I recently received a letter from a man named Mark, who asked for advice on giving women compliments. He had met a nice woman at an art galley and they chatted for about half an hour. Mark was normally shy and reserved with women, but a female friend had told him he needed to be more assertive. Hoping to be a little flirty, he told the woman she had "a really nice hourglass figure."
She was not impressed, asking him why he would say something so inappropriate to someone he barely knew. "I went into damage control mode, but only made things worse," said Mark
The conversation ended when she slapped him. Stunned, Mark apologized and left. "While I was quite embarrassed, I actually felt worse for her since I obviously offended her," he said.
Mark wanted to know what I thought. Had he been too provocative for a first encounter? Would it be OK if he sent the woman an email to apologize (she had given him her business card before things went south)?
I felt for the guy. Even though I did think his comment was inappropriate, his letter made clear that he didn't mean to be disrespectful. So I wrote back explaining something that might seem fairly obvious to the average woman, but clearly isn't to all men (or at least not to the nicer ones) -- that sometimes when a man is chatting up a woman he just met, he is only interested in her body parts. He isn't interested in getting to know her or possibly starting a meaningful relationship -- he just wants to get her back to his place, or hers. Mark's comment left the impression that he was only interested in a physical relationship. Hence, the slap.
I said I thought it was fine if he wanted to write her to apologize, but advised him to keep it short and not to ask her out. I thought he needed to make clear that his apology was sincere and that he wasn't angling for a date.
The next day Mark wrote me with good news: The woman accepted his apology and suggested they meet for coffee. He was elated.
In her note, the woman explained: "I like to be appreciated for who I am, what I do and not how well I can fill out a skirt." However, she was impressed by his gentlemanly behavior after the fact. He apologized and left the gallery after she slapped him. He sent her a sincere note saying he was sorry. Plus, she had enjoyed their conversation before he commented on her curves.
I love this story. So often we have an awkward encounter with the opposite sex and it becomes nothing but fodder for a larger argument about why "men are pigs" or "women are impossible." We swap stories with our friends and roll our eyes at the crazy behavior, bemoaning the fact that we are reduced to dealing with these poor excuses for humanity.
But scratch the surface and what do you get -- a shy, socially awkward guy who just wanted to let a woman know he thought she was pretty, a wary woman who valued her dignity but also knew how to recognize that there could be a good man beneath the blunder. Most important, you get two people who weren't afraid to be wrong. This alone speaks very well for their dating futures, regardless of whether they become a couple.
We can't all be pick-up artists. Not everyone has a way with a perfectly timed joke or a smooth remark. Not everyone has the kind of great looks that compel strangers to walk across rooms and start conversations.
But we can all be decent human beings. We can all be sincere, respectful, compassionate and open-minded. We're all capable of forgiving another person and of admitting when we screwed up.
And that's great news, since these are also the qualities that matter most.
Sara Eckel is the author of It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.
This post first appeared on eHarmony.com.