Friendly Resting Face Is Also Real

Apparently, I look friendly.

Oct 11, 2013 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

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This isn't my photo face -- this is my default all the time walking around face.

A few years back, I was at the bookstore with a good friend of mine. We were standing in line to check out with our stuff, and instead of both going up to the same cashier, I hung back to see if the other cashier was going to be available any time soon. That's when something weird happened. 

The guy ringing up her items leaned around her to ask me something, like we were going to have a conversation in the middle of my friend paying for her books. 

I was a little oblivious and my friend was just about done with her transaction, so I wound up at his register. I answered his question and went about our merry way. And I didn't think about it until we were talking about how strangers perceive us and she brought it up -- apparently, I look friendly. 

Apparently, I look friendly all the time and, given an opportunity, people will talk to me even if it means being rude to someone who doesn't look friendly. (My friend is actually one of the most amazing people at cultivating friendships that I know so this is kind of a huge injustice.)

Now, I know bitchy resting face is a real thing -- Ed has it. There isn't a week that goes by where I don't lean over and check on him just to make sure he's not profoundly discontent with everything happening everywhere in the entire world. His default expression is a little bit of a frown accompanied by a stern brow. 

My face does the opposite. I am almost always smiling and even when I AM profoundly discontent with everything happening everywhere in the entire world, I look moderately cheerful. I smile and I laugh even as I am seething with fury. (Though apparently I DO have this look that Ed calls "Divorce Face" that gets pretty stony.)

Most recently, Helena called this "Helpful Face" -- and if you've ever been wearing a rando red shirt in Target and had multiple people come up to ask you where the toilet paper is, you have experienced the impact this face has on the general shopping public. This happens to me, too (even if I'm wearing that red shirt in Best Buy where all the employees wear blue). 

It happens to me when I'm riding public transportation or interacting with civil servants or getting scanned by TSA agents. That's why I call it friendly resting face (that and I like parallel construction) -- people just assume I'm going to be pleasant and friendly when I interact with them.

For the most part, that's not an unfair assumption. I'm not COMPLAINING about my friendly resting face, not really. It means that, by and large, people respond well to me in casual interactions. Even the TSA agents. And, really, I mostly like interacting with people.

Where it gets difficult is this: because I have the same air of friendly attentiveness that small dogs usually do, I don't really get to have boundaries when I go out in public. Strangers strike up conversations -- sometimes about deeply personal stuff. And while I'm usually game for this, well. Sometimes I'm not. And I don't know how to fix my face to send the message that, no, please, you don't have to say hello to me and talk to me about the weather when we cross paths around the lake's walking path.

Like many geeks, I have a little bit of a social anxiety. I'm really truly an extrovert, so I have learned how to DO social, often to a performative degree. But it doesn't stop the slight welling of dread that comes with making eye contact with a stranger and knowing they're going to talk to me (sometimes in another language) and I'm going to have to figure out an appropriate response. Also, sometimes attention just stresses me out.

Like I said, I'm not really complaining. The benefits of friendly resting face outweigh the drawbacks, at least for me. At least most of the time. But it's a thing and it can be bewildering. So if you ever run into me and I am smiling, as I always do, it really is fine to say hi -- just please understand if I'm kind of awkward about it. My brain is trying to catch up to my face.

Do you have friendly resting face? Have you ever considered learning another language so you can respond to folks? Was I weird when you met me? Sorry about that!