Opinion: I told my 42-year-old coworker he looked good for his age and realized some compliments are better left unsaid

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

It's funny how we often mistakenly think that someone who is older must look bad. We're so used to assuming people are in their prime at a young age that when we see someone who is older but looks good, it comes as a surprise. Age isn't everything, and it's ridiculous it is to expect someone to look bad simply because they are no longer considered "young."

In my teens and twenties, I thought anyone who was older than me was ancient. If I had known better, I would have kept that information to myself.

When I was twenty-two, I told a man that his thirty-year-old girlfriend looked great for her age. I carried on about her like she was over a hundred. That's how impressed I felt about her ability to keep it together past the age of twenty-nine.

At least I didn't say it to her face.

A few short years later, I was still in my twenties. One of my coworkers was a forty-two-year-old man who bore a striking resemblance to George Clooney in his Caesar haircut days.

I couldn't believe how young and vibrant this forty-two-year-old man looked. Forty-two!? He was old. Yet he still looked youthful, vibrant, and alive. What was his secret?

I made a point of telling this poor coworker of mine how good he looked "for his age" every time I saw him. To his credit, he responded graciously every time.

"Thank you," he'd reply quietly while trying to sidle away from me.

Then, the following day, I'd remind him how good he looked for his age again. I wasn't trying to flirt with him. It was partly about tossing a middle-aged man a compliment, and partly about being so shocked at his well-preserved face I couldn't stop myself from commenting on it, day after day.

Now that I've been on the receiving end of the "look so good for your age" compliment more than once, I wish I could take it all back. It isn't a compliment. It's an annoyance at best. At worst, it's an insult.

I'd quite frankly prefer never to hear another compliment in my life than hear any kind words followed by the phrase "for your age."

Now, I'm not saying that all forty-two-year-olds are in their prime. I am saying that we shouldn't feel surprised when someone who is approaching middle age looks good. We should expect it. After all, they've had a few decades to perfect their appearance.

So the next time you're tempted to compliment someone on how 'good' they look for their age, think twice. It might just be the biggest insult you ever give.

If you must compliment someone, stick to the praise and drop the qualifiers. That's what I wish I had done.

How do you feel about it? Is a compliment any less of a compliment if it's followed by those three little words? Comments are welcome.

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