Find any online comment to the effect that “men are trash,” and you’re bound to see a bunch of angry replies from men: “Actually, we’re not,” or, if he’s fired up, “We invented western civilization” — but it’s rare to see anything more specific than that.
This is the anti-mating dance of heterosexual culture, and, accordingly, it never leads anywhere. That’s because for all the chest-thumping he’s doing to hype his own gender, that dude sucks at living his man-positive philosophy outside the rarefied salon of internet discourse.
For example: He’ll rarely, if ever, go out of his way to compliment the dudes in his life.
He doesn’t have a reassuring word for his bro with a sharp new haircut, and he assumes that saying “cool shirt” to a male coworker will sound weird, or even — horror of horrors — somewhat flirtatious.
He keeps any such observation to himself, afraid that releasing it could dissolve the delicate web of social gender norms.
Where did men get this superstition?
The true result of one man paying another a compliment is that both get a little ego boost: The complimenter thrills at his own generosity, while the complimented party remembers that he is seen and appreciated, perhaps even a worthwhile addition to the species. This warm and fuzzy camaraderie, I guess, is not enough to justify the verbalization of a kind thought, or simply not worth the risk of violating an unspoken taboo. Better to continue busting each other’s balls.
On a Reddit thread that explored how straight guys got so stingy with their in-group accolades, one theory — besides generic homophobia — stood out: “Because I think most straight men are constantly competing for something low key.”
If men are as dominance-focused as some would have us believe, it might make sense that we look deny our rivals any edge, even the dose of confidence that comes with a well-aimed pat on the back. Compliments are to be doled out with greater rewards in mind: sex, for example, or career success. With motives like these, it’s fine to suck up shamelessly.
But a compliment for the compliment’s sake? Absurd! Besides, we shouldn’t get the false impression that women are any nicer. As another redditor writes: “If you’ve ever heard women complimenting each other, it’s a form of competition. Women might actually mean about 10 percent of the compliments they give.” I’ll go ahead and assume there’s broad, hard, scientific evidence for that figure. In which case, yeah, men are to continue avoiding favorable remarks, lest they turn out to be more aggressive than a pointed lack of mutual reinforcement.
No, wait — that’s dumb as shit. Never mind.
See, it’s not super-complicated. If you want to shout out your boy for sticking to his diet, or decorating his apartment well, or parallel-parking like a boss, you can. You’re allowed. And he’ll appreciate it.
As the redditor above noted after receiving a few genuine compliments on his appearance, “It felt GREAT. I don’t think I can remember a time I felt more self-confident and genuinely enjoyed myself.”
So tell your bro his workout routine is paying off — he’s clearly been lifting hard, secretly hoping someone notices. Tell him his shirt fits nicely — he’s clearly spent some extra cash on tailoring.
Last weekend, a friend was visiting town, and when we met up, he said he liked my shoes — clean vintage Jordans I’d bought on sale at a thrift shop. “Thanks,” I replied, pleased to have my humble stab at foot-fashion acknowledged by a dude who only wears extremely dope sneakers. Neither of us died. Then we went out for tacos.
So go ahead! Try it yourself. Don’t force it, though; just keep an eye out for the opportunity, and when the moment feels right… well, you’re smart. You’ll figure it out.