In his blog post, “Beware the Flattering Single Man,” Joshua Rogers recounts a story from his dating years. He went out with a “smart, attractive, successful” Christian woman he was friends with but not seriously interested in pursuing. During the course of their date, he began showering her with compliments about her “integrity, intelligence, success, and beauty.” To the author’s surprise, she confronted him:
“Don’t do that, Joshua,” she said gently, but firmly. “If the only reason we’re spending time together is to hang out, then you don’t have any business going there with me.”
He didn’t understand her reaction at the time, but describes how he “got it” a few years later, after he’d married.
My wife had a number of single female friends who would share the frustration of spending time with guys who buttered them up with compliments, appeared to be interested, and then suddenly flew off the radar. It left these women feeling insecure and wondering what they had done wrong.
I think Rogers makes a good point, but I’m leery to point out one more thing guys might be doing wrong. In his case, he discovered he was in the wrong because of his motives; he had found a way to manipulate favor with women by complimenting them. (What woman doesn’t enjoy a compliment?) And a woman who knew him well and guessed at his motives, called him out on it. I think Rogers’ conviction was real and needed. However, I don’t think a compliment in and of itself is a bad thing.
First let’s consider Rogers’ takeaways (then I’ll come back to where I disagree):
Let me say this to the single ladies out there who read this post: words come terribly cheap, and they can end up costing you a lot of pointless emotional energy. Don’t surrender your heart to a man who has done nothing more than tickle your ears.
And to the single men, I’d ask you to consider whether you’re actually interested before you drown a woman in compliments. I understand that a woman is ultimately responsible for guarding her heart, but you could help out a lot by guarding your mouth.
I think Rogers’ point is well-intentioned. Flattery is not a type of communication Christians should be employing any more than gossip, slander or coarse joking. Speaking of those who flatter, Paul says: “For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive” (Romans 16:18).
I think it comes back to motives. If one is delivering a compliment to serve his (or her) “own appetites” — in Rogers’ case to uselessly play at winning the girl’s affection — then the compliment is flattery and fundamentally wrong. However, speaking from my own experience, God often used a well-timed word of praise or compliment from a single man to encourage me and build me up during my single years. Obviously too many compliments can create romantic confusion, but I don’t think singles need to fear compliments.
To drive home that point, consider another good word from Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” That’s the litmus test: Do your compliments build others up according to their needs and benefit them? If the answer is no, refrain from what is most likely flattery. But I see no need to ban the compliment.