mean: “I don't have the confidence to wear something that isn’t what the mainstream is wearing. I don’t want to stand out.”

Backhanded Compliment #2: “You are really brave to just pack up and move across the country without knowing a soul in California.”

What they think they mean: “You are all alone on a faraway state with no friends and boyfriend. If you die, it will be days before someone finds you, and it will only be because of the smell of your rotting corpse.”

True, it did take some chutzpah to move to California after living 28 years on the East Coast, so why not focus on my sense of adventure and my confidence? There are lots of people already living in California, and I do have the ability to talk to them and some of them will become my friends, thus solving the alone part. I am also good at being independent and seeking out enjoyment and activities for myself, which some people also find, for some reason, amusing.

What they really mean: “I’m stuck where I am for the rest of my life with no chance of ever leaving. I am not able to leave what is familiar for something that may be better. Also, I'm terrified of being alone; I’m envious that she has the courage to do that.”

Backhanded Compliment #3: “You are so lucky to be single! You can just sleep in, go out, and do what you want with no responsibilities. I remember when I was like that.”

What they think they mean: “How sad, you are not married. How do you find fulfillment in your life? Are you really happy with your frivolous activities? You are a perpetual child, indulging in material amusements. Besides, who will take care of you when you get older? How can you not fulfill your duties as a woman? I am more of an adult than you because I have children.”

This is one that I really relish. When someone says this, I provide more details of my independent, “selfish” life. I tell them how I slept in, grabbed a quick lunch and then decided last minute to check out a museum. That night, I went to the city to check out a band and got home late. Then, the next day, I decided to stay in my pajamas all day and eat ice cream for lunch while watching movies. And it’s true: I love that my life is in my own terms and I can come and go as I please. So yes, thank you, I am lucky for that.

What they really mean: “I got married and had children because I thought that was the path that I was supposed to take. Now that I am a wife/husband and mother/father, I miss my younger years, but could never admit that since I’m supposed to think that my destiny is being a parent. I’m already armpits deep in Dora the Explorer and crayons so it’s no use thinking about the past.”

If you like what you just read, please hit the green ‘Recommend’ button below so that others might stumble upon this essay. For more essays like this, scroll down and follow the Human Parts collection.

Human Parts on Facebook and Twitter