DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband often compliments ladies -- young or old, married or single -- by saying how beautiful their hair is, or how nice their dress is, or that he likes the color.
Some get offended, and some even believe he's hitting on them, when he's merely paying compliments. What is the appropriate way to compliment today?
GENTLE READER: Who doesn't like to hear something nice?
That is what you and your husband are kindly thinking, Miss Manners knows. But she is afraid that the situation is more complicated.
It is more a matter of context than of age or marital status. It is one thing to say "Wow, you look fantastic!" to your spouse, and quite another to say it to your summer intern.
Having one's appearance appraised, even favorably, can be scary from a stranger and demeaning in a business situation. What would your husband think if a female colleague said, "I just love your hair"? Or even, "Snazzy shirt! Is it new?"
Socially, compliments are lovely, provided they are not more personal than the relationship warrants. Compliments about the body -- eyes, hair, whatever -- are flirtatious, and best saved for those with whom there is a loving bond. Clothes are only marginally safer. But the best compliments refer to words or actions: "I love your wit" or "That was a great job you did."