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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