Has anyone ever irritated you so much a compliment popped out of your mouth? This happened to me the other day.
I was at the grocery store in the freezer section when I passed a guy who looked familiar. I only saw him for a second, but he looked right at me. Eye contact in public right now is weird, and I try not to really look at people, so I moved away quickly. Also, introvert here! By the time I realized who it was, it was already awkward, and I’d walked away.
This wasn’t someone I would have avoided, but it was a man I had not seen in fifteen to twenty years. An ex. I’m not sure what we would have talked about anyway.
A few minutes later, I was in the self-checkout area and having problems with the register. I had to move to a different machine., which meant I’d been there for much longer than I should have. When I finally finished, I turned to leave, and there was the guy. He smiled.
There are three important things to point out here. One: I was wearing a mask. This man recognized me by my eyes and maybe my hair (which is red, so perhaps that’s it)! Second: He wasn’t wearing a mask. Three: he looked like he wanted to say something but was afraid to.
Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t mind running into him. Of course, with the expression on his face, it was just as awkward as the freezer aisle, so I unawkarded it (Grammaly hated that ‘word’).
I looked him right in the eyes and said: “You should be wearing a mask.” This may seem harsh, but it was a good ice breaker. He laughed and we started talking as he finished up his transaction.
We asked how the other had been. He told me what he’s doing for a living, I told him I’d been writing for years. We talked about our spouses and children. You know, typical stuff when you run into people from your past.
Finally, I asked the question on my mind since I saw him the first time on that aisle. “Did you recognize me over there?” (I pointed of course). He said, yeah, but he was afraid to talk to me. I asked why.
“I assumed you wouldn’t remember me because it’s been twenty years.”
I stared at him in open mouth shock, then the irritation started. I asked why he would think I wouldn’t remember him when he remembered me. He mumbled a bit with the ‘I don’t knows’ for a second before I stopped him with a finger pointing at his face (from 6 feet away, of course) then I complimented him.
Not on purpose. I didn’t even know it was a compliment. I said, “Never assume you’re forgettable!” Then I called him a dumbass so he would know I hadn’t changed in all these years. His face lit up like a Christmas tree. He went from surprised to pleased to slightly red. I’m pretty sure I made his day.
I wasn’t trying to make my ex-boyfriend feel good, I was scolding someone for thinking less of themselves. If I’d been thinking of him as an ex, maybe it would have been weird. I was just thinking of him as a person, so out came the admonishing advice. This kind of thing has happened many times with female friends but rarely men.
It’s a good reminder that we all have self-doubts, and sometimes unsolicited compliments (even said in an irritated tone) can help change our perspective. Or maybe it could simply help us forget for a moment to be self-deprecating.
To all the men (and women) out there who think an ex doesn’t remember you, they do. They might pretend otherwise but each person we date changes our lives. So I’ll say this to each of you: NEVER assume you’re forgettable!
I used this great photo by Parsing Eye on Unsplash because we all know who else never forgets.
Sidenote: Seriously, how did this guy recognize me, especially after so many years, with a mask covering most of my face?!?
What a great word of encouragement in an awkward situation. Not many have a profound gift of encouragement that is their impetus. The world needs its encouragers right now more than ever before. Thank you for sharing this story.
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