Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Girlfriend doesn't know how to respond to compliments
San Francisco: My girlfriend and I have been together for three months. I called her beautiful last week, just in passing as I caught a glimpse of her while we were running around setting up for a party. She gave me, I don't want to say a blank expression, but rather a shocked, vulnerable expression, and then moved right along, not acknowledging it any other way.
She told me later after we had cleaned up that not a single person in her entire life has ever called her that, and she therefore doesn't know how to respond. She has just come to assume over the years that it wasn't true of her.
She has been complimented on her brains and her will — and for very valid reasons.
If it makes her obviously uncomfortable, should I stop calling her what I think she is — a gorgeous specimen of humanity?
Carolyn: Does it make her uncomfortable? Did she say that as part of the conversation, and did she ask you to stop?
"I don't know how to respond" is very different from "Please stop making comments about my appearance."
If it's the latter, then, yes, you stop.
As long as it's the former, though, say what you want to say when you're moved to say it (within reason — you don't want to make your guests barf), and then see whether she rises to your words or shrinks from them.
Respond to any visible discomfort by asking her if she'd like you to stop complimenting her — and if there's some reason she finds your compliments so hard to take or believe.
Please don't just shrug it off if she really can't handle comments about her appearance.
If, for example, she was abused as a child, she could have an uncomfortable relationship with her sexuality, which would require attention far more serious than a moratorium on compliments.
Look forward, not back, and what-ifs won't matter as much
Baltimore: How do you suggest one moves on and gets over regret? Regret for not getting that dream job, regret for not taking that trip around the world, or regret for . . . you name it. I can't help but wonder (obviously too much) what my life could have been like had I done those things.
Carolyn: The silver bullet against regret is to make something valuable of the life you have now. It doesn't have to be valuable in the eyes of society — big house, fancy job, Nobel Prize, etc. — just valuable in your eyes.
For example: knowing you've been helpful to someone who really needed it; being with someone whose face lights up when you're around, or who makes your day brighter; being able to pursue a goal/hobby/passion that feels worthy to you, or merely fulfilling; relishing the freedom to try new things where otherwise you'd be tied down . . . the limit isn't your circumstances, but instead the perspective and imagination you bring to your circumstances.
Short version: When you like where you're going, you tend to look back a lot more fondly on what got you there.
Shorter version: Look forward, not back.