Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen


Recently I've received several compliments that ended in "although, of course, I might be biased." Hmm. Actually, it's more than recently. It started with my parents when I was pretty small. "Your dad and I think you're kind of neat. Of course, we might be biased." (In this context, "kind of neat" is Scandosotan for "fantabulous.")

I've been thinking more about this lately, about how we're taught to systematically discount this sort of thing, how we're supposed to treat compliments as untrustworthy if they come from close to us. You can't trust your parents, your best friends, your significant others, anybody who might actually like you as a person, much less (heaven forbid) love you. Unless they say you look horrible. Then it's all for your own good. Believe the bad, discount the good. Bah.

I think most girls are taught that guys will compliment you only to get you in bed, and we shouldn't listen to them. Somewhere along the line I started to wonder why they'd want to go to bed with someone who was not at all appealing in the first place. That's more than a little strange, and it made me think that something was perhaps wrong with this advice. That sure, maybe there's a time in some people's lives where very large percentages of their preferred sex(es) are attractive to them, but that the attraction is no less genuine for that.

I think we need to trust compliments. I think I need to trust compliments. That doesn't mean taking them as unvarnished truth. It does mean trusting that sometimes there's a good reason for someone to say something nice. That often there's a good reason for it. That a bias in favor of you says more good things about you than bad. It's no surprise that when we like people, we think more highly of them, or vice versa, or that the two would play into each other. The interplay doesn't make them less trustworthy.

Having actual female friends has really helped this along. Having women in my life who are neither family members nor engaged in some complex system of zero-sum point-scoring has been incredibly liberating. The positive, grooming parts of primate behavior are starting to show their face in my life -- hesitantly, but still, there they are, these other primates, reaching over a coffee table to tuck a strand of my hair back or noticing my earrings or lighting up when I take the time to say to a stranger in the grocery store, "That's a great sweater."

I started thinking about all this -- and I can't decide whether this is odd or appropriate -- at my first con. It was ICFA, and they were getting a picture of the whole crowd of us down by the pool, and some lovely woman (I think I remember who, but I'm not absolutely certain) pushed my shoulder gently and said, "Go in the front, ducks, you've got lovely legs." Which is so foreign to how physics women interacted, and so very very foreign to how my high school pecking order was arranged, that I smiled at her all baffled-like and went in the front as instructed. It was extremely confusing. I poked at it in my brain for awhile: she wasn't trying to get anything out of me, and she was noticing some physical thing. How very odd. What was she doing? She was being nice. Real, warm, friendly niceness to some confused kid who had all the hallmarks of being part of her own tribe.

She was making it all go. It was like making bread for somebody, only with a little word and gesture instead. I hadn't really known that kind of thing could be done without flour, sugar, butter, usually some overripe bananas. It is much easier to trust banana bread, because when you poke it with your finger, it's still there. (Depending on who lives at your house, that is....) But biased, fallible human compliments and positive interactions are part of making it all go, too. It's not all baked goods. This is probably a revelation people from non-baking cultures don't need to have. As I am from a baking culture, it was quite necessary.

(I do not entirely believe the world would fall apart if I stopped making banana bread. No; because there is still gingerbread, and apple bread, and pumpkin bread....)

I don't mind if you know me and you think I'm prettier than you would if you didn't know me. I think that's just fine. I probably think you're better-looking than you would be if you were some stranger, too. Some biases are to be trusted. The ones that go warm and human and caring, those are the good ones. Go with those.

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