As a calm, balanced person with a suitable amount of self-esteem and a low level of neurosis, I’m happy to receive what you’re about to say in the way you intended it: as a compliment.
Let’s say you’re my friend, and we’re at a party together. You should tell me, “You look nice! I like your outfit.” Don’t worry, I don’t have the superpower of detecting any slight, unexpected emphasis on the word “I.” You like my outfit. Unlike everyone else. I won’t assume everyone is going around this party whispering about my bad outfit.
Or, maybe you could tell me I look nice and ask me where I bought my outfit. I will take this to mean you might buy it for yourself because you like it so much—not that you might buy it for your grandmother because Nana and I have the same style. I definitely won’t wonder if you asked this as a test, because you can’t believe I found such an unfashionable outfit at a store that still currently exists.
If you’re my roommate, you, too, can try telling me I look really nice today. I won’t even notice you said “today” at the end of that sentence. I won’t think about how you see me every day. I won’t assume that you think it’s noteworthy that today, unlike other days, I look nice.
Maybe you’re a coworker; then a variation you might use is, “Wow! Don’t you look nice today?!” I won’t take this to mean you consider it positively shocking I would look nice. I won’t wonder, do I somehow look too nice? I won’t take the next opportunity to duck into the bathroom, stare at myself in the mirror, and say to my reflection, Look at yourself, idiot. Look how you’ve humiliated yourself with your desperation-scented, baldly earnest attempt to look nice.
If you’re a random person passing me on the street, you too should feel free to say, “You look nice today.” I won’t think that’s a weird thing for a stranger to say since I’ve never seen you before, so what does “today” mean there? I won’t take that supposed compliment as a revealing slip of the tongue. It won’t make me realize that this is a hidden camera, Truman Show situation, and you were measuring my appearance in today’s episode against every other episode. I won’t now recognize that everyone in the world, as I’ve always suspected and feared, is secretly scrutinizing me all the time.
If you’re someone who knows me extremely well, I have a great idea. Tell me I’m the most brilliant, beautiful, and genuinely good human being you’ve ever met. Tell me the last three years have been the happiest of your life, and you can’t envision any future I’m not a part of. Then say, “Will you marry me?” I won’t find it pathetic that the show’s producers are pandering to audiences who love weddings. I won’t worry that savvy viewers will reject this plot point, knowing full well this is simply not the sort of thing that happens to a person like me. I won’t realize I’m doomed, that my days are now numbered, because if the producers are this desperate for ratings, their next step will surely be to kill me off.
I’ll just yell, “No! Stop! Shut up!” I’m sorry if, to you, that sounds like I won’t marry you, but it’s actually my very healthy way of saying “thank you” to a compliment.
You really need to work on how you take how people take compliments.