“Who the hell smiles to people on the subway?” asked my older male friend as someone passed us in the escalator and said “hi” to me randomly. He rolled his eyes in exasperation every time something like this happened while we were together. Dan is a sweet and patient guy, but sometimes my character just gets under his skin in ways that I cannot predict. I remember that the night we became friends, someone – a woman – made a joke about me smiling so much, and he said something like “She smiles when we talk about ideas.” Back then, maybe two years ago, smiling sounded like a good thing. Perhaps that is why I keep doing it.
“Why do you always smile so much? You always look so proud of yourself! How can you always be so proud of yourself?” said that Dan as he saw me arriving at the café — to see him, of course. (I was not smiling at the group of middle-aged zombies drinking their coffee in the bleakness of Tuesday morning.) “What do you mean?” I wanted to ask, “Can’t I just be happy to see you?” I did not ask that because I thought he would find that flirtatious, and tell me to cut the bullshit already. We had serious business to attend to. I must admit I was puzzled by his question.
Back from some time spent abroad, I was anxious to see Dan again. He is someone I like to share experiences with. A long time without talking to him made me fear that stories would be lost because I would forget them before he could hear them. He asked me how men were back there, so I told him. Entitled. Insistent. Invasive. Inescapable. He laughed. “Have you seen yourself? I don’t know any woman who smiles as much as you do… You bring that on. Have you seen the way you act with everyone? Just how exactly is anyone supposed to know if you’re actually interested?”
I tried to change the conversation topic. I felt annoyed.
We spoke of other things. I described a woman I knew there, someone I thought I would like to be “when I grow up” (if I ever do). “Do you see her the way I see her?” I asked. “She’s such a woman! And she’s beautiful on top of it!” I smiled. “You can never be like her,” he said. “She’s not like you. She’s not nearly as flirtatious as you.” It was true. I do not know what happened these past couple of years. I went from being the woman who smiles when we talk about ideas, to being the woman who smiles too much. Who is arrogant. Who is not self-aware, and cannot mind her place.
I wonder what happens in life to women who smile too much. Is this why people like them at first? Then what? Are they told, “You’re not serious enough?” “Too friendly?” “Not professional enough?” Then what is next? Are their words not taken seriously? Are they dismissed for their arrogance? Is their behaviour entirely re-cast to fit a certain script of how women communicate “what they want?” What about Shirley Temple in the 1939 film Little Princess? Does she smile and put her perfectly shaped little hand on her father’s shoulder just because she is after something? Does she do it because she was taught that this is what little princesses do?