9/02/2012

A Dream of String

Story Sent in by Fred:

Carol and I messaged each other online for a little while. I noticed that, while she was pretty, she barely cracked a smile in any of her profile photos. I even pointed it out in a message to her: "Why don't you smile in any of your photos? I'll bet that your smile is pretty." In the same message, I asked her if she wanted to meet for drinks.

Uncharacteristically for her, I didn't hear back for several days. At the time, I assumed it was because she was busy. When she finally did write back, it was to reply, very briefly, that she was available to meet that coming Friday evening. We settled on a convenient bar, and that was the last I heard from her until that night.

When she showed up, she was all smiles. In fact, it took less than a minute for me to notice that her smile was constant. She wore a big, fake grin when she talked and when she didn't.

"You're awfully happy," I pointed out.

"Yeah!" she replied, "Well, someone told me I don't smile enough, so now I smile all the time!"

I said, "Are you talking about me? I just guessed that you had a pretty smile, and you do. I meant it as a compliment, if nothing else."

"You sure like telling people what to do," she replied, "But I have to confess, it's tiring to smile all the time! So I brought this."

She reached into her purse and pulled out an adjustable loop of white string. She pulled it over her head, right there at the bar, and set it around her mouth and tightened it, so that it looked like a weird night brace that dug into her mouth and face. She tightened it such that it pulled her lips back into a grotesque grin.

"Shee?" she said, her words distorted, "Now I shmile all the time. Fuh you."

We were attracting stares. I told her, "Okay. That's enough."

"Buh aren' you... thish ish what you wan'ed, wight? Me to shmile? Shee? Me shmile!"

I said, "I wasn't telling you what to do. I said that I thought you probably would have a pretty smile. That's all."

She turned to the bar and said, "I can' dwink cuz I'm shmiling sho much!"

"All right," I said, giving up, "Have it your way." I left her there, and she made no effort to stop me.

I have to confess that as I walked out, I was hoping that she'd come after me and explain the whole thing as a bad joke, but that didn't happen. The whole thing made me sad, but the more I think about it, the gladder I am that I didn't compliment her on something like her eyes. With her logic, she would've ripped them out and given them to me on a plate or something.

37 comments:

  1. Carol comes across as quite clever and funny if you ask me (although I probably wouldn't want to go on a date with her).

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  2. That IS quite clever and funny, you're right. Taking something to an idiotic extreme is a great idea and in no way suggests that the person in question has deep-seated issues that cause problems with basic human interaction. If anything, it demonstrates a wonderful and quirky sense of humor that really highlights her well-developed social skills, which makes it an especially great way to start a romance. And that refusal to stop doing it? It shows a willingness to commit. People really like that in prospective partners.

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  3. My girlfriend once told me that men always tell her to smile, and that it drives her crazy. Sounds like Carol has experienced the same.

    I'd recommend to the OP that he doesn't tell women how they should behave, even if meant as a compliment it can still be taken as patronising or bossy.

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    1. ^2nd paragraph FTW. I've made that mistake.

      OP should have said her photos looked like she didn't get laid enough.

      Delete
    2. Wow this is such a backwards way of thinking. I honestly don't think that is a good basis for giving advice. It just sounds like she is oversensitive. Your girlfriend is doing something that either turns guys off or makes them think she is either bored or disinterested. Guys don't mention smiling because they are trying to be controlling. It's because she is coming across negatively. A more mature response would be to take that as social feedback and either sympathize, clarify or adjust.

      Secondly, you are telling a guy how to behave and your advice ironically is for him to not tell people how to behave. And the funny thing is that he didn't even do that. He said he thinks she must have a nice smile.

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    3. The OP did not tell her what to do:
      "Why don't you smile in any of your photos? I'll bet that your smile is pretty."
      He isn't saying "You should smile more! smile for meeeee!", he's asking why all of her photos had no smile. Smiles are attractive so having at least one on a dating profile would help odds of success.

      Delete
  4. Carol sounds like she just wanted attention. There's a term for that...

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  5. I can see where Carol is coming from. I HATE when people (especially men) tell me to smile. My normal face apparently looks sad, but why do you care how I look? I don't, so leave me the fuck alone.

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    1. If I was bitter too, someone telling me to smile would feel like a painful dagger indeed.

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  6. I smile a lot, but i have had friends who don't and it can even be off putting for me on a one on one basis. I think the op was merely observant and wished to learn more about her. She couldn't just was... I hate when guys tell me that?...

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  7. @ 3:40 - you sound like you've got the right attitude to get what you want. If you don't smile and don't care how you look, I'm pretty sure you will be left alone soon enough. Stick to your guns matey :)

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    1. Were you correcting my grammar? Or adding to my comment?

      Delete
    2. Adding a comment to the opposite effect. The attitude makes her seem more angry/bitter than someone you'd want to be around.

      Delete
  8. Going on a date just to make a point seems to me like a waste of time and only makes her look bad.

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  9. I absolutely freaking HATE when people tell me to smile. I'll smile when I have something to smile about. I don't like how I look with a big smile in pictures, it looks fake. Not to mention, apparently my default setting is "frown" because often when it feels like I'm smiling, people ask me why Im not smiling. This chick was nutty but dude deserved it.

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  10. Plenty of fail all around. I agree with all of those who say it's annoying when people tell you to smile, because however nicely meant, it comes across as a criticism. If you really want someone looking glum to smile, say something charming or funny, don't point it out explicitly. However, even though it's annoying, it was probably said innocently enough, while the girl really went out of her way to create an incredibly awkward evening.

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  11. I will say that it can be annoying for someone to say smile, but the girl was being immature about it.

    When people say that it comes across as a criticism its somewhat true, but that doesn't make it uncalled for. When someone looks bored or angry. They generally aren't fun to be around since they are communicating negative emotions. (which isn't enjoyable). Usually people are hoping that there is a more positive side or that that person will reveal a more positive element(interest/excitement/friendliness). After all, if they didn't like someone at all, why even bother with that. That said, a mature person would take this as social feedback. After all, when alot of people point out the same thing, it reflects the message that person is sending. Instead of acting bitter, realize that it has a negative social effect and either adjust in some manner (even if just by clarifying) or accept that those responses are part of the territory. To do otherwise is to be bitter that the world isn't changing for you.

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    1. Okay, but whether or not I'm grinning like a loon in pictures doesn't really have any bearing on what I'm like as a person. That's gets me. I'm uncomfortable being forced to pose for pictures. It shows. It does not mean in any way, shape, or form, that I'm a glum and unhappy person. I'm silly. I love to laugh. In fact, I'm probably pretty obnoxious at times. Why don't people try to find that out? Also, if I'm out somewhere and look "negative" for some reason, I'm typically just lost in my head somewhere. As I said above, apparently my default facial expression is "frown." I can't help that. While I am completely aware that this comment was not meant for me in particular, it isn't unlikely that there are others like me. It IS uncalled for. If I walked around asking people why they didn't dress a certain way, I'd be a bitch. Why is it anyone else's business whether or not I'm smiling? I used to get it all the time working. I worked overnight, doing stock, so I was by myself 90% of the time. Then some random Joe Schmoe would pass by and tell me to smile. No! I'm not going to smile to myself when I have nothing to smile about! MAYBE instead of insisting that people are bitter and oversensitive because if they aren't walking around like Smilin' Bob they are communicating negative energy, you should simply mind your own business.

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    2. Three things. First, I'm referring more to when you know the person or have been interacting. BTW, a guy telling a woman to smile out of the blue is often doing so because he finds her attractive. I'd equate it to telling someone who is quiet "don't talk so much." Second, the opposite of frowning isn't a goofy smile. That is just a straw man. Lastly, my point still stands. The mature response is either to adjust/clarify (i.e. mentioning that is just your default face) or, if not, accepting that that response comes with the territory.

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    3. One thing I'd add. Even if someone has a default angry pose, you do have a choice the show variety in the pictures used.

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    4. @Villy - you're definitely not alone. Here's a cute illustration to prove it: http://blog.krisatomic.com/?p=1617

      That said, I kind of agree with both of you - people really should just mind their own business, but if that many people are approaching you to say this or people you know always say this, maybe you should think about it and either just accept that that's the way it's going to be, or do something about it. I had short hair as a teenager and got approached by total strangers on several occasions, asking if I was a girl or a boy (I was such a tomboy that, when I was even younger, people simply assumed that I was a boy). That stopped once I grew my hair out a little more.

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  12. Honestly, this didn't go the way, I expected it to go - I expected it to end up with her having something horrifically wrong with her smile. "I'll bet your smile is pretty." is actually kind of a dodgy thing to say 'cos there could very well be a reason she's not smiling in her pictures. Or, as is her prerogative, she might just not want to smile in them.

    While her reaction was over the top, and he didn't directly ask her to smile for him, he was basically indirectly asking her to do so, and it really is a huge cultural issue for women that men expect them to be smiley and happy all the time. Here are just a few links on the subject (I just googled "telling women to smile" - there are thousands of pages on the subject):

    http://community.feministing.com/2012/04/02/telling-women-to-smile-is-sexist/

    http://scienceblogs.com/thusspakezuska/2010/04/06/smile-boys-it-would-make-the-w/

    http://cartoon-heart.com/2011/06/23/stop-telling-me-what-to-do-with-my-face/

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2010/03/30/dear-abby-takes-on-the-smile-baby-guy/

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    Replies
    1. This happens to men as well for sure. I've gotten it, and I have a guy friend for whom this is a regular occurence (people think he looks bored or anti-social). Sure if a guy looks pissed off he might get it less, but there is also more of a feeling of danger involved. I also suspect that many men tell women to smile because they find her attractive and want her to be more open/approachable to them.

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    2. It probably does happen to some men, but it happens to women infinitely more due to cultural expectations about their disposition and availability. That last sentence is kind of part of the problem. If her facial expression is not affecting what she is doing in her life, why does she need to change it for their benefit? Maybe she has had a bad day. Maybe someone has died. Maybe nothing is wrong and that is just her default facial expression and she has utterly no interest in interacting with this other person. Them telling her to smile is entirely for their benefit, not for hers. It implies that they have a greater right to see her smile than she has to carry on doing whatever she is doing with her face however she wants it.

      Seriously, in this kind of situation I've been talking about (a stranger telling a woman to smile), if you want them to be more open or approachable, YOU CAN SMILE AT THEM. If they smile back, then mission accomplished and you can carry on with your day or say hi or whatever. You've got them to smile in a far more human, far less confrontational, blaming way and if they're not interested in smiling for whatever reason then they can just carry on with their day and they probably won't even notice, assuming you didn't smile at them in some terrifying creepy way. But seriously, if they don't smile back, there's really no need to take it any further, and actually comment on it any way, as they are clearly signalling their disinterest in any further interaction. This may seem like a massive leap to follow this with this link, since it has the word rapist in the title, but it very much explains the sort of interactions I've been describing.

      http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

      (Also just for clarity, I'm using the general "you" in the previous paragraph, it's not directed superpointedly at the previous poster or anything, but no-one wants to read a paragraph about "one doing this" and "one doing that". :P)

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    3. Notice that I didn't says she did need to change it. The last line was my way of saying that telling a woman to smile is often a guys way of hitting on her or getting his foot in the door. (or some indirect version of responding to attraction). If you call that only for the guys benefit, then that misses whats going on. (technically, every time a guy hits on a woman would be for "the guys benefit"). And sometimes it is just wanting to cheer someone up. Here and what I was originally thinking of are scenarios that were not complete strangers saying it out of the blue. (i.e. these may be strangers but they had been interacting for a while)

      Secondly, what I said remains. If you have something happen alot, either change, clarify, or accept that it is going to happen alot. Iow if you don't feel like talking to someone, don't. if you feel like keeping an unfriendly face, go ahead. Just don't be angry that people are getting the impression that you are angry or unfriendly.

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    4. Generally I've been talking about strangers saying it out of the blue, which from what I understand seems to one of the more common ways it is used. I think that some guys may try and use it as an icebreaker to start a conversation and that goes back to the problems I was discussing in my previous post. If a girl isn't smiling and her body language isn't inviting interaction, telling her to smile is only going against her pretty obviously broadcast wishes and may piss her off or depending on the situation even make her feel unsafe.

      Why should anyone have to either change how their face is and force an unnatural facial expression, have to repeatedly clarify that "they are not sad, this is just their face" or that they don't want interaction or whatever when their body language/facial expression is clearly signalling it or accept being bugged or harassed on a regular basis? That's pretty awful.

      Now they're in a no win position - they put on a fake happy face and people think they're approachable and happy no matter how they actually feel and they have to put up with it or be a bitch (by society's standards) or they don't smile and then get told by people to smile and they have to put up with that too or they're a bitch. That's a rubbish position to be put in.

      No-one (in what I'm discussing - obviously the opening post is different and slightly nutso and maybe there are people in the position you are describing, but that is most definitely not what I am talking about here) is complaining here or being angry that people is getting the impression that they are angry or unfriendly. They are annoyed that strangers are coming up to them out of the blue and basically telling them that their face isn't happy enough for their standards or society's standards and that they should be smiling. Which is bullshit because it isn't really affecting either of them in any way and it usually only annoys the person being told to smile rather than cheers them up.

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    5. See this: "telling her to smile is only going against her pretty obviously broadcast wishes and may piss her off" contradicts pretty much half the comments about being happy but having a bitchy face (which is what I'm focusing on) If you actually are angry, then there is no discordance. THAT is the issue I'm addressing. When someone gets that alot because their emotions are mistaken, then to ignore the social impact of their body language would be silly. That is when clarifying something or working on an expression would be helpful(BTW the opposite of a frown is not a scary grin). No one is arguing to force a mood, but if your BL doesn't match your mood, then I'd argue that you should accept that you are displaying incongruent messages. If not, then being bitter that people are responding to an inaccurate expression is pointless. That is what I'm talking about with social feedback.

      Now how people respond to that impression is an entirely different issue. But still assigning sexist reasons to why they are responding seems like overkill, especially because we are social creatures and our moods do affect each other. For example, interpreting hitting on a girl (by saying to smile) as imposing standards on her would pretty much make ANY attempts at hitting on a girl seem like subjugation. That said, no one is arguing that it isn't annoying or that its the best means

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  13. Everyone's writing a book on this one, so I'll join in, why not:

    Wow, are you guys really this uptight? My face naturally falls into 'bitch' features when I'm spacing out. Sometimes people at work tell me to smile. To be honest looking back, I have no idea if they're all males or not. However, just having someone tell me that makes me smile, or even laugh. I appreciate that they care enough to want to cheer me up when they think I'm gloomy. I've never once thought "What a sexist pig!" People don't tell you to smile because they want to get off on your hot, sexy, happy face. They do it because you look blue and they want you to feel better. It's psychological (yeah, I pulled that out of my ass but I do think it's true).

    As for this girl, she's being absolutely ridiculous and you all know it. There is no need to become a viper when someone asks a simple question. When I first started talking online to my boyfriend, he actually wrote in his profile "no, I don't smile for pictures". I asked him why not and it was that he didn't feel like it. He didn't meet me with a rope forcing his face into a smile. We've been together 6 years, since he's not a pointlessly vindictive moron. This gal totally sabotaged her date and he's better off.

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    1. I don't think anyone disputed that chick was crazy. And no, I've never thought anyone was sexist for telling me to smile. I just think they are annoying. Shouldn't I be the one in control of my face?

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    2. Summary: It doesn't bother me, so it shouldn't bother anyone else either! My experiences are universal! Wow, what a bunch of hysterical women you're all being about this!

      Sometimes people want to cheer you up. Instead of being all "Smile! You're so pretty when you smile!" why don't you instead tell a joke or something. I mean, I would never even consider cheering any stranger (note: STRANGER) up with a request for him to smile. I don't know ANY woman who would do that (no man either, but I know far more women then men).

      If anyone told me to smile because it's so "pretty" or whatever, I'd just turn to them with a no-nonsense look and say, "My dad just died, so no thanks." Might make them think about whether the request for a smile is about them or you.

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  14. That sure is a lot of people getting worked up over a fucking dating story.

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  15. I get told to smile all the time, and it's really annoying, particularly because my mildly happy normal face isn't that big a smile, and doing the obvious one they're looking for does, in fact, get painful.

    Of course, it's only ever men telling me to smile, because women aren't that presumptuous. I know this isn't FML, but YDI.

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