He leaned and said, in the sweetest tone, how he was just beginning to notice my glow.
He compared me to a small warm fire or a candle, something beautiful and bright but not so overpowering that you couldn't get close. someone whose warmth you could enjoy without getting burned.
It was meant to be a compliment, and I took it as such. At the time I didn't think very deeply about it. I understood it as the subtle declaration it was.
Now I think about it in a different light.
There is more to this compliment. There is context. When this statement was proferred it is important to note it was in comparison to his ex girlfriend. A forest fire. A blazing inferno. A big beautiful rager you couldn't ignore, but was at many times more than a little scary. She was a controlled forest fire that at any moment could be lost to an unexpected sundowner.
I understood his point: such intensity is hypnotically attractive, undeniably magnetic, but after a while you are tired of squinting, you are over getting burned.
And I am this small little flame you'd hardly notice but is actually quite lovely.
I am not sure I am okay with that. really.
We have all these terms and analogies and similes and metaphors for things that are not immediately beautiful. Acquired taste. Approachable with a sophisticated palate. Blah blah blah. That girl, when you get to know her, you get to like her...
And there is certainly something to be said for understatement.
But there is also something to be said for critical listening and the ability to turn a compliment over and see it's backside:
At 20 feet I'd barely notice you, and you are only beautiful once someone knows you well enough to overlook the fact that you seem pretty average, otherwise.
Please note: he did, quite actually, eventually fall in love. But not with me. With another blazing fire. Not quite the forest inferno that inspired our first comparison, but another undeniably bright flame that was difficult to ignore. He did not cuddle up to my comfortable hearth and fall asleep. But he stopped by sometimes to warm his hands, sometimes even to gently stoke the flames.
I am very aware of who I am, or more to the point, who I am not, to most people who barely miss me in a minds eye minute. But sometimes you wish those who love you most wouldn't find such sad ways to assure you that this is really okay, that this is really a good thing.
Sometimes a compliment that damns with such faint praise only serves to further drive in the screw you wanted to loosen.