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?

21 thoughts on “COMPLIMENTS … OR … WHAT?”

  1. Oh, my goodness — I really relate to this! Moms can be terrible with the backhanded compliments, as can school-aged peers! Even my niece, who had learned it well, commented recently about how mean her Granny (my mother) was to me, through to the end of her life.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I always felt it was generational — perhaps with an additional layer of internationality (my mother was an immigrant from England), and her own unresolved demons. It’s amazing how hard it is to overcome the unintended backhanded compliments!

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  2. Sounds like you had a challenging young adulthood. I’m glad you turned things around and a rather sweet revenge in more ways than one. That backhanded Compliment? Wow. All said and done, we could have been cohorts, omg the fun we could have had I can see it Now! The thought fills me with glee tbh snickers laughs and roars miscieviously

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  3. It does toughen us, doesnt it. And the friends who end up shredding us for mulch. yes indeed.

    My mother used to say, half sardonically, “when you were born, I was so excited, now I was going to have a little girl to dress up and play with…” (dramatic pause, sigh) “and then I got you.”

    Sadly, I came to realize this was a subtle way of saying I had disappointed her from the git go. I never wanted the frilly (remember starch???) nylon dresses, or the dolls, or the patent leather shoes…She did. They do nail ya, and probably never realize where the arrow hits.

    My favorite hard truth was the day when I had already developed the face I was going to be stuck with, and somehow I just knew it…and I said, ‘am I ever going to be pretty” (only at 12 do you ask such questions) and my mother, ever on the alert for helpful responses said started talking rapdily about beauty only being skin deep and in the long run, yadda yadda…and I thought, years later, it may be only skin deep, but it does matter when you’re fifteen and want a date for the dance, yep. 16 year old boys don’t give a fig about inner beauty, they want it on the outside and preferably with a 36C chest.

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    1. I honestly believe that moms mean well, but they are wired the way they are wired. Having kids doesn’t change their basic “mode of operation.” So, if they were sarcastic and snarky before becoming mothers, they were snarky, sarcastic mothers. And wives.

      I dumped a lot of people because I did not believe they were really friends. I didn’t trust them. People who are always telling jokes at your expense … well … they aren’t friends. I also had a lot of hangers-on who wanted something, though I often wondered what I had that someone else would want, especially since I came in for so much criticism about everything from looks to manners to fashion to …

      Probably some of it was jealousy, of a sort. I was very popular for a long time, until I decided popularity was overrated and too much work. Funny how easy it is to be popular if you always have a place to crash, a fire in the hearth, and food in the fridge.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Funny/ironic how we inherited some of those traits mentioned from our folks. I believe they often key some of our “contentious” exchanges.


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