It can be difficult to tell compliments from insults. You’d think it would be easy and obvious, but it isn’t.
As a child, my mother comforted me with her classic line. Somewhere in my head, I can still hear her. A lonely (probably weird) child, as a teenager, it took me a long time to find my social self. Mom could reassure me in her own special way: “There’s someone for everyone,” she told me. “Even you.”
And then there was the clothing my mother made for me. It was gorgeous, fashionable. Far better quality than the other girls wore. The Mean Girls (those girls have been around forever and live everywhere) just said “Eww! Where did you get that ugly dress?” It wasn’t ugly. They were ugly. Nicer, kinder people (adults mostly) would say, “Your mother must have made that for you. It’s so … interesting.”
As a young woman, I put on a lot of weight. Before I got rid of that hundred and fifty pounds, there were some great lines from “friends” who knew just the right words to make me feel good: “You dress really nice for a fat girl.” “I don’t think of you as fat. You’re just Marilyn.”
Later on, no longer fat, compliments have streamed in nonstop: “I thought you were a nun. Don’t you own anything that isn’t black?”
My all time favorite came from the woman who never got my first husband to the altar. Had he lived longer, she might have worn him down. She just needed another decade or two. She was baffled by my popularity with men. “I’m very nice to them,” I said. “I make them feel special and loved.” There was more to it than that, but this was what I was willing to share.
“I do that too,” she whined. (No, she didn’t.) “But,” she continued, getting ever more nasal, “How come they marry you?”
And finally, the clincher. After I published my book. “It was much better than I expected.” What were you expecting?