Odds are 'slimming' to none that man can pay wife a harmless compliment

March 14, 1996|By KEVIN COWHERD

YOU HEAR A LOT of talk these days about how men and women don't communicate, but sometimes men communicate too much, it seems to me.

Like the other morning, my wife came downstairs dressed for work in this nice outfit: dark blazer, turtleneck sweater, black pants.

Anyway, she looked pretty snazzy and with me being half-buzzed on four cups of Folger's, I felt moved to deliver a compliment.

So what I said was: "Boy, you look great in that outfit."

Looking back on it now, if I had just left it at that, everything would have been fine.

My problem is, I have a tendency to go overboard with compliments.

Instead of just saying something nice and moving on with the conversation, I feel this need to add a second compliment, and sometimes even a third.

God knows why, although it probably has something to do with the theory that if one compliment makes a person feel good, a second compliment will make the person feel twice as good, etc.

Anyway, right after I told my wife "Boy, you look great in that outfit," I felt something welling up inside, the need to make a further comment.

And the comment I made was: "It's very slimming."

Well. You know how sometimes you'll say something, and even before all the words are out, you know it's the wrong thing to say?

This was the wrong thing to say. Because as soon as she heard it, she stiffened like I'd poked her with a cattle prod.

Then she gave me this look. I'm telling you, the temperature in the room must have dropped 20 degrees. You could see your breath.

"I'm just saying " I began. "You know, the dark colors . . . not that you have a weight problem. I mean, that's obvious. That you don't, I mean. It's just, you know, no matter how much you weigh, let's say it was 85 pounds, whatever, dark clothes will naturally "

Boy, I was really babbling at this point. My mind was racing, grinding through the gears, searching for every possible explanation for that stupid slimming remark, and I just kept talking, talking, talking, because I knew when I stopped talking, I was a dead man.

And I wanted to postpone that for as long as possible.

"Look," I continued, "that was probably not the word that . . . when I say slimming, I mean in the sense that . . . OK, you take a person who's already slim, right? Then this person man or woman, doesn't matter this person puts on dark clothes, OK? And the slimness factor! Well, it just "

The thing is, I could see it wasn't working. She kept staring at me like I'd just cut off the dog's ear with a scissors. And now I could feel my face getting hot, like I was working around a kiln.

I tried again: "Take that country star, what's her name, Winona Ryder? Now there's someone who wears dark clothes and "

Which is when my wife grabbed her bag and car keys and walked out the door. OK. I realized I was in some degree of trouble at this point. I was feeling pretty low about it and then I attended this school luncheon, where I found myself at a table with three women.

Well, one thing led to another I was hitting the Folger's pretty good, two or three more cups and before long I felt the need to unburden myself, to testify.

So I told these women the whole story: about my wife's great outfit, about my initial compliment, about adding that stupid slimming remark to a woman with absolutely no weight problem.

I was looking down at the tablecloth as I recounted all this and when I looked up, these women were staring at me in silent, wide-eyed horror.

Finally one managed: "You said that? To your wife?"

This prompted a lively discussion, the gist of which was that I had screwed up royally and that, in terms of the potential damage to a woman's psyche, the slimming remark was the equivalent of an iceberg ripping through the hull of a steamer.

"I'll tell you what you should never say to a person," another woman said. "You should never say: 'You look nice today.'"

She said this implies that the person only looks nice that particular day, and that every other day, this person looks like she slept on a subway grate. "What you should say is 'You look especially nice today,' " the woman continued.

Fine, fine, I got the point. When my wife came home, she said "Look, with that slimming thing, I know you were trying to " and I said: "Exactly!" and she said "But you see where a person would " and I said "Oh, absolutely."

So I'm glad we cleared that up.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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