Dear Carolyn: I’ve noticed that my boyfriend can’t take a compliment. He responds by changing the subject, deflecting it some other way, or simply remaining silent. I tell him he’s handsome and he’ll reply, “So are you” — we’re a gay couple — or, “What’s for dinner?” or with silence. For the record, I’ve noticed he does the same thing with others, whether friends of his or strangers. He just can’t say “Thank you,” or internalize it in any way.

In my opinion, he is stunning, physically and otherwise. He’s very smart, which is sexy. So I tell him so. Often. It’s what I want to say. But if I know it makes him uncomfortable, should I not put him through it? Should I dial it back? I want to sing his talents to the heavens but if it just makes him uncomfortable, should I edit myself and not let him know what I think of him?

— Complimentary

Complimentary: Or, you could get to know your boyfriend.

Have you asked why he does this, and whether he appreciates compliments or wishes you'd stop? “I've noticed” … “I've noticed” … “should I” … “should I” … “if it just makes him uncomfortable.” These tell me there's been no, “Hey, I've noticed this about you, and I wonder if there's a reason.” If I'm reading this right, then it's time to invite him into your getting-to-know-him process enough for him to weigh in.

A consideration to throw on the pile: Compliments are kind and important — just ask someone who never gets them, ever, from a partner or an employer. However, they make someone the center of attention, even briefly, and not everyone likes that.

They’re also conversation-stoppers. If you receive one and then reflect something back, it sounds compulsory or insincere. If you say the preferred “Thank you,” the exchange dies there unless the giver of the compliment starts a new conversational thread. If the recipient just changes the subject, then he becomes the topic of an advice-column letter. If the recipient says “Thanks” and changes the subject himself, that’s a fine response, but also one that has him at least briefly carrying all the conversational load.

So do express your appreciation for people, yes — but use this form of connecting with people judiciously. Giving your time to them is also a form of compliment. Listening to them is a form of compliment. Noticing and remembering what they find important is a form of compliment. Being happy to see them is a form of compliment. Making room in your life for someone without erasing who you are is a compliment. I can go on (and on), but I’ll leave it there.

Re: Compliments: I had the same issue with certain compliments, and audibly swallowed the first few times I tried to simply say “Thank you” without demurring on a compliment. I found that “You’re very kind” was a good set of training wheels. Even if I couldn’t internalize the compliment, I could acknowledge that someone was making an effort on my behalf. Eventually I was able to just say “Thank you,” and then move on with the conversation.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Excellent comment! We are all for training wheels here. Thank you.