The silent treatment is the worst thing you can ever do.

We’ve all had a friend like this. You’re in a group of women and everyone’s complimenting you about your dress or your new hair or whatever it is about you that looks mildly socially acceptable that day. And this one friend says nothing. Zilch. Nada. Cold air.

Her silence buzzes loudly in your ears. Not because on this one occasion she’s deigned to disagree with the fem herd, but because she always does this.  She withholds compliments and her silence makes you feel bad because (on some level) she wants it to make you feel bad.

Usually, this is the same person whose silence can be felt on social media. You know. They’ve seen your update. You can feel them lurking. Other friends have liked or commented, but? She stays silent. Playing some kind of game you’re not really sure if anyone can win.

And this is strange because there are certain rules for complimenting that I’m sure little girls learn around the age of, oh, I don’t know, birth. It’s almost exclusively the domain of women because as we know, men do not compliment each other. Well, not in the same way women do.

Most guys don’t stand around remarking favourably over a new pair of shoes. And men’s compliments towards women are sometimes forced upon them, by us. They seem to intuit in some primal way that a woman asking how an item of clothing makes her body look is always a cue for a nice remark.

What was the last compliment you text to your loved one? Post continues after video. 

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It’s really our female friends who take up the mantel of building our self-esteem. So, the rules are that if you’re in a group of women and someone says something nice, everyone kind of chimes in their bit, while the recipient of the compliment does their best to downplay it and not blush.

A compliment is not merely about an item of clothing or a new haircut. It is an affirmation of a whole person.

"It’ll be all like, 'I love your top’." (Image via iStock.)

When one person in this process says nothing at all, it’s very noticeable. Is insecurity the main reason, or perhaps jealousy? And if it is, can these things be forgiven? Or is there some deeper vein of resentment running through the friendship? 

I have some friends who have always been terrible at compliments. I tend to want to forgive them because I can see that this is their particular weakness. They crave love so much that it’s difficult for them to give it freely. And I get that because I’ve felt insecure and jealous, too. But I have one friend who used to be the chief instigator of compliments and I loved this about her. She had a particular talent for making you feel special and beautiful but through the years something changed. She’s now become the withholder. I know she knows how to play the game but she chooses not to.

Generally, I think this is the opposite of what happens with most women. When we’re young we’re more insecure about ourselves and less able to build others up but as we get older we become more accepting of ourselves and we realise everyone’s just holding it together at the seams. Motherhood is also the time when complimenting comes into its own. And there is automatically something to share, and let’s face it, it’s usually dark circles under our eyes. But it becomes easier to build other women up because we can see cracks that perhaps weren’t allowed to be seen before. Or maybe they weren’t as deep before.

But it becomes easier to build other women up because we can see cracks that perhaps weren’t allowed to be seen before. (Image via iStock.)

My friend who chooses to withhold a compliment has left me wondering about all the silent ways women can sabotage their so-called friends. I’m not sure why there are these undercurrents to female friendship, but there are. It’s like this mystical language that all women can understand but no one speaks aloud.

It hurts just as much when you are stung by the silent sabotage of withholding of ‘likes’ on social media. You’re going through all the main players who usually send you warm fuzzies and one friend keeps being absent. Or in real life catch-ups (remember those?!) there’s the lingering hug for one friend and not the other. These gestures are not grand enough to end the friendship but they’re sharp enough to be felt.

Which begs the question, why do we keep friends who are withholding niceness, or punishing? I think it’s because it’s so subtle that we almost don’t admit it to ourselves. But then, we’re reminded that we are, in fact, masters of reading this silent language of approval and disapproval, and so is our friend.

Maybe we need to do it like the French women (is there anything we don’t want to do like the French women?!). They can use greeting kisses to demonstrate, not so subtly, how dear they hold their friends. Kisses can range from one to five and while the gesture can simply be regional, it can also be used to convey a level of intimacy.

And one kiss would be so much nicer than zero compliments.

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