Guys, you’ve all been there. The woman in your life returns from shopping, disappears into the bedroom, and emerges in a new pair of jeans. She plants herself in front you, turning slowly, and asks “Do these look okay?”
Pop quiz: What do you say?
In all likelihood, you start to fidget or squirm. Maybe you avert your eyes or pretend like you didn’t hear her. Perhaps you mumble a response and hope that it will satisfy. You’ve probably, at one point or other in your life, gotten this moment very wrong and paid dearly for it, possibly without ever understanding what you did wrong.
Let me enlighten you.
When a woman preens for you — this includes showing off new clothes or a new haircut, getting dressed up to spend time with you, stripping down to reveal lingerie that is likely uncomfortable and more expensive than she can afford — you need to reward her for the effort, even if the result isn’t entirely perfect. Failing to do so sends her a very firm and very memorable message that preening for you is not advisable, unless she wants to feel terrible as a result. We women are a pretty wise bunch that way. It’s a lesson we learn quickly and file away securely.
The day before James and I broke up, I spent the afternoon shopping with my eldest daughter, Sabrina. When my mother visited over Christmas, she pawed through my closet and pronounced it woefully inadequate in the category of “going out” clothes. Before she left, she wrote me a big check and firmly directed me to get some nice, sexy “going out” clothes. I was strictly forbidden from purchasing anything that would be appropriate for the workplace. I wasn’t about to argue. She was patently correct. My meager budget affords no room for frivolous clothes, and I was aware of the deficit before she pointed it out. So, Sabrina and I set out to find mommy some “hot mamma” clothes.
We had a wonderful afternoon together. Amazingly, given her apparent tone-deafness toward her own style, Sabrina seemed to have a good sense of what worked on me. I felt feminine and pretty in the clothes we selected, and it was fun to shop without any guilt about my checking account. That evening, I took my treasures to James’ house and presented him with a fashion show.
What. A. Big. Mistake.
To say that he wasn’t enthusiastic would be a gross understatement. Outfit after outfit, I would say, “What do you think?” and he would say, simply, “No.” I have no idea if it was the clothes or how I looked in them. As the ordeal dragged on, I came to feel like I felt like an ugly duckling dressed in swan feathers. I swear, he looked like he was enduring a root canal. Of the roughly 15 items I adorned, he picked two that were “okay” on me. When it was over, I hastily threw all the new clothes, unfolded, into their bags and tossed them in my trunk, feeling every bit humiliated and inadequate.
Men: when we display ourselves for you in something we want to be pretty in, and you respond with complete disinterest (or worse), it is the equivalent of you slipping out of your boxer briefs and us wrinkling our nose, pointing at your package, and saying “Really? That’s it?”
Yes, that’s what it feels like, and yes, it’s really that bad.
If you’ve ever seen a girl’s face crumble when you’ve told her that those jeans actually DO kinda make her look fat, you’ve glimpsed some of that pain. Most likely, she covered for it, appeared to blow it off, but — trust me on this — she didn’t. It hurt.
It’s not that we want you to lie to us. Sincerely, that’s not the point. It’s just that we want to think that you think that we’re hot. All the time. No matter what we’re wearing. Obviously, some things look better than others, and providing useful commentary is desired. It’s the execution that usually needs work. Tact and truth are not mutually exclusive. Some of you know this, but plenty of you don’t seem to.
Consider this situation:
Woman buys new bathing suit and models it for boyfriend/husband. It’s probably not the best look for her, so boyfriend/husband is stuck.
Boyfriend/husband says, “No way, sweetheart. Sorry, but that just doesn’t look very good.”
Boyfriend/husband says, “Sweetheart, you’re hot, but that bikini doesn’t do you justice. Find something that shows off what you’ve got.”
See the difference? The first answer makes her feel like she’s just ugly. The second answer makes her feel like she’s hot; it’s the suit that’s ugly. Honest, AND a compliment.
I’m making a big assumption leap here — that the woman doing this for you is someone for whom you care. That her feelings matter to you and you honestly do think she’s hot. If so, please, don’t make her think different. Don’t crush her feelings just because you don’t like the clothes covering her hotness, or worse, because you’re too lazy to treat her tenderly.
This morning I was dressing for lunch with a friend. We were meeting at a fancy restaurant downtown that required a little more than the standard jeans and sweater. I stood in my closet and stared at the new clothes, hanging there with the tags still on. I pulled out a blouse and a blazer and contemplated them, feeling a flush spread over my face as I remembered that evening at James’. I took a deep breath, and pulled them on anyway.
Seconds later, I heard the front door open, and my children rushed in, shouting their hellos; they’d stopped by unexpectedly to pick up some things they’d forgotten. As I emerged from the bedroom, my girls’ eyes popped open. “Wow, Mom. You look awesome!” “Mommy, you look really pretty! I love that blouse!” I felt myself exhale. I know they’re only children, but they normally don’t hesitate to tell me how uncool I am. Their buoyant appreciation was like a salve to my wounded ego.
Hopefully someday, I’ll feel comfortable wearing those clothes I had so much fun selecting. I showed them to Annie, too, and she chose just a few to return, which I have. But the rest continue to hang in my closet, casualties of James’ brutal assault on my feminine ego.
So, guys, please remember: Our female egos are just as fragile as your male egos. Be a little gentle with us and we’ll love you for it.
Now say it with me: “You’re hot, but that doesn’t do you justice.”
Trust me. Just say it.