Complimenters and Ghosters: Is There Room in Your Tent?

How to tell the difference between a sincere compliment and one from a ghoster.

Posted Aug 03, 2015

Copyright Rita Watson, 2015
Source: Copyright Rita Watson, 2015

Whether it is from another woman, a man, or a wishful thinking boytoy – compliments from strangers startle us.  The other evening, happily having dinner and watching a baseball game at our neighborhood gathering place, a young lady came up to me.  She said, “I’ve been watching you from the other end of the bar.  And I want to be you when I’m older – glamourous and confident.”  Quite taken aback, I thanked her and we chatted  briefly about our work.  I saw in her someone who was animated, lovely,  and self-assured.  She hoped we would meet again one day and gave me her card.

Her compliment was uplifting.  And we have learned through research reported by the British Psychological Society, “the role of neuroscience in providing an explanation of how praise and encouragement can enhance the motivation to work hard.”

She spurred me on to get to work on a stack of cards that I had tossed into my “get in touch with someday” box.  Back in Boston just five months, I have found that catching up with old friends and meeting new ones has become an interesting challenge.  In Providence, the simple walking distance proximity to a faculty club “where everybody knows your name” provided a safe harbor.  For a woman whose husband is traveling, or in the military, or is even contentedly single, faculty clubs are a bit of a sanctuary.

Finding a walking distance pub where I could scrawl notes on a cocktail napkin for my next story, without socializing, was almost as good as a private club.

That evening of the compliment, once at home, I went to the woven box at the top of my desk – a gift from long-time friends.  This time, I stopped for a moment to look at the names.  Some of the people whom I had met were not just from the neighborhood, but resided in the proverbial tent of the private library at which I write, the Boston Athenaeum.   I leafed through the stack of cards and thought to myself, “How does one make time?  I can barely keep up with Twitter.  And as for Facebook, I am a true flunk out.”  However, the guilt came several days later when I read Jen Kim’s article which defined “ghosters,” those people with whom we make a connection, but they just fade away. The Psychology of Ghosting.

It seems that I was jolted into becoming a bit more sensitive and actually thinking about connections and how we include others in our tent.  However, I was also reminded of a Jerry Seinfeld line to Ramon the pool guy: “I actually only have three friends; I really can’t have anymore!”

We live in a society that lacks the social cohesiveness of the tribe.  In the rapidly fading areas of Italy and Greece, there are communities which operate as extended family. The people have a routine that includes the work and play of togetherness. They are rewarded with long, healthy lives.

Friendship ghosters and romantic ghosters who compliment

By the definition links within “The Psychology of Ghosting” I might well be a friendship ghoster – as opposed to the romantic ghoster.  I like to believe that friendship ghosters really do mean to get in touch, but because of life, circumstances, and time – they fall into the “good intentions” category.  So the next day I sent emails to those whom I had crowded into my card box.

As for the romantic ghosters -- they are oftentimes men who simply let a relationship slide.  Although once thought to be cowards, they can now hide behind the “ghosters” label, which is still no excuse for their bad manners.  They perhaps know it, but don't want to be told.  As one young man lamented to me after another break-up with the same woman -- "She says to me, 'It’s always about you.'”  So he drifted away.  That said, I do know women who confess to ghosting men who don’t get the “I’m not interested in you” hint. Men and women alike are generally terrified of the words, “We need to talk” as I wrote about in 7 Tips for Relationship Clarity.

Do they look you in the eyes?

The irony of men who simply fade away is that they often begin a relationship with compliments, sometimes lavish ones.  And so who is to really know the difference between what is genuine and what is simply a line to reel you into a bedroom?  I keep hearing from women who tell me that today, relationships are more about sex than dating and "getting to know you."

How is one to discern the difference between a genuine compliment and a hidden agenda compliment?  Look into someone’s eyes.  If that person doesn't look you straight in the eye, move on.

We will perhaps all become affected by ghosters in this fast-paced social media world. We may even become a ghoster.  But for all of us who have dealt with the disappointment of being ghosted or were disappointed in ourselves for ghosting -- we can still take the risk of reaching out.  I fully believe in the message of “Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness,” the graduation speech of George Saunders. His theory on kindness is that we don't wait for tomorrow as we may not get a second chance. Same goes for compliments from the heart.

Copyright 2015 Rita Watson


Why Compliments Improve Performance, The British Psychological Society, November 13, 2012.

The Island Where People Forget to Die, The New York Times, October 24, 2012

Kindness and Gratitude May Keep Regret at Bay, Watson/ Psychology Today