Thursday, May 10, 2012

Our compliment-resistant lives


Fresh evidence that marriage is a terrific antidote to excessive ego was delivered recently when my wife and I met friends out for drinks.
I’d been surprised and pleased, as I always am, to find Cheryl had become an avid reader of this blog (hello, Cheryl!). Really, with as busy as we all are, I’m surprised and pleased anyone takes time to read things like rat poison warning labels before they splash it all over the kids’ breakfast cereal.
Time’s precious. Reading a pointless blog like this seems like the height of frivolity, the fiscal equivalent of lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills.
So I said hello by thanking her effusively.
Well, in poker terms, she saw my effusiveness and raised it. Through the roof.
“I love your blog! You’re great! Your stuff is so funny! I especially like it when . . .”
I began to settle in for a good, long preen that I was sure would conclude with her saying when she reads my blog aloud the sad become happy, the sick become well, the stupid miraculously become smart.
But my wife jumped in and cut her right off: “So what have you guys been up to?”
What?
You’d think a wife would enjoy hearing someone gush over her husband. After all, this is a woman who often hears me monologue for hours about my many career failures and everlasting inability to earn a buck.
Let me tell you, that’s one little soliloquy she never interrupts, much less contradicts.
I turned to her in amazement and said, “How rude! She might just be getting started. Why interrupt her when she’s gushing about how great I am? Please, Cheryl, continue and speak into this handy megaphone . . .”
But the moment had passed, ruined by a typical spouse ever vigilant against a significant other feeling a tad too superior.
Of course, her reaction was perfectly reasonable. Who among us doesn’t prefer the company of the humble to the arrogant, the Tebow to the Trump?
Our spouses are intimate accountants of our flaws. We all put our best foot forward in public, but with the exception, I guess, of women like Callista Gingrich, the spouse understands the reality.
They know our strengths and weaknesses, our fears and our failures and what about us is truly admirable.
I’ll never forget the night Val told me one of my most endearing characteristics is a stubborn ability to maintain supreme self-confidence without any foundational achievement.
At least I think she said endearing. She may have said exasperating.
I remain humble about my ability to be a good listener.
Either way, she’s right.
Believe me, you don’t want to spend an afternoon mirror shopping with a guy like me. 
That’s why what I’m about to say next may seem surprising.
I’m eager for people to say nice things about me, but immediately feel like fleeing the room once they do.
Had Cheryl gone on any longer, I’d have instinctively begun wondering if she was either fresh from rehab or in desperate need of rehab.
I guess it’s because -- with the exception of touchy-feely places like Southern California -- we live in a society that is utterly resistant to compliments.
Tell a woman she’s beautiful and she’ll immediately dash off five self-perceived  flaws to counter the contention.
Part of that reaction is healthy. None of us wants to give the impression of being too full of ourselves. It’s obnoxious.
But what’s wrong with graciously acknowledging the parts of ourselves that other people admire?
Is there too much pressure to be beautiful? To be kind? To be great?
The great Keb’ Mo’ wrote the 2004 song, “I’m Amazing,” a tune that without conceit says we all have warmth and worth and ought to celebrate ourselves and one another. The relevant lyrics are worthy of sharing.
I’m amazing! I’m incredible!
I’m a miracle and a dream come true!
I’m marvelous! I’m beautiful!
Guess what?
So are you.
This hard world would be a little bit easier if we all were a little more generous with the heartfelt compliments to one another and a little more forgiving of ourselves and others.
Cheryl is right.
I am great.
So’s she.
And so are you!
This post?
I gotta be honest, I think it kind of sucked.

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