Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Compliment Someone Who Hates Compliments?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve got a very…odd situation with a woman friend that I’m “sort of” seeing. Let’s call her Alex. We’re not at the point of kissing, but our nights out and conversations tend to be somewhat more intimate than what would be expected of friends around here. She has a girlfriend but both she and Alex say they potentially wouldn’t mind a three-person relationship).

That’s not the situation I’m referring to here though.

Basically, Alex hates receiving compliments of any kind. And not in the sense that “oh she gets so embarrassed and flustered and blushes and she’s so damn cute I can’t help but tease her.”

I mean, she legitimately gets pissed off when someone compliments her for anything. Her personal rule is: If you want to compliment or praise her for something she accomplished, you have to have been there with her and witnessed her accomplishment first-hand. If you weren’t there and you try to compliment her, she reacts like she’s being sucked up to, that someone can’t truly appreciate or properly be impressed with her accomplishment because they weren’t there to see it themselves.

So…Yeah. She’s been described as coming from an alternate universe where compliments are insults.

I’m not going to speculate about whether she’s been diagnosed with anything, that would just be shitty. I simply consider it a personality quirk that I have to keep in mind if I want to be with her. And she’s not really meant to be the focus of this question; I’m more curious about the challenge it represents.

Namely, what non-verbal ways are there to show your appreciation and respect for someone and all they’ve done, but without simply complimenting her with “Good job!” or stuff like that? Again, we aren’t quite boyfriend/girlfriend yet, so I assume extravagant gifts and expensive fancy restaurants wouldn’t be appropriate. Despite how it may sound, our relationship is certainly not toxic. She has never tried to dictate or control what I say to her, and she has respected my own personal quirks as well. She’s simply made it clear what she likes and what she hates in regards to people speaking to her, but otherwise she has no interest in trying to force anyone to say or do anything.

Really interested in what you have to suggest.

Dude Who Doesn’t Mind The Quirks.

DEAR DUDE WHO DOESN’T MIND THE QUIRKS: That is… an interesting outlook on life, I guess? It kind of seems like a fun-house mirror version of the issue I mentioned in my response to LLVL the other day – trying to avoid praise but feeling like accepting “undeserved” praise means you’re being immodest or conceited. Y’know. If you squint.

Well, she’s pretty much told you what the secret is: praise or compliment her for the things you do see or that she does for you. 

Failing that, if she can’t handle being praised, then simply make it about YOU. You appreciate what she’s done  – it was a great help, it’s something you hadn’t seen or experienced or thought of before, etc.

The other option is to focus on the achievement itself, rather than the fact that she did it – especially if you can see the results in some way, shape or form. Thus, you’re saying that $THING is really cool in and of itself, however it happened or that other people must have appreciated that someone went through the trouble to do $THING or that $THING must have been difficult or challenging and it’s pretty impressive that it was accomplished. You’re basically paying a bank-shot compliment; the final result was cool or appreciated or what-have-you, with the unstated “…and you’re cool for having done it” hanging invisibly but making its presence known like perfume in the air.

Then there’s always the option of learning how to speak her love language. Not everyone is going to be ok with words of affirmation — such as your girlfriend here. But she may be more receptive to acts of service or gifts, especially if you can make it clear that these are your way of expressing your gratitude and appreciation for everything she does for you. She may not be able to accept your verbal praise, but doing things for her (especially things that she might need help with after doing some of the awesome things she does for you) or getting her a small but meaningful gift as a token of your appreciation might get the message across without words.

Communication is key in every successful relationship, DWDMTQ, and sometimes that means learning how to speak someone else’s language when the one you’re using isn’t getting the message across.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I (M/mid 30s) fare pretty terribly in dating, both online and off, due in part to a need to connect over my music, which is pretty fundamental to my identity - and my music isn't terribly fashionable amongst the under 60's. This has resulted in a tendency to lose perspective somewhat when I do meet someone I share that interest with, and forge ahead with situations that are ill-advised. As a result I have come to doubt my judgement in this area, especially when the situation is not clear-cut.

Enter my friend, "Sierra". She's gorgeous, funny, smart, (relatively) recently single, and crucially, who understands what the music means to me, and shares it. And she's eleven years my junior.

In terms of our life stages we're actually pretty similar as I spent a long time in a sort of limbo unable to decide what I wanted to do with my life; now we are both not far out of uni (5 years for me, 1 for her), good careers, looking at houses. We have tons of other things in common and get on really well; I'd ask her out in a heartbeat if there were less of a gap.

I don't have much of an indication as to what she'd say. I'm not great at subtle when flirting so I tend to not do it until I think the other person has started, to avoid making them uncomfortable. I'm confident I could handle a "no" without breaking the friendship. Should I refrain because it's weird to ask when she's so much younger? Hold back and test the waters more? Or should I get a grip on myself and respect that she's perfectly able to make adult decisions?

Old (Musical) Soul

DEAR OLD (MUSICAL SOUL):Not gonna lie OMS, I'm kind of curious just as to why music is so critical to your relationships. I'm more than a little critical of folks who base their identities around what they consume, whether it be comics, movies, games or music. Don't get me wrong: I'm an avid lover of many, many forms of media, but what I enjoy is a part of who I am, it's not my identity. The "nerd" in Dr. NerdLove is about how I relate to what I love and how it drives me, not about being the wallet at the end of the production pipeline. And if this is something that's caused you problems with previous relationships... well, that's something that you should probably do some serious soul-searching over.

Now with that having been said: you're overthinking things with Sierra. Age gaps aren't the horrific dealbreakers that a lot of people tend to assume they are. The biggest issue with age gaps isn't the age, it's the potential power differential when there's a significant difference. A 19 year old isn't likely to have the life experience of a 40 year old and it's possible for the older partner to use that lack of experience (and perceived authority) over them in unethical or toxic ways. But "potential" isn't the same thing as "guarantee", and God knows there're plenty of people who had much older partners who treated them with care, respect and consideration.

But by the same token, the difference between, say, 24 and 35 isn't that big. It's certainly not so large that people would have reason to suspect your intentions or that you're taking advantage of some power differential. Hell, it's even within the half-your-age-plus-seven guideline that gets bandied about.

And honesty, Sierra is a grown-ass woman who's well over the age of consent. She's perfectly capable of deciding for herself whether she's interested in dating an older man or not; avoiding the question because you're worried that you're too old is a little patronizing, to be honest.

So if you want to roll the dice on seeing if she's interested or open to more than being friends, then go for it. Just do yourself a favor: make it clear that you're asking her on an unambiguous date and that it's totally cool for her to say "no, thank you". 

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (; or to his email,