Dear Dr. Romance:
I recently moved here from the British Isles. I discovered your Dr. Romance blog and thought you might have some good insight on an experience I had involving an American woman's image of her body. I met a really attractive and intelligent woman at a party a few weeks ago. It was a public event at an art gallery. She was a high school teacher in her early thirties. We had been talking for a good half hour and really seemed to be hitting it off. We had even made tentative plans to meet for coffee sometime. Then, things suddenly went downhill. I commented that she had a "nice, full, hourglass figure". I thought she would take it as a compliment but instead she became deeply offended. She snapped, "Oh really….well perhaps I should do some plus size modeling!" I went into damage control mode and tried to clarify my comments but I think I only exacerbated things when I used the term "healthy". With a look of complete disgust, WHAP!, she slapped my face and departed. I will never forget those agonizing moments in the immediate aftermath, as I was standing there alone rubbing my cheek, drawing some judgemental stares from onlookers. Needless to say, it was not my proudest moment. She had a classic hourglass figure - large bust, narrow waist, shapely hips/legs. I guess she had interpreted "hourglass" as meaning big/overweight/full figured. I just thought it meant shapely and well proportioned. When I told a female friend about this she shook her head and said it was never a good idea to comment on a woman's figure when meeting her for the first time, even if I thought it was complimentary. 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 statement of rejection?
Yes, you ran afoul of American craziness about body image. Your female friend is right. Stay away from complimenting physical attributes. You can say someone has "nice eyes" or you like a pretty dress -- but no physical body compliments -- they'll always be taken wrong. Here's what I'd do. Search online for a greeting card site that has an appropriate apology card, and send it via e-mail. If there's an option to send a flower, that would help -- depending on how much you want to impress this woman. In the card, say that you apparently ran into "cultural differences" and you had no intention of being rude, that you hope she'll forgive you and have that coffee with you that she was talking about.
Good luck, and don't fret -- if you met one woman and hit it off, there'll be many others. Remember what Bobbie Burns said -- "The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley".
Dear Dr. Romance:
Well, instead of sending a fancy greeting card I decided to just send her a simple but sincere apology note:
We met a few weeks ago at the party in the art gallery. I genuinely meant to compliment you, but in so doing used a poor choice of words that deeply offended you. I am so sorry for any hurt I may have caused you. You are an intelligent woman and a person of integrity, and I have great respect for you. You are also quite beautiful. While my comments were not interpreted as I intended them, it was inappropriate for me to comment on your physical appearance after meeting you for the first time. I hope you choose to accept my apology, but if not, I sincerely wish you the best in life and I am still grateful for having met you.
My thinking was that she would probably not respond in either case. Amazingly, she not only responded by accepted my apology and it looks like we'll get together for coffee! She replied:
Gosh, I have such mixed emotions on this. You seemed like such a sweet, interesting guy at first and that's why I was so disappointed when you started commenting on my body. I've had some weight issues in the past, so perhaps I'm overly sensitive of any comments that hint at being over-weight. Also, because of my generous curves, I've too often had to deal with men who look at me primarily in a sexual/physical way. It also didn't help that you kept glancing at my chest. Therefore your comments, as well intentioned as they may have been, were like a "perfect storm" of insults. Despite all of this, I'm willing to forgive and forget - might even meet you for coffee - but the terms are that you have to pay and I get to order something really extravagant like a large, caramel macchiato.....just joking ;-) P.S. Regarding the abrupt ending to our conversation -- Well, I'm an old fashioned gal with zero tolerance for cads and I felt it was the most appropriate response at the time. I will say that you took the slap like a gentleman by turning the other cheek and then coming back to make a sincere apology. Most men would be more consumed with their own pride and resentful of the woman who slapped them. Perhaps you are more chivalrous than American men :-)
I even got a few compliments from her. Now, I'm really confused by American women ;-) Thanks again.
Good for you. You've demonstrated "The Power of Politeness." When you meet, do your best to look at her face, OK? I'm glad it worked out, and thanks for letting me know. The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again can help you avoid future blunders.
Dear Dr. Romance: