What I Learned After Complimenting A Stranger In A Restaurant

by Rita Templeton
Originally Published: 
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Walking into a restaurant with a couple of friends, I was struck with equal parts awe and envy at the hostess’s skin. It was flawless and poreless and dewy, the kind of airbrushed-looking complexion that everyone wants, the kind that keeps skincare a multi-billion-dollar industry. I didn’t say anything to her about it, of course – that would be weird, right? – so I just thanked her for seating us.

But then I had a couple of martinis with dinner.

On the way out of the restaurant, on the cheerful edge of tipsy, I felt courageous enough to swing by the hostess station. “Sorry to bother you,” I said quickly, “but I noticed earlier how gorgeous your complexion is and I thought I’d tell you. It’s perfect! Right out of a magazine!”

She seemed to light from within, her enviable skin glowing as one hand flew up to rest on her cheek. “Thank you so much!” she beamed, surprised. And as I glanced backward on my way out the door, she was still smiling.

Maybe she gets it all the time, random restaurant patrons telling her how beautiful she is. Or maybe it was just what she needed to hear and it made her entire night. Either way, it was a beneficial interaction for both of us – because getting compliments feels good, but giving them is just as nice. And that got me thinking: why do we hold back so much of the good stuff?

I understand why we refrain from saying ugly things to people — that carries a risk of confrontation. Telling someone they’re acting like a dick doesn’t typically help a situation. It doesn’t perpetuate positivity, and we don’t want our asses beaten by an angry stranger. But what do we gain by biting our tongues instead of offering a genuine compliment? Why don’t we just let them fly, the way we’re more inclined to when we’ve knocked back a few sips of “liquid courage?”

For proof of this phenomenon, look no further than a women’s restroom at a bar or club. Stand at the mirror long enough to wash your hands or touch up your lipstick, and you’ll inevitably hear a jubilant decree of, “I LOVE YOUR SHIRT!” or a squeal of, “Your smoky eye is on point!” because that’s what drunk girls do. (Well, some of us anyway.) We get tipsy and we love everybody and, damn it, we feel compelled to tell them.

We’re more inclined to believe compliments coming from a drunk girl because everybody knows that drunk people tell it like it is. But the only difference between complimenting someone in a bar bathroom and, say, a grocery store aisle is the presence of an above-average blood alcohol content. It still comes from a genuine place – I mean, we’ve got nothing to gain by telling someone we like their hair if we don’t mean it.

Imagine if, every time we thought something nice about someone, we actually let them know. I can’t tell you how frequently I secretly admire a trait in a perfect stranger. It happens almost every time I go somewhere, from the mom in front of me in the checkout line who has nailed the perfect messy ponytail, to the teenager being so sweet with a younger sibling, to the teacher at my kid’s school whose fashion sense is better than my Pinterest boards. And I don’t know why I don’t just tell them. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? I’m pretty sure nobody is going to snarl, “Ew! Get away, you creep!” – and if they do, well, they’ve got issues that didn’t come from me randomly complimenting them.

So I’m making it my personal goal to start calling it as I see it: if we’re standing shoulder to shoulder in the frozen food section and I admire your taste in footwear, well, you’re gonna know it. You’ll feel awesome that a stranger likes your shoes enough to say something (I mean, who doesn’t?!), I’ll feel great that I’ve given you a little boost of confidence, but most importantly, our children are watching. They may not get to see what goes on in a bar bathroom lovefest, but they can certainly see how we treat people out in the world, and it’s how they learn to treat people themselves. So the way I see it, doling out compliments like a drunk girl is not only spreading some immediate sunshine … it’s sowing the seeds of a brighter future, too.

By the way, you’ve got great taste in reading material.

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