Making Faces

A story about making a bad impression in front of important people:

I had made a last-minute decision to go out and buy a new pair of shoes — edgy, near-stiletto ankle boots  — because nothing I owned would quite work with the dress I had picked for the occasion.  It was settled the night before: I would “be” the short black dress with kimono sleeves.  Deep V-neck.  Bare legs, if the weather allowed.  Hair back.  Necklace, no earrings.

So the shoes, found barely one hour before I had to get the kids to my mom’s, barely one hour and change before I would be walking out the door to greet my husband in our driveway — the shoes were important to my character. The version of “me” that I hoped to pull off that evening: quietly confident, effortlessly edgy, with a bit of sexy turned down a few notches to read more like “intriguing.”

Yes, I had put a lot of thought into this.

Husband and I were going to enjoy a rare treat: a Saturday night date AND some socializing with a group of friends, some of who were my husband’s co-workers.  Co-workers who held kind of important positions at his company.  And, we were going to a very nice, and very hip joint downtown, therefore, the whole effortlessly edgy thing was appropriate, in case you raised an eyebrow at the mention of “co-workers” and “important.”  No worries, but thank you all the same.

So, again, yes….I had put a lot of thought into this.

This whole, how-I-must-come-across-just-right thing.

The evening went by much the way I had hoped it would.  Husband and I spent some time at the bar as we waited for our party to arrive.  I enjoyed strong beers with names I couldn’t pronounce, served in voluptuous glasses.  We played hangman on the back of cocktail napkins.  We sat with our knees touching; lots of leaning in and laughing close.  We didn’t talk about the kids.  We were having a really nice time.

Then friends began to arrive.  We took our seats around a large table as most couples broke themselves apart, sitting next to “new” partners and making new conversations.

There was lots of happy banter and gesturing and taking turns being clever, but not too clever.  We ate great food and drank what one might expect on an evening like this.  No one talked about their kids.  We were all having a really nice time.

Amidst this intense energy, I remember taking myself aside, you know, in that way one does when among a large group.  In that “I’m-not-here-I’m just an -observer” detached way you can do usually for just a minute or two before your sub-concious retreats back into wherever it usually hangs.  And in that minute or two of observational clarity, I was able to assess that I was playing the part I had hoped.  I was in my role, and it was working well with everyone else’s role on set.  Okay….we’re good.  This is good.  I’m having a really nice time.

And then, something happened.  I still don’t really know how it happened, but I know that it did because I felt it happen.  Plus, I had my husband’s repeated reminders of it happening: “Babe, you just need to be more aware next time.”

Right after final drinks were brought to our table, someone in the group made some particular comment — a completely benign comment — that struck a chord with me.  Now, I didn’t say “struck a nerve,” I said “struck a chord.”   I wasn’t upset.  At all.  I was more….contemplative….it made me go “huh” (to myself).  And once I go “huh” to myself, that act typically engages a Jacob’s Ladder-like process in my mind, where the one trigger thought leads to a deeper thought that then leads to some other kind of thought, etc.  Usually, within mere minutes, I end up going from something like “my thoughts on vacationing in June versus August” to “I wonder why it is that I never pursued that opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill.”  That’s just an example.  Whatever.

So, apparently, while I thought I was “huh-ing” to myself — quiet and on the sidelines of the conversation, just chewing on this notion, whatever it may have been (I don’t even remember now), everyone was sort of watching me.  The table grew eerily silent.  I wasn’t even aware until my husband touched the side of my arm, leaned into me, and whispered, “What’s wrong?” with a slight sense of urgency.  It actually broke up the thought party I was having.  It startled me.  Something’s wrong?  With who?  I thought, until I realized it was with me.  Something was wrong with me, I guess.  And everyone else thought so too.

Because, while I would have imagined that my quiet contemplative face looked like this:

Image Credit:
Image Credit:

I am told it actually looked more like this:

Image Credit:

(for the record, I look nothing like Taylor Swift or Amy Poehler.  These were just good examples of faces).

I had what most humans would interpret as angry-sour-I’m-pissed-at-someone-sorry-if-you-all-have-to-witness-this face.   To be honest, I did sort of feel a little contorted, facially speaking.  I kind of remember my mouth sort of twisted, my lips pursed together.  I remember feeling the fat under my jawline being slightly squished by my neck becasue I had my head cocked to the side just so.  And, okay, my eyes were probably “squinty” — maybe one eye more squinty than the other one.

I was probably wearing said face for several minutes.

And that’s sort of the last impression most of our dinner companions had of me, that face marking the end of the evening.  Though I quickly offered a broad smile in an effort toward damage control and an assurance that I was just swimmingly happy (I was, though.  I really, really was), it was sort of past the point.  Everyone had pretty much concluded that “Something’s wrong with Lauren.”  Ohhh, she’s pissed — look out.  Glad I won’t be going home with her tonight.  Pshew. Conversation continued — a bit stiffly.  Eyes darted away from me and toward more pleasant-looking people.  Bills were paid.  Coats and purses were gathered up and our group slowly broke apart, heading home.

Well, so much for quite confidence and intrigue.  So much for the dress and the shoes and “the look.”  Actually, I had the look — it just wasn’t “the look” but instead (eyebrows lowered, whispery/judgey voice) the look, tsk.

I have wondered more than once how many couples talked about “the face” during their car ride home.

What the Hell happened?  Did I miss something?

Was she pissed at her husband?

Geeze-o-flip.  Glad I’m not that poor guy.

Well, c’mon — did you see those shoes?  Only psychos wear shoes like that.  I could tell — she’s a little “off.”

I have actually been told that I make a lot of faces.  A lot of faces.  Some are more purposeful, and will be the subject of a future post, I’m sure.

But others are completely unintentional, and scarily enough, beyond my ability to control them.

I usually get asked, at least once during every social gathering I attend: “What’s wrong?  You look….upset….”  99 times out of 100, nothing is wrong at all.  Nothing.

So what’s with the faces?  ‘Cause I sure as Hell don’t know.  Have you ever been accused of thinking or feeling what you most certainly were not thinking or feeling, all because of a few facial muscles moving in unfortunate directions?  Have you ever determined that someone else was thinking or feeling what they likely weren’t, just because of a slightly miscalculated non-verbal?

Share stories if you’re able.  This happened a few years back and it still makes my stomach flip every time.

I need to be more careful….more “aware.”  Advice?









  1. debi

    WOW! You have just described my chronic, unintentional facial faux paux’s to a T! I too have been judged many a time by my expressions. As I methodically clean the house, my husband often asks me if I am upset. Lord do I need to smile when I clean? I do not mind cleaning my house but rather find it a pleasing ritual. I am concentrating on the tasks at hand, or what I call “just processing” It is my time to work out issues I need to address. It is therapeutic. I tend to drift off at times and have been told I look like I was a thousand miles away. I like this time away, it is peaceful and tranquil and it has plenty of breathing space. The Dr. Oz show recently had a show addressing the woman’s brain(
    The following is information from the show given by By Daniel G. Amen, MD
    Psychiatrist and Brain Imaging Expert
    In the largest brain imaging study ever done, we compared the scans of 46,000 male and female brains using a study called SPECT, which looks at blood flow and activity patterns. Out of 80 areas tested, females were significantly more active in 70, which just explained my whole life – I have 5 sisters, 3 daughters and 14 nieces. These differences help us understand some of the unique strengths and vulnerabilities of the female brain and give us important clues on how to optimize it.
    We found that females have stronger activity in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is involved with planning, judgment, empathy and self-control. I think of the prefrontal cortex as the brain’s brake. It helps keep you on track and stops you from saying or doing stupid things. When the prefrontal cortex is low in activity, you can struggle with short attention span, distractibility and problems with impulse control. When it works too hard, as it often does in women, it’s like the parking brake is always on and you can get stuck on certain thoughts or behaviors, such as worrying or holding grudges. So I conclude it is the way we are wired, and that’s not a bad thing!

  2. Lauren R

    Guilty as charged. I catch myself all the time. Someone will say something that I don’t agree with or haven’t heard before . I drift off and then return to reality only to realize that my eyes are squinted and my eyebrows have moved downward. It appears as if I am scowling and am upset with the topic. When in reality, I am mostly perplexed. I think that women think with their facial expressions much more than men do.

    • Lauren


      I love what you said — “women think with their faces.” That’s a perfect way to phrase it. Good one.

      Yeah, I know, it’s so hard b/c on one hand, I think it is just a woman thing, and it’s not like I notice it (usually). It just happens.

      I’m glad you wrote to agree with me, b/c now I will try to remember not to be so sensitive to other people’s facial language — I have been known to misinterpret faces myself (and it’s always for the worse….it’s always to assume someone is unhappy or mad at me). Think of all the drama and tension that could be saved if I/we all didn’t make assumptions based on faces.

      Good comment. Thanks.


  3. JR

    Yes – just to confirm – being that I was there sitting next to you – 1) it was awkward as you recall and 2) it was indeed the latter of the two faces. However, after I had a subsequent glance at that get-up you had on, all was forgotten in moments.

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