Dear Dr. Romance:
I recently moved here from the British Isles. I discovered your Dr. Romance blog and thought you might have some good insight on an experience I had involving an American woman's image of her body. I met a really attractive and intelligent woman at a party a few weeks ago. It was a public event at an art gallery. She was a high school teacher in her early thirties. We had been talking for a good half hour and really seemed to be hitting it off. We had even made tentative plans to meet for coffee sometime. Then, things suddenly went downhill. I commented that she had a "nice, full, hourglass figure". I thought she would take it as a compliment but instead she became deeply offended. She snapped, "Oh really….well perhaps I should do some plus size modeling!" I went into damage control mode and tried to clarify my comments but I think I only exacerbated things when I used the term "healthy". With a look of complete disgust, WHAP!, she slapped my face and departed. I will never forget those agonizing moments in the immediate aftermath, as I was standing there alone rubbing my cheek, drawing some judgemental stares from onlookers. Needless to say, it was not my proudest moment. She had a classic hourglass figure - large bust, narrow waist, shapely hips/legs. I guess she had interpreted "hourglass" as meaning big/overweight/full figured. I just thought it meant shapely and well proportioned. When I told a female friend about this she shook her head and said it was never a good idea to comment on a woman's figure when meeting her for the first time, even if I thought it was complimentary. I do have her email address. Do you think I should send her an apology note or should I interpret the slap in the face as a definitive statement of rejection?
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Yes, you ran afoul of American craziness about body image. Your female friend is right. Stay away from complimenting physical attributes. You can say someone has "nice eyes" or you like a pretty dress -- but no physical body compliments -- they'll always be taken wrong. Here's what I'd do. Search online for a greeting card site that has an appropriate apology card, and send it via e-mail. If there's an option to send a flower, that would help -- depending on how much you want to impress this woman. In the card, say that you apparently ran into "cultural differences" and you had no intention of being rude, that you hope she'll forgive you and have that coffee with you that she was talking about.
Good luck, and don't fret -- if you met one woman and hit it off, there'll be many others. Remember what Bobbie Burns said -- "The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley".
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