Embed from Getty Images
I was walking back from the gas station when it happened, getting ready to fill up the gas tank of the U-Haul I was driving. Just when I’d chosen my fuel type and lifted the pump, the guy on the other side leaned around to tell me: “You don’t have to look so mean. Smile more often.” Now, this isn’t the first time I’d heard this comment, but it rubbed me even more wrong that day than any other. I stared at him for a second, opened my mouth to respond, and just thought better of it. It wasn’t his business to know why I wasn’t smiling nor did I owe him an explanation any more than I owed him a smile.
What that man didn’t know was I had rented this U-Haul to pick up a couple of large pieces of furniture from my grandfather’s house—who had specifically written down that I get this furniture in the event of his death. And he had died three days before that. A man I’d had in my life for over 35 years let me feed him, bathe him, and 15 minutes later died peacefully in his sleep.
By no means did I feel like smiling that day or three days later at the gas station. All I wanted was something of his to be near me in my own home that he was adamant I receive. But the guy at the gas station who thought I looked “mean” and should ‘smile more often” didn’t know my grandfather and me any more than he knows the person reading this right now. He doesn’t know that I spent over four hours smiling and cracking jokes with my mother whose birthday spa day happened to be the same day that my grandfather died. And I smiled on command for her—because I love her and I was determined that she have the absolute best birthday I could possibly provide for her. I sat in traffic and still smiled. I pulled up to my grandfather’s house with her, where she thought she was getting out to visit him.
And she watched the smile on my face slowly fall and tears fall over my lips. But at no point during that day did she ever order me to smile, even on her birthday when I certainly should’ve been in a smiling mood.
And when my own mother, two months later, found out that she needed a pacemaker because her heart was beating too slow, I smiled again. I smiled all throughout the morning while she marched around getting her bags together. I smiled in the car. I smiled at her in the waiting area with my father before she was pushed away in the hospital bed. And I smiled at her when the doctor told my father and I we could come in to the recovery area to see her.
And 24 hours later when I returned to work, a man I know quite well saw me staring at my computer and tried to make conversation. I answered him politely but went back to working. And he came back around and said, “Do you need coffee or something? I just want to see you
And I hung my head again. Because this wasn’t a stranger. This wasn’t someone at the gas station. This was yet another man asking me to smile for no reason other than that he was in my presence.
I’m not quite sure why men do this so often. As someone who loves to show off my loyal dental visits, I’m a huge fan of smiling. I’m a lover of laughter, a wise-cracking woman. I think any man who is funny is at least a five on a scale of 1-10, no matter what he looks like. I love funny men the way most women love tall, dark, and handsome men. (I’m a big fan of the latter too.) In a Psychology Today study, men are more likely to stand closer to a woman in an elevator if she smiles. And women are more likely to be attracted to the man who can make a group of men laugh versus even the men who are laughing at the joke starter.
I wholeheartedly understand the attraction. But it has never occurred to me to see a man frowning, scowling, or looking sad, and to walk up to him to lecture him about why he needs to smile. And in 35 years, I’ve never even seen a man who makes a point of telling women to smile walk up to another grown man (or boy) and tell him the same thing. And at some point, you have to wonder why. Why is it that men (sorry, guys, I just have never met a woman who demands that another woman smile at her) immediately feel entitled to a woman’s smile simply for being within her view?
Now full disclosure, I’d like to believe that the two men in my examples above would’ve understood my downtrodden expression had I explained what had just happened with those two family members. But I just can’t erase the feeling of wanting to know: Why? Why is it that a woman must explain every single time she doesn’t smile? And better yet, when a man walks out of the door, does he have to explain why he’s not smiling every time he walks by every woman he sees? My guess is no.
Guys, the next time you want a woman to smile, just smile directly at her. Smiling is almost as contagious as yawning. She may not smile back for a variety of justifiable reasons, or maybe she will in spite of them. But if she wants to smile, she will do so — no request needed.
Photo credit: Getty Images