Compliments and Autism
Compliments are such a tricky autism problem. I know what I’m supposed to do, say thank you. When I was a kid, I was always being prompted to say thank you to people who gave me compliments. It was hard to figure out how to explain to other people that I had multiple problems with compliments, but maybe I can explain them here.
Problem 1: It’s hard for me to recognize compliments sometimes because they are complimenting things that don’t make any difference to me. Like, someone will say, “you look pretty in that shirt” and especially as a child, I didn’t understand why looking pretty was supposed to be a nice thing to say to me. Why should I say thank you when someone said I looked pretty? Why was that a good thing? Being told that I look one way or another isn’t about ME. It’s about something outside of me that doesn’t have anything to do with me.
I had the same problem when I was told as a young teen that I was supposed to look at myself in the mirror every morning to check to see if my eyebrows were wonky and to see if I had something on my teeth. Why do those things matter? They don’t feel like they have anything to do with me. They are social graces, though. They show that you are always looking at yourself to see if something about you will please or bother other people. This is very not-autistic.
Problem 2: I see clearly as an adult now that compliments are actual a way to police behavior, especially in women. Someone offers you a compliment, and that demands that you give them attention, that you look them in the eye and say “thank you” and smile at them and then they can have a further conversation with you. But what if you don’t want that? There’s no way to avoid this without being considered “rude.” Why are strangers allowed to require your attention in this way?
Phone calls were a similar problem when I was growing up. No one answered the phone at my house because why would we want to talk to a complete stranger about something that had nothing to do with us? Yes, it was courtesy by why can someone you don’t know call you on the phone and just because they have your phone number, you are required to talk to them? Who made up this stupid rule?
Problem 3: Compliments feel like a kind of social currency exchange to me, where if someone gives you a compliment then you are in their debt. I…