‘Give us a smile.’
‘Why don’t you smile?’
‘You’d be prettier if you smiled.’

People in general, and women in particular, are told to smile a lot. If you aren’t putting on a happy face, people assume you’re unhappy, and sometimes they assume that’s a threat for some reason…you being unhappy…or even just not SHOWING that you’re happy in a way they can easily identify as happy. They don’t normally care if it’s sincere happiness, and they usually don’t want to hear about it either way…unhappy or happy but just not smiling. Just smile for them, regardless.
I’ve never liked being told to smile. It makes me want to smile LESS when someone tells me to. All I hear is ‘If you don’t show me joy all the time, it makes me uncomfortable…I don’t really care if you’re not feeling joyful in the moment…or if you are, but you want to be private about it…but show some joy to me, because that’s what *I* need to feel comfortable around you, regardless of if you’re comfortable doing it or not…or even if you’re comfortable around me.’
I’m pretty good at reigning in actual animosity and grief and raw nerves to preserve the peace and other people’s comfort, even when it sacrifices mine. I hold a lot of myself back. My thoughts. My feelings. Things I want to share…maybe even especially happiness, because people seem to want to tear that down. But I’ve never been very adept at faking what’s NOT there, and I’m pretty much shit at faking smiles. I still do it. Most people do. Almost all women do. It’s an entrenched social expectation. It’s a classic placating gesture.
I’m just not any good at it.

Here’s an odd fact about me:
Before I met J, there are no photographs of me with a real smile. None. They don’t exist. Not even when I was a small child. I mean…me at any age past 6 months isn’t smiling in a photograph unless I’d been told to smile, not because a smile had been naturally produced with happiness or humor. Of course, there are some pictures of me smiling, but they’re all staged, and a keen eye (or maybe not even that keen of an eye in some cases) can pick that out. Literally every photograph taken of me before I met J had one of those phrases up there ^^^ or this familiar command attached to it…’Say ‘cheese!”


I never actually said ‘cheese,’ but every picture of me before J entered my life showcased one of the following smiles…

  • The Cheesy Smile…obviously fake and put on for the photographer at their behest. (I learned this one from my mother…every photograph she’s ever taken that I’ve seen, including in her childhood, except for EXACTLY ONE, features this smile. It’s the ‘you are supposed to smile because you are having your photo taken’ smile. You all know what I mean.)
  • The Screaming Smile…this is an introvert specialty. It comes when you’ve had Just About Enough of being around People ®, and it’s masking an ‘arrrrrrrrrrrgh’ or sometimes a ‘f**********ck’.
    (I learned this one from my father…if he is actually smiling in a photo, it’s always this variety. It translates to roughly, ‘Take the goddam picture already.’)
  • The Surrendered Smile…another introvert mask. It’s when you’re too peopled out to even manage The Screaming Smile and you just give the cheerful, zealous photographer a weak upturn of your lips to appease them. Like…fine. Look, I am smiling like you wanted. I just want this to be over.
  • The Not Even A Smile…this is when you Aren’t In The Mood and you just can’t put a smile on. You’re done. You’re out of social capital. You’ve gone into the red with smiling. You’re all out of smiles, even phony baloney ones. I learned this one from my dad too. Almost every picture of him features this one, and I did this one a lot in the past too. You all know the phrase ‘resting bitch face?’ Yeah. I’m not always angry or annoyed or anxious or sad when I’m not smiling. I promise. I’m actually a very positive, optimistic person. But I’m not one of those people who can easily fake a smile, and I don’t smile when I’m just tacitly thinking unless I am thinking of something specific that draws a smile to my face. In photographs of me with Not Even A Smile, it’s always anxiety showing.


Since I met J, though? All the pictures of me (especially if it’s a photo of me WITH J and/or our son and/or dog, or a photo of me taken BY J)? Those smiles are all real. And they have some serious wattage to them too. Big and overwhelming and organic and unsolicited…almost involuntary, even. People who have known me for a long time will often openly comment on them with this sense of bewildered surprise…almost confusion…because they remember the Me in Photos From Before J.
‘You look so…HAPPY.’
It’s because when I’m with J (and I almost ALWAYS am now when a photo is called for), his presence takes anxiety away. Even in situations where anxiety is normally heavy-laden for me. J always carries some of it. And that alleviated burden allows me to really smile.

I know this sounds really Disney Princess Movie, but it really is amazing how being loved the right way can free a person. It worked that way with me, and I for real used to think love was kind of a big Disney Princess Movie pile of horseshit.
With J, I have real happiness. I don’t have to be told to ‘say cheese’ to get the right look for a photograph. Even after all these years together, and even when life is being…Life, Dammit…it’s actually kind of hard to wipe the smile OFF my face when I’m with J. Or even thinking about J. Because he’s seen all those other smiles from me before when dealing with other people, and he loved me anyway. He knew they were phony and put on to appease other people. He understood why I did it (and understands why sometimes I’m called to still do it), and he’s never asked me for a fake one. Not for him or for anybody else. Of course, he wants me to be happy, and me being unhappy, especially consistently unhappy, doesn’t do much for HIS authentic smile and happiness, but he never wants the facade. He sees and accepts and loves the real me, without a fake smile, and I think that almost created the real ones I deliver all the time now.

J’s not perfect. I’m certainly not either. I know that. We make mistakes a lot (especially me, to be real about things). We’ve been through some pretty hard stuff together. But he makes me happy. I hope I make him happy too. I sure do try. I sure do want to. And we’re toughing this thing out together, no matter how hard and weird it gets.
Today’s love song is Learning How To Smile by Everclear.
The lyrics are real. They’re not about a flowery, perfect love story between two super romantic, flawless people. They aren’t cheesy and put on. The featured couple’s life is HARD. They’ve been through some STUFF. And that’s exactly what I love about these lyrics. Here they are (I’ve highlighted my favorite lines):

Five miles outside of Vegas when we broke down
Threw my keys inside the window and we never looked back
Got all drunk and sloppy on a Greyhound bus
We passed out, all them losers they were laughing at us
I will never let them break your heart
No I will never let them break me

We got lost in Phoenix, seemed like such a long time
Seven months of livin’ swimming on those thin white lines
Did some time for sellin’ acid to the wrong guy
Life just keeps on gettin’ smaller and we never ask why

Why there is no perfect place, yes I know this is true
I’m just learning how to smile
That’s not easy to do
I know there will come a day
When we can leave and just go runnin’ away

We was broke outside of Philly when the storms came
I was working in New Jersey, hitchin’ rides in the rain
You was happy talkin’ dirty at that phone sex place
Life just keeps on gettin’ weirder for us every day

You say there is no perfect place, I say I know this is true
We are just learning how to smile
That’s not easy to do
We both live for the day
When we can run away

Oh baby we can leave and run away
Yes we can leave this place and run away
We can leave it all behind like we do every time
Yes we both live for the day
When we can leave and just go runnin’ away

No I will never let it break your heart
No I will never let it break me

Five miles outside of Vegas, five years down the line
We got married in the desert and the sunshine
I can handle all the hell that happens every day
‘Cause when you smile and touch my face
You make it all just go away

Yes I know there ain’t no finish line, I know this never ends
But I’m just learning how to fall, climb back up again
I know there is nothing perfect, I know there is nothing new
We are just learning how to live together, me and you
You know I live for the day
When you say “Baby let’s just run away” 

Oh baby we can leave and run away
Yes we can leave this place and run away
Baby we can leave and run away
We can leave this place and run away

This is one of the songs I thought about a lot when I was writing Blink. I’ve seen a lot of romantic fiction that’s focused on a Happily Ever After where the characters no longer face problems at all because they’ve found love. But that’s not real. What’s real, to me, is that love can give you the strength and courage and motivation to get through the mistakes you’re definitely going to make and all the shit life is going to throw at you anyway. I love this song. It’s by far my favorite Everclear song, and if I weren’t afraid of the reaction I’d have gotten from the ‘Did some time for…’ and the ‘You was happy talkin’ dirty at that phone sex place…’ lyrics, I’d have lobbied for it to be OUR wedding song. (We didn’t get married in the desert. We got married in a local church and all the traditional…stuff.) It’s not precisely true to J’s character or mine (or to Jeff and Krista’s, either). But I just love the ‘life is small and hard and weird and sometimes we screw up, but I’m with you anyway’ message in it. It’s one of my all time favorite love songs. And I love that now I very rarely get commanded to smile. I usually just smile. And they’re always real. I just think about J.




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