I sometimes get emails from people asking for etiquette advice. This week I received a pretty interesting one. This is what “John” (name changed to protect the guilty) wrote:
I’m not sure if you can offer advice on my situation, which I suppose is in the realm of manners and etiquette, but I thought I’d give it a try since I was too embarrassed to tell my friends about it. Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.
I met a really attractive and intelligent woman at a holiday party last weekend. It was a public event at an art gallery. She was a high school teacher in her early thirties (I’m 27) and seemed very nice. She had classic curves and was wearing an outfit that flattered her figure, but was also respectable and not provocative. We had been talking for about a half hour and really seemed to develop a great rapport. We had even made tentative plans to meet for coffee sometime.
Then, things suddenly went downhill. There was a pause in the conversation and I commented that she had a “really nice, hourglass figure”. I thought she would take it as a compliment but instead she became deeply offended. She said, “Excuse me? Why are you talking about my figure?” I went into damage control mode and tried to clarify my comments but I think I only exacerbated things as she rolled her eyes and shook her head. She told me I was being “inappropriate” and that she was “very disappointed” and started to walk away….then she came back and with a look of complete disgust, WHAP!, she slapped my face and departed.
As I stood there alone rubbing my cheek, I was trying to figure out why she was so upset. It seemed like a harmless comment to me but maybe I don’t understand women as well I should. I do have her email address. Do you think I should send her an apology note or should I interpret the slap in the face as a definitive way of saying she wants no further contact? To be true to the spirit of the holidays, I want to do the right thing.
This is how I responded:
Well it sounds like you are in quite a pickle. Commenting on a woman’s figure, even if it’s positive, is rude. It’s personal and in effect reduces a woman to a sex object. Do women want to have a nice figure? Yes, but to have a strange man comment on your figure says he is focused on the wrong things.
Let me see if I can make an analogy. It’s along the lines of a woman saying to a man she just met, “you look like you make a lot of money. I like that in a guy.” Did that make you squirm a little bit? What if you don’t make a lot of money, would you worry you couldn’t measure up? What if you do make a lot of money, you might wonder if she’s just a gold digger. Do you see where I’m going here?
I think you’ve blown it with this woman. It would be a courteous thing to send an apology email but only if you truly do mean it and you don’t have any expectations for a reply. If she does reply nicely that would be great. If not, you did the right thing and just make sure you never comment on a woman’s figure until you are dating and know her well.
Readers, what are your thoughts? Do you think John was out of line commenting on this woman’s figure or did the woman overact?
There is an update to this post. Further developments in this interesting story. Read the latest news here.