I'm not quite sure how it works for gays - but let's not go there.
We try to ignore it and make do without it. Men are simple creatures, and we generally say what's on our mind because we don't have the brain power to process it and analyse it like the women do. So instead of forcing a compliment, we try to be 'honest' and only say nice things when we actually feel it. Then we get dumped.
So after a few painful lessons, we eventually learn. Compliments. That's the way to go. So we turn up all fresh and clean for our dinner date, pick her up, smile and say as sincerely as we possibly can - "You look fabulous tonight".
She turns, looks at you, and in your mind's eye you can see all sorts of very 'nice' things happening for the rest of the evening. Why didn't you think of this earlier?!
But instead, she says "Really? Oh no I don't. I just threw this together. It's actually my friend's top. And it makes me look skinny. I don't like it."
"Err, but it still looks very nice you know"
"Oh you should see the top she borrowed from me! That's so sexy! I can't believe she hasn't returned it! She's such a bitch!"
"Err. Yes. Err. Hmmm."
Women want compliments. They LOVE compliments. They NEED compliments. So why can't they take one when we give them?!
I remember when I first starting dating my ex. She was a looker, I'll tell you that much, and I would always tell her that. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never get one to stick. The words "Thank you" were apparently not in her vocabulary, instead there were a dozen reasons why she WASN'T beautiful and why she DIDN'T have nice hair etc etc.
The next time I heard another excuse about why her nose was just a bit too big I gave it to her straight - "I think the words you're looking for are 'Thank you' ". She stopped and stared at me, and for a second I thought I was a dead man. Then she laughed. I had won.
This phenomena isn't just restricted to relationships however. Women struggle to accept compliments in general. Try telling a friend she looks nice and she'll either think you're hitting on her or she'll think you're making fun of her.
Or is it just me? Maybe women do accept compliments if it comes from the right guy. If nerdy-goody-two-shoes-still-living-in-the-80's-and-thinks-Michael-Jackson-is-cool dude tells a girl she looks hot, she'd probably faint and die from the shame. If the stud from the office swings by all uber-cool like and says "Babe, you look AWESOME today!", winks and swings away, she'd probably speed dial everyone of her gal pals and shriek the good news, (if only to make them jealous).
Bottom line: to all the men - keep throwing them compliments out there. If you're better looking and 'cooler' than me, perhaps you'll get some to stick.
To all the women - give me a break.