There's a line between observations of physical attractiveness and being physically attracted to someone that I've come to learn isn't quite so thin. In fact, if I had to name something that was thinner, I'd say my ego which has repeatedly been played as a result of my inability to separate physical adoration from personal interest. They say most women don't know how to take a compliment; I think the bigger issue is not knowing how not to take a compliment and run with it.
To be clear, I'm not one of those women who hears "I love you" when a man says "you're beautiful." I'm usually the first to dismiss a compliment as empty words since developing the theory that men give women compliments more to edify themselves than the woman at which the compliment is directed. But where I struggle is when it comes to the fifth, tenth, and fifteenth time a man is gushing about some aspect of my physical being to my face, by phone, or via text, and then I finally start to think, hmmm maybe he's trying to tell me something, and it turns out he indeed was not.
In college you couldn't tell me this guy I worked with didn't like me. Literally, every single time I saw him, he would say something about how beautiful my skin is, my pretty face, my hair. Surely, he must be waiting for some sign of reciprocation to make his move, I thought a few weeks into this type of back and forth. And it turns out he was, as soon as I gave him my number he asked if I could hook him up with my roommate. They dated for a couple of years.
That experience has become so commonplace that I almost hate being complimented by men. When I walk down the street and a man tells me I'm beautiful, I barely turn to acknowledge him while muttering "thank you" as I swiftly walk past. Nothing about compliments that are a hop, skip and a jump away from street harassment feels genuine so I simply take the admiration in stride, literally, and think little of it later. But when men who actually know me talk about me like they want to really know me and they don't, it's... look, I'm not complaining per say 'cuz I take my ego strokes where I can get them, but the behavior is confusing to say the least.
After about three good times of embarrassing myself with men of this ilk, I had to remind myself sometimes a compliment is just a compliment. "You're so pretty" doesn't mean "You're so pretty I'd like to date you." It's a statement of fact, kind of like "It's cold today." If a man were to say that to you every single time he saw you, you wouldn't think he was implying he wants to warm you up. You would think he needs to find something better to talk about. I had to apply that same thinking to my routine male interactions. According to them, me being pretty is a statement of fact --or opinion if you disagree -- and I would like them to find something better to talk about so I can redeem what little ego I have left from non-reciprocated interest.
I feel awkward typing this, like I'm telling on myself, but I know I'm not the only one who has read too far into a few kind words. I've been on the receiving end of way too many texts from girl friends who read way too much into a man's compliment then ended up pissed off when he showed up at the happy hour he invited her to with his girlfriend. Of course you always have to leave room for the possibility of sleezy fuckboy behavior. But you also have to be real with yourself and reassess the true nature of your engagement prior to your "this could be bae" bubble being popped. Did ol' boy say, "I really want to hang out with your pretty ass, you should come to this happy hour tonight"? (which by the way isn't exactly the type of invitation you want either.) Or did he matter-of-factly inform you about PS 450's happy hour and the fact that he'd be there? There's a difference; and its imperative you learn it quickly.
If a dude slides in your DMs/responds to your Instagram stories/sends you a text from time to time just to let you know he likes what he sees, take the compliment for what it is -- a compliment not a solicitation -- and carry on. If he wanted to see what he sees on the 'gram in person or outside of whatever environment your paths crossed he would let you know. If he hasn't, appreciate the adoration and keep your emotions in check. You're good whether a man notices or not, and whether a man wants to date you or not. A compliment, while nice to hear isn't necessary; it should be nothing more than a reverberation of what you already know about yourself. The more that becomes the case, the less thirsty you'll be for a kind word to mean something more.