"Hi! How are you?"
"Good--how are you?"
You've just greeted a girlfriend you haven't seen in a while. You know what comes next, don't you?
Think about it. . .
"You look great!"
"So, do you!"
And, henceforth, the greeting is complete. We've exchanged appearance-focused compliments, we've established a competitive cease-fire and now, only now, can we begin to communicate.
I decided a while back that I didn't so much like this game. I make a pointed effort not to focus on others' appearances and don't like how banal these greetings have become, uttered often, it seems, without thought, as simply a formality. I wonder, how can I look great all the time? Don't I just look average then? Shouldn't we reserve these niceties for when we really do look great? Philosophical arguments aside, I don't hate the players, just the game, and so I started curtailing my own compliments and quickly changing the subject when a friend would voice her obligatory praise. "Thanks, how have you been doing?", I'd redirect.
Why the focus on appearance? I sent out a website link, recently, highlighting a professional accomplishment of mine (which contained a bio and photo), and received from several recipients, "You look really pretty." Now, it's not that I don't like to hear that. I do. But, how about the fact that I've accomplished something, that I'm more than the sum of my features, that I'm making strides as a woman, but that society keeps throwing me back in my allotted space? How about that? Is "pretty" the greatest compliment of all?
I realized, recently, that it might seem rude, when greeting others, not to respond tit for tat, and that I haven't informed those I know that I've altered the rules of play. So, let it be declared that a) You're all beautiful, but b) That's not the point. I choose not to comment (or focus) on your appearance, because I'd rather connect to the warmth in your smile, the strength in your voice, and the wisdom of what you have to say. That's why I call you a friend.