Relearning the Art of the Gentlemanly Compliment

By Jennifer Hartline Published on December 7, 2017

It’s a small thing, given the degree of moral depravity we face, but I’d like to cast a vote for reclaiming the delights of chivalry and gentility. In our age of gorging on smut and porn and sex without restraint, with our real worries about sexual predators and abusers, we’ve lost the ability to admire beauty in each other and to enjoy it purely.

My father taught me to enjoy being a lady, and he modeled for me the pure, gentlemanly delight of a man who appreciated the loveliness of a good woman. I saw that the woman he admired most was my mother. My father was gracious with compliments because it gave him joy to admire beauty.

How did my father express this, with me and with others? With the gentlemanly compliment.

The Appropriate Compliment

What can a man safely say to a woman who is not his wife? It’s quite simple.

Gentlemen, if you wouldn’t say it to another woman with your wife standing right beside you, then don’t say it. This rule alone will save you from trouble more than anything else.

If you would object to another man saying it to your wife or daughter, don’t say it. Goes with the rule above.

Ladies, same for us. Pretend your husband is right there beside you, or imagine some other woman saying it to your husband or son.

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If you’re single, imagine how you will feel when you are married and when you do have children. Think of your mother or father, sister or brother, and imagine how you’d feel if someone said to them what you’re about to say.

Simple, eh? It works. Choose your words based on how well you know the other person, and the degree of friendship you have. An honest self-inventory is needed as well. Examine your motives. Are they sexual or less than honorable? Then keep your mouth shut and your hands to yourself. You’re entitled to absolutely nothing at someone else’s expense. Nothing.

Relearning the Art of the Compliment

Now, here are a few perfectly appropriate and charming compliments to get you started. Young men and women, pull up a chair and take notes. This sort of talk may be very foreign to you, but you’ll catch on quickly. And life will be sweeter for it.

Can you recall the way, decades ago, men would tip their hat and smile at a woman? That’s the feeling you’re going for. It’s innocent but sincere. For a demonstration, watch an old Bing Crosby or Fred Astaire movie. 

From a gentleman to a lady:

“You look lovely today!” Men, employ “lovely” more often than “pretty” or even “nice.” Lovely has a ring of purity about it that is always honorable. You simply can’t go wrong with “You look lovely.”

“That’s a terrific color on you. It really brings out your eyes.” Single men: this one has a slightly flirtatious undertone to it, so use accordingly.

“You look like a million bucks!” Great for a special occasion.

“You’ve got your hands full! Allow me.” When able to offer assistance.

“My pleasure, ma’am.”

From a lady to a gentleman:

“How smart and handsome you look!” Remember, in this case “smart” means “dashing in appearance; fashionable; sophisticated.”

“What a gentleman!”

“How clever of you, and how fortunate for me.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

“Thank you very much, kind sir!”

Build Up Each Other With Sweet Words

The idea is, we can build each other up with sweet words, kind smiles, and appreciation for our distinct gifts as men and women. It’s okay for a gentleman to admire a lovely lady, and vice versa.

Be clear about this: it’s an honorable admiration I’m speaking of, one that knows and respects the boundaries of decency. Debauchery has no place here. It’s true, the line between the innocent appreciation I’m describing and something more carnal is thin, and even a good man may not always recognize it when he crosses it.

Women have to help. Most women can sense when a man’s remarks are less than innocent. We have an internal switch that triggers, and lets us know that this guy should be treated with caution. (Too many women ignore that trigger, but that’s another story.) However, we also have to be willing to pardon a decent man who might smudge the line inadvertently.

Personal virtue is the best guide and assurance of honor, for men and women.

I don’t want to see men become so paranoid of accusation that they squelch their own charm and appealing instincts. I want to see women return to a finer femininity that inspires the best in the men around them. I long to see men and women simply enjoy one another again, with a pure delight in each other’s charms and graces.

Wouldn’t it be a worthy goal for 2018 for men and women to rediscover and cultivate such chivalry and gentility in their lives? Wouldn’t it be lovely?

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  • Deacon Keith Fournier

    Yes Jennifer, it would be lovely. And, this article is lovely.

    At the root of our cultural rot is the sad reality that we have forgotten the fact – that we are all created in the Image of God.

    That this God who fashioned us out of Love, is the Source of all goodness and beauty. And because we are created in His Image, we all have human dignity.

    This God of the gift so loved that He Gave His Son, in whom we are re-created. When we give ourselves back to Him, that beauty grows and grows. We reflect His Image more, and grow in His likeness.

    And, we recognize the truth once more, that we are gifts to one another.

    Sadly, we have opted instead for a barren culture of use and abuse. We objectify one another. We comoditize one another..
    What a sad state of affairs.

    Thank you for sharing your gift with all of us. The manners you encourage reflect a re-embrace of virtue. Let it happen. Lord, help us.


  • Paul

    As a general rule I don’t comment to a woman other than direct family about her appearance. I may have no flirtatious intent but you never know how it might be received.

    And in this day of heightened awareness about sexual harassment I never go there in the workplace.

    • Jennifer Hartline

      I can understand your general rule. I think a lot of men would agree they simply don’t go there in the workplace. While I understand, and even appreciate the prudence and wisdom there, something about it also makes me a little sad. We’ve lost something precious. We’ve lost all innocence, all purity. I hope we can get it back, but it begins with virtue. It begins with God.

      • Paul

        We’ll get it back when Jesus returns. Until such time I keep strict boundaries of what I say and do with women because I highly value my marriage and cherish my wife. She I will certainly compliment on her looks, other women will need to get those types of compliments elsewhere.

        • Jennifer Hartline

          I respect that.
          I don’t know if you’re a fan of the Mary Poppins movie, but do you recall the scene near the beginning of the movie, when the Banks’ nanny is leaving them, and as she’s getting into her carriage she meets Mr. Banks who is just coming home from work. He’s oblivious to the fact that she’s leaving them, but he helps her with her luggage (“That must be heavy. Allow me.”) , and then says to her, “What a very pretty hat.”
          Innocent. Kind. Gentlemanly. There was still a remnant of that when I was growing up, and I miss it so very much.

          • Paul

            I’ll help a woman with her luggage, hold a door, and say have a wonderful day. I’ll compliment a female coworker on a job well done, I’ll compliment the church musician on her ability to play or sing. I’ve done these and much more. People can be helpful and complimentary in other ways.

            I don’t quite understand your sense of loss or longing for a man to compliment your appearance, that may be a mars/venus type thing and I can respect that, You’re right that times have changed, but often the good ol’ days were anything but, we tend to cherry pick the good stuff and ignore all the bad, much like a Hollywood production is able to create a false impression of reality.

          • Jennifer Hartline

            Paul, it’s the loss of the ability and freedom to enjoy beauty in any pure way. It’s the loss of any delightful interplay between the sexes that isn’t laced with debauchery. It’s not that I’m personally longing for compliments on my appearance, it’s that I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have a society in which a man could tell a woman, “That’s a pretty hat.” or “You look lovely” without being fearful.

          • Paul

            It runs much deeper than that unfortunately. I’ve personally been smeared by rumors about nefarious intents for kids.. at church.. for no cause, just a mother who didn’t like me and spread her questions about me with absolutely no evidence. That was my reward for answering the call to help with the childrens ministry. Reputations are quickly destroyed in the court of public opinion regardless of truth, even at church.

          • Jennifer Hartline

            I’m very sorry that happened to you, Paul. I hope the pastor stepped in somehow… to publicly defend you or challenge the rumors.

          • Paul

            To a degree he did but the damage was done and I could tell my future actions were unduly scrutinized.

            So I avoid the minefields, makes life much easier.

          • Micha_Elyi

            I’m sorry that the other females in the parish didn’t step up and police their own kind. Stopping the female whispering campaign against Paul should never have required the pastor’s intervention.

          • Micha_Elyi

            I’m on strike. She’s a liberated modern female who doesn’t need a man any more than a fish needs a bicycle (I heard that somewhere. From females. Repeatedly.) She can operate the doors and lug her luggage herself. I am pained to do that but I make the sacrifice so females will recognize their errors and repent. Instructing the ignorant is one of the spiritual works of mercy.

          • Micha_Elyi

            IIRC the scene illustrated that Mr. Banks was oblivious to his own household’s staff. He didn’t realize that the woman who was departing was the nanny.

  • Matt Federoff

    This is so tough. I’d love to share a kind word or or compliment…give some encouragement. But it is so fraught with peril now…everything is sexualized…EVERYTHING. It’s a toxic mess that prevents so much goodwill from being shared. The sexes have never been further apart…and we’ve lost so much of the intrinsic creativity and beauty that comes from proper and healthy interactions between men and women.

    • Jennifer Hartline

      Agreed. It’s tough, and toxic, and fraught with danger. And it’s GOT to change.

      • Kevin Carr

        Who wants to be the one to take the risk? In today’s climate allegations have been weaponized, there doesn’t have to be proof, just make the charge and then you are on the defensive. Self preservation comes first.

        • KC

          I agree – silent is not only golden but also safe.

    • Jennifer Hartline

      I don’t want a society in which good men are paranoid and anxious about every word they speak.

  • Tamsin

    I run with a crowd that says things like “you clean up nicely!”

    Which is fair to me. I’m pleased to get credit for making an effort when I make an effort.

    But I tend to side with Paul and others. Best not to compliment articles of clothing on women outside your immediate family. Women dress to be noticed by the “right” men, not the “wrong” men. It’s safer for a man to assume he is a “wrong” man, than be mortified when she is horrified at the unwanted attention.

    There are so many other ways to be pleasant and chivalrous. I’ve taught my sons to open doors for women, starting with their dear old mom. Though my husband has always opened doors for me, when he isn’t there, the boys forget unless I remind them.

    Compliment anything else: dog, cat, car, bike, book, backpack, baby. All babies are lovely.

    • Jennifer Hartline

      Are we all on different sides here? I sure hope not. Am I really the only one who would like to see a society in which a gentleman could compliment a lady, even on her appearance, without it being taken as sexual, or inappropriate in some way? I’m not suggesting that the ONLY way for a man to be chivalrous is to comment on a woman’s appearance. Not at all! And I’m not suggesting that the workplace is necessarily the right place either. I do understand the dangers and pitfalls. But don’t we want to CHANGE that?

      I miss charm. I miss grace. I miss the pure enjoyment of beauty in each other. Can’t we start somewhere to get it back?

      • Tamsin

        I like your post. It is very thought-provoking. I think it expresses the ideal that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ… and we so we should be able to enjoy each others’ beauty, and say so, without it being sexual. That is one of the gifts Christ gave us: to see each other first as a brother or a sister, or son or daughter, and not as a sexual object. It would be nice to be able to extend this familial respect to all people, but for now, I think it is an ideal held most clearly only by Christians.

        • Micha_Elyi

          “to see each other… not as a sexual object.”–Tamsin

          Sorry to upset the narrative but it wasn’t men who bought 50 million copies of 50 Shades of Grey. Men do not put a gun to the heads of females to force them to buy and wear warpaint* and clothes that push up what they’re not already exposing.

          * the function of which is to simulate sexual, ahem, readiness

    • Micha_Elyi

      If your man is raising young men and not weeds, he should instruct his sons that it is their job to open doors for “their dear old mom”. Only when one of the boys old enough to safely open and close the door is not present should he himself open a door for you. This is how the habit is passed on to the next generation of sons.

      P.S. Chivalry is a not just something for men alone. It is a social system that puts obligations and duties on both sexes. Somehow the females who yearn for men to be chivalrous have forgotten their counterpart duties to be ladylike and respectful toward men in return.

  • Andrew Mason

    Most people don’t want to live in a society in which men need to be anxious and paranoid about every word they speak, but increasingly we’re living in that society. I don’t recall any of my male friends complimenting their female friends, though it’s possible they have and I’ve simply forgotten. For myself, I would generally be uncomfortable giving a compliment, even if I thought it – I’m far more at home giving insults and engaging in other forms of innocent teasing. One of my most entertaining memories is out one night with a Bible study group and engaging in a rapid exchange of insults with a close female friend. Even when you don’t compliment though it’s still possible to run into extreme strife. Another girl I knew, whom I never complimented (nor insulted as best I can recall), became obsessed and eventually sicced the police onto me. Legal action didn’t occur as I’d stopped communicating with the girl in question months prior, had told her to stop communicating with me, and had the emails to prove it, but it’s still another nail in the coffin of gentleman:lady communications. Likewise I’d be willing to hold an umbrella for a female friend, or a relative, and open a door or offer my seat to someone I know, but I’d be far more hesitant about doing it for a stranger in any Western country thanks to feminism.

    • Micha_Elyi

      Loose and liberated versus ladylike, females must choose which standard they are to be measured by–men won’t impose it upon them. Welcome to the 21st century.

      • Andrew Mason

        The problem is that those women who do adhere to a nice conservative model will be targeted by feminists for their behaviour – they’re only free to choose which standards to conform to if they choose correctly. :-

  • Larry Bud

    Sorry, but all the civil polite behaviors that I remember from my childhood, are now taboo.

    The Doctrine shoved on us when I started my career in the late 1980’s included a heavy beat-down regarding sexual harassment. No one really understood it at the time, so the pendulum swung to the ultra-paranoid side. “That’s a terrific color on you. It really brings out your eyes.” is a blatant march-to-HR no-no.

    Everyone at the gym has earbuds stuffed in their ears or is texting a mile a minute. No chit-chat there either.

    How about church, you say? Well, most mothers (and fathers too) _really_ don’t want a single man speaking to them or their kids. Even with compliments on good behavior.

    It’s a totally lost cause. The 1940’s aren’t coming back.

    • Snowflake Blaster

      Excuse me sir, but I beg to differ and let you know – you’re wrong!!
      You dismiss the authors desire for a more civil and respectful era as ‘old-timey movies’. Having lived in the south for almost 30 years (born in the north) the ‘south’ still does produce GENTLEMEN and it also produces LADIES. Go to a small town – you know more than 1/3 mile off the highways – stop at a cafe/diner/shop and you’ll find words almost unheard of in the ‘big city or coastal environs’ – ma’am, sir, thank you, please, excuse me, have a nice day, have a blessed day, are all words that are so ingrained if you asked them why they use these words incessantly, they wouldn’t understand why you’d noticed at all! It has nothing to do whether they’re dripping in pearls ( you know that southern belle stereotype) or wearing jeans and sweatshirts having just come back from the fields/stockyards. The slovenly educated, the lazy parents, and the godless fools we have suffered for 30 years has just lowered our bar of expectations. Raise the bar and you can raise the level of discourse and expectations.

      • Larry Bud

        “Please” and “thank you” are one thing and still quite common. Calm down.

        “You look lovely today!” is quite something else. That’s what the author is asking for.

        • Micha_Elyi

          So true.

          What the authoress of the article failed to notice is that feminists and their useful idiot allies in Team Female campaigned aggressively in the late 1960s and early ’70s to purge ‘lady’ from the English language. They succeeded. The words ‘lady’ and ‘ladies’ are now archaisms and often a term of insult, as in ‘the HR lady’. They succeeded all too well, in fact. The pendulum the feminists pushed did not stop at ‘woman’ as they intended; rather it kept on moving all the way to ‘female’ as the sex formerly known as ‘ladies’ became ever more slovenly, crude, and slutty.

          Females, you did this to yourselves. Every female is welcome to repent of the mistakes whose consequences she inherited from her mother, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. The reforms the authoress of the article wishes will have to start with females changing their own behavior and be won by females policing their own kind. Nag men all you want, females, that seems to make you happy (and is not a ladylike behavior BTW) but the problem this authoress complains was not caused by men.

          • Laura Smyth

            No one’s repenting anything, you sexist troll. And stop calling women, “females”.

          • Larry Bud

            And thus ends the “civil discussion” period for this article. That’s too bad.

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