What’s Up With Dudes Not Being Able to Give Compliments?

Apparently this is what sisters do. Cheer everyone on. But who cheers for us? But us.


I tend to roll with a crew of badass bawse women in addition to being one myself. (It’s 2015 and time’s out for lack of self-confidence.) And because I’m grown and love myself, I no longer date asshole dudes.

But I do date dudes who love badass bawse women. In theory at least. But in practice, I’ve noticed that many brothers (of the cishet persuasion that I date) really do have issues with smart, attractive, assertive, high-achieving women. It doesn’t show up in overt forms of disrespect but in the more subtle, passive aggressive form of diminishing or ignoring a sister’s accomplishments through lukewarm compliments, withholding of affection or praise, or refusal to be accommodating.

So here’s an example.

You call or text your boo to share a major accomplishment or award, something that only enhances your current bawse status.

In reply, your boo says something whack like, “Kudos!” or “That’s great!” or “Congratulations!”

That’s all.

No elaboration.



Now your homegirls are all, “you da best, you da bomb, so brilliant, magnificent, I’m proud of you!” #TurnUP #PourUP #Drank

But your dude is still stuck on “kudos!” And somehow, you might find that in the next few minutes, you are back to talking about his challenges or his accomplishments.

Welcome to my world.

What’s up with that? Now maybe you are simply dating someone who isn’t good with words. I’m not particularly into expressing feelings, but since we’re grown, and grown people know how to “use their words,” for the sake of having productive relationships, I’ve learned.

Even if words aren’t your bae’s thing, you’ll sense their support in other concrete, recognizable ways.

But this ain’t that. This is about brothers being far more intimidated and bothered by the accomplishments of successful women than Steve Harvey would ever care to admit. I’ve experienced countless times the struggles of a brother to be genuinely excited and happy to see me doing well and being at the top of my game.

By contrast, I cheer the brothers whom I date on,  offer generous affirmation, and give pep talks even it means stopping in the middle of an always hectic and busy life to do so. I call this modeling loving treatment or rather “treating dude with the same care, respect, and thoughtfulness, with which I want him to treat me.”

Now before you tell me that I simply date crappy dudes, please don’t. (Cuz I will ignore you. I’m not here for armchair therapy about what I need to do differently. I’m quite clear that it’s the dudes who need to change.)  And anyway, I’m talking about good, thoughtful, funny, interesting, well-read, successful brothers, who have a lot going for themselves. They aren’t disrespectful, or mean-spirited.

But they are often competitive. Not always explicitly. But quietly, they want to be better than you in the relationship. (If you ain’t this dude, great! One of your boys probably is, though.)

In my experience, these brothers want to date the baddest chicks, but they don’t want you to be in any respect better than them. They want you to be smart enough to entertain them, make them look good to their boys and their co-workers, and smart enough to raise them some smart babies. But if they perceive that you are potentially on your game at a level comparable to or above them, they can’t deal.

They won’t admit it. They simply refuse to acknowledge how great you are. Even the science supports the conclusion that dudes actually feel worse when their partner succeeds. 

While they may brag to their boys about you, in private, you never hear it. Instead, you are awash in non-compliments or compliments by virtue of technicality only. If you bring this up, you are made to seem unhinged, told you are “picking a fight,” while your partner points to the technicality of  his words, without ever having to be responsible for the spirit of what he said.

Dudes are deeply emotionally dishonest about the ways they are socialized within patriarchy to compete, to be the best, and to dominate women and each other. While many men have done the outward work of wanting to be with a certain kind of feminist, progressive, overachieving woman, many have not done the emotional work it requires to be with her.

And there are no societal or cultural structures of accountability that require dudes to acknowledge this, be honest about it, or fix it.

The refusal of these kind of men to affirm us, our talents and gifts, is one of the intimate ways that patriarchy works to put women “in their place.” The unspoken sentiment is “you may have accomplished x, y, and z, but you ain’t that great.”

Here’s another subtle example. I have 50 million jobs, and a ridiculously busy schedule. I mean who doesn’t? But I’ve dated multiple men who can never bring themselves to say, “when can I see you? Or When do you have some free time?” They always say, “I’m free this day or this day or this day or I have this or that to do, but then I can see you.” Now if that syncs up with my schedule, then cool. I’ll usually accommodate. But notice that statements like, “I’m free this day or this day” don’t even require an acknowledgement of the other person’s schedule. It’s a way to center the dude’s time, his tasks, and his priorities.  I’ve found these kind of dudes to be often inflexible about availability. Yes, they’ll make time to see you, but only on their terms. They also never have to acknowledge that when you agree to see them, it isn’t that you simply have all this time, but you, too, are making time.

Assuming they aren’t cheating, and I’m pretty sure, in my case, they weren’t, I maintain that this refusal to acknowledge that your busy life might mean they are the ones who need to accommodate you, at least some of the time, and not the converse, is just one more way that dudes who are in some respects less busy or less high profile, maintain power. It’s almost as if that simple acknowledgement is too large a concession of power.

Here’s the larger point. Part of what it means to date as an overachieving feminist chick is dealing with these subtle power struggles and denials of affirmation in relationships with otherwise good dudes.

I don’t have any solutions. I mean is asking to be with a dude that is genuinely , earnestly, proud of you in public and private, too much to ask for?

Usually, I tell the offending dudes about themselves, give them a few opportunities to clean it up, and then remove them from the long-term partner prospect list (and maybe even from my life) if they can’t get it together.

But surely this is not a long-term strategy for finding bae.


In 2015, I would like this to stop. How can we make that happen? Have y’all experienced these power struggles in dating? How do you deal? And what do you think it will take to shift these patriarchal dynamics in dating?

23 thoughts on “What’s Up With Dudes Not Being Able to Give Compliments?

  1. “Dudes are deeply emotionally dishonest about the ways they are socialized within patriarchy to compete, to be the best, and to dominate women and each other.” Nailed it. I can’t tell you how timely this is right now. it’s almost scary. I’ve gotten to a point of feeling that there is no real distinction between the outright asshole and the closet asshole. They all appear to play the same game, just one type is more open with it than the other. The power struggle is real but they often like to pretend there isn’t one. But I’ve experienced every thing you’ve shared. Typically, I call it out, either right then and there or after a few offenses. But that gets tiring after awhile. So the only option is to say nothing (as your spirit slowly dies) or just know all men will do this at some point so be ready to fight or flight, which can lead to serial dating. I really don’t know what the answer is besides speaking up and speaking out, because like you said, without societal accountability they will keep doing this. I think if women stick together on these topics so that it’s more than just individual voices that folks will just disregard as “complaints”. If more women stopped turning on other women for calling out dudes’ sexist behavior, then maybe we have a shot at changing things. Women folk gotta stick together when it comes to holding men accountable. Other than that, I don’t know what else.

  2. So he complimented you…but that’s good enough?

    Sounds like you’re looking for stuff to complain about

    Do you even want a good man in your life? It sounds like you have one but want to push him away. If you don’t actually want a relationship, that’s perfectly OK. Be honest about that, and own that, don’t look for ridiculous reasons to complain about a perfectly good partner.

    1. I’m thinking you didn’t entirely grasp the point of what the author’s trying to say. Not trying to pick an e-fight here, but the problem isn’t that her dates aren’t complimenting her, it’s that they seem directly threatened (outlined in numerous examples) by her success in relation to theirs. I’d try not being so dismissive and assuming that the author doesn’t “actually want a relationship” and is looking for “ridiculous reasons to complain”.

  3. The problem is that women tend to take it as if you are hollering them, rather than giving them compliments, which is fine if you are in a relationship, but I got some female friends who I am hesitant to say anything complimentary to, because they start to act different, as if I am trying to be more than friends,so I side step that, and just keep it friendly

    1. Ehhh…Shawn? She was specifically talking about dudes who are either dating and/or in a relationship with these women. So the “thinking you’re hollering at them” doesn’t exist there—b/c you’re already romantically involved to a certain degree.

  4. This is one of the best articles I have read in a very, very long time. Seriously. You are brilliant. On so many levels. Thank you for sharing your brilliance. I think every sentence is my favorite sentence.

  5. I’m assuming that the first few comments were written by people who didn’t actually read the article. It’s not about complimenting random women. It’s about the insecure men who get upset when you want to go back to school, or when you get a raise; hell, even the ones who get mad when you beat them in a video game.

  6. I can understand this. I remember when I got the email that I’d been accepted into a doctoral program. I was ecstatic because I’d worked so hard and had been turned down before. I immediately told the guy I was with and his face just fell. He said all the right things, but he looked devastated. Yes, there were reasons it wasn’t good news to him..moving to a new location, etc. but we’d talked about that before I applied, and I’d made other sacrifices for him, etc….etc. But from that point on the relationship plummetted and now we’re apart. I think a part me just assumes I’ll have to be with a guy with a very similar background to my own. Or even non-romantic relationships like my brother in law. After I got the acceptance, he texted me, undoubtedly prompted by my sister, and wrote “Congratulations…….again”. I know that could be read in different ways but knowing my brother in law…it came across less like “congrats on doing something else” and more like “woo-hoo…congrats on applying for and going through one more program”.

  7. Oh my gosh I thought the EXACT thing. Reading is so fundamental. You can tell they skimmed or stopped a certain parts and didn’t read it word for word.

    Ugh. I hate that

  8. I’ve read many comments, but none are really getting to the heart of the male issue in my opinion. As a man, growing up you are consistently taught consciously, but mostly subconsciously to be the Alpha male in all circumstances. In many circumstances the real break down of what a man REALLY is never taught, but mostly learned by behavioral patterns. When a man lacks that mental and spiritual understand that it’s not just his role and behavioral patterns that establishes him and affirm his manhood, 9 out of 10 times when his mental façade is tampered with by a (Beta in his mind) woman outdoing him, esp if he is performing at his peek, then insecurities creep in like a wild fire. A man will think, “How can I lead a woman who in a sense could/should lead me” aka role reversal, aka becoming a Beta Male (against everything he’s been taught to be) An insecure man is now faced with NO COMFORTABLE option….A) Raise the bar and make your lady your competition which you may never be able to win the Alpha male title back………UNCOMFORTABLE. B) Don’t give her any reason to realize that she actually is beyond where/what you are, and/or get in her head a play mind games…………UNCOMFORTABLE. C) End the relationship, and any benefits you were getting from it PLUS lie about the REAL reason its ending cause you’re too insecure to tell the truth so you lie to end the relationship on top still mentally salvaging that the Alpha male façade……..UNCOMFORTABLE. D) Give her the affirmation she deserves and run the risk of her taking your Alpha position quietly or loudly with her words/actions embarrassing and emasculating you and/or leaving you because she sees you’re not enough for her……..UNCOMFORTABLE!!!!! In all of this a man has to get to a place where he discovers through GODLY WISDOM and the WORD that it IS NOT solely his ROLE that DEFINES HIM as a man, but it is simply what and who God defines him as and to be that is his security. A man walking in purpose and destiny by God’s Word and knows who he is and more importantly who he isn’t in Christ allows the mental façade of the “Alpha in all things” mindset to take a back seat to Gods words to and about him and his overall presiding mission; his purpose. It’s all about security and respect with men, and many men only see it in the role of a man and ideas they have about manhood. It’s when a man gets his PURPOSE and manhood ESTABLISHED by God the Father and walk in His Word that the ease of treating others the way Christ would becomes less uncommon; treating you as the QUEEN (not “baws”) you are because he recognizes his Kingship in Christ.

    Also for a man to speak into a woman’s life good, loving and encouraging things he’s got to have those things/words in him already. He also has to be of the mindset and realize you need the affirmation in words, in action, in touch, in gifts, and in acts of service. If need be, be patient enough to help him to learn (teach him) to see outside of how he operates to give you what you desire just the way you desire it with kind words and actions and WITHOUT ATTITUDE!!!


    1. It’s interesting that you locate your fairly progressive approach to this within a Christian framework, since I find that conservative Christian men *and* women tend think in exactly opposite ways about this.

      Also, I definitely ain’t interested in queendom, and indeed prefer *the terms I used to describe my ownself in the piece* or some other appellation, but I’m glad you have figured out a progressive way to think about your faith. Would that more brothers would follow suit.


    2. Never ascribe to malice what could easily be explained as insecurity.
      Mr. Johnsing thankyou for bringing a different perspective to this topic. It’s become painfully obvious that these women see men in the same manner as unruly pets in need of a good swat in the nose from a rolled up newspaper (or college diploma ).

      They either lack the ability or the desire to understand that their accomplishments might be holding a mirror to their partners own academic or professional missteps.

  9. dang sis ~ another clear example where being in the privileged set must just suck. mmm mm m. along those lines, please allow me to lovingly suggest you enter this qualifier into your last sentence: Part of what it means to date as an overachieving *hetero* feminist chick is dealing with these subtle power struggles and denials of affirmation in relationships with otherwise good dudes. #maddrespect

  10. until i read this article i had no idea i did this. now that i have read it, i totally recognize this behavior in myself.

    currently my girlfriend is applying for work at places that i don’t think will hire her. that i say without the gendered bias referred to in the article – they are prestigious employers and hire only the cream – but if she gets picked up i know i’ll probably be skeptical of it. at least one or two of her male colleagues are pursuing similar employment and i’ve got higher expectations for them, even though they’ve accomplished less than her under easier circumstances. for whatever reason i wouldn’t question it if they were hired. i’d just be like “oh shit he must be smart.” why wouldn’t my girl’s acceptance into those elite ranks be similar confirmation?

    i don’t know where this doubt comes from, or why it lingers even when i know it’s bullshit, but it needs to change. i’m going to do my best to give her the massive props she deserves for the shit she’s gotten done in the last few years, and will get done in the next few.

    maybe congratulating and commending her as she deserves will help me move her up a few rungs on my mind-ladder, to where i know she should be. it’s hard to change heart through brain, but brain knows heart is wrong. maybe vocalizing what’s right will move heart in the right direction. i don’t know. maybe not.

    i like to think of myself as a decent boy, but a lot of us decent boys do this, and i wouldn’t recognize it if someone didn’t point it out. thank you for putting this thought on paper.

  11. His disregard for you in this way tells me he doesn’t like you all that much. Whenever I’ve had a woman treat me as an inessential option, it’s always been because she wasn’t really feeling me. The giveaway is the example of the other person never making an attempt to work around *your* schedule – you always have to work around theirs. That’s textbook “s/he doesn’t like me” behavior.

    Another point I’d make is that many men don’t get alot of practice at giving overflowing compliments to anyone, not just to women. I see it all the time of Facebook. The effusive praise people get when posting about some achievement almost always comes from women, rarely from men. It has to do with a general sense of stoicism being manly and the old notion that downplaying achievements will spurn people to do even greater things. I don’t think this is done consciously for most men, but I think that’s where the behavior comes from.

  12. This is news to me. My fiancee is much more successful than I am and always will be. I’m not threatened by her brilliance; I’m proud of her. Doesn’t necessarily mean I feel the need to be any more effusive with her than I would be with any one of my boys, but neither am I gonna undermine her or gloss over her accomplishments, or theirs. Props where props are due – no more, no less.

    “The refusal of these kind of men to affirm us…” Affirmation has it’s limits, but where I choose to draw those limits are not gender dependent. Can’t speak for the rest of society, but I’m certainly not refusing to affirm anyone. Perhaps external affirmation carries much less weight with my psyche then it does with yours. It’s anecdotal, so maybe you’re just a bit needier than the average person. Or maybe you have had a string of sucky dismissive boyfriends.

  13. Wow! Really good conversations going on here, from both sides of the gender divide. As a black woman and feminist, I can empathize with the writer’s observations. I have seen this in *some* men. Men that I have dated, men that I’m related to, male friends. I do agree with some of the above comments. I think the social conditioning of men, how they understand competition w/ each other and women, has a lot to do with how men evaluate the accomplishments of women. Considering how long this conditioning has been around, it’s actually not that surprising we are still dealing with it in our intimate relationships. So while there may be men out there that are outwardly seeking high achieving, intelligent, accomplished women, there still is that competitive streak –where her accomplishments are seen in regards to his own (threatening, exemplary, pride worthy, envy inspiring).

    I’m really not sure what the solution is either. My heart actually goes out to men right now. I mean, you guys are dealing with a tsunami of women leaving college, equipped with feminist principles, education, ambition, confidence and a desire to be alpha in their respective careers…… You’re probably looking at home girl for a date and she’s looking at you like lunch (which can be good, depending what you’re into).

    I will say, I think that men who choose women of this caliber and allow friendly competition to enhance their performance may be in the best predicament. It seems like truly powerful men have discovered the benefits of having powerful women that made them step up their game (Obama, Clinton, ect). That and I personally think there is nothing sexier than a guy that sees a woman on her game and brings that same level of pursuit and prowess to his own life. That’s a power couple. That’s a man that sees power in a women and is not intimidated by it but intrigued, attracted and motivated by it. I know men like this, who get a kick out of a powerful woman. It’s DAMN sexy! And the friendly competition keeps things interesting!

  14. This post makes me uncomfortable, because I know that I have been that guy at least a few times, and for different reasons on different occasions. Some are less problematic than others.

    The most innocent is that, often, men and women are cultured to congratulate each other in different ways, and sometimes there’s a mismatch between expression and expectation. I learned how to congratulate other men by participating in team sports. A culture of competition contributes to subdued congratulations. You’re all on the same page about your goals and their significance to one another in a way that it’s often hard to be when you’re in a relationship, weird though it sounds. On a team, everyone goes through all the same shit together. There’s often not much need to go crazy when someone makes it big because everyone knows what it means and knows that everyone else knows too. If someone does make a big deal out of a little success that someone else has, it can come across as fake or condescending, like we never expected much from that person. So we can err towards not saying much.

    In a different context, like a relationship, going wild over something can feel weird, like it’s insincere even if it isn’t. And it’s not always easy to know how big a deal someone’s career advancement is to them if you’re not in the trenches with them at work. It’s hard to admit, but we don’t always immediately getting everything about the person who society says we should have our souls merged with or whatever because usually, each partner has their own life. So it’s easier to be bashful about congrats, and when we try to compliment our partners the way they want to be complimented, we can overcorrect and sound exactly like the insincere bastards we want to avoid being. Why do I think this? I can compliment women I’m dating much more naturally if they’re rough-and-tumble types who have the same aesthetic about praise.

    I don’t think that this kind of misunderstanding is all that crunktastic is talking about. The competition thing, the power struggle is real. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to compliment your friends, male and female alike, because your life isn’t yoked to them. You don’t have to think about the implications for the most important relationship in your life (and maybe your own life plans) if your roommate tells you she’s won a fellowship in Europe. With your partner, shit feels complex. If it comes to following one person’s career over another, does either one of you want to compromise on something so important? It doesn’t seem fair to either person, and thinking about that can crowd out the unselfish, empathetic happiness. Then there are the insecurities. You like to think your partner’s attracted to you because presumably they’re into someone as successful as them, so there’s a sensation that neither of you can blink, and every success either of you has raises the bar. Plus if one partner has more success than the other, will the other hold that against them when it comes to deciding what to do about careers? I think it’s possible to have the competition be friendly, but it’s got to be out in the open, acknowledged and joked about because it really should be less important that your relationship, or it goes as crappily as crunktastic has described. Good post.

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