Please Don’t Comment on My Face

I’m going to share something with you, and you can tell me if you’ve experienced this too, or if I’m just crazy. (Actually, don’t tell me if I’m crazy. Just let me live in blissful ignorance, please.)

Have you ever been engaged in conversation with someone — or even just minding your own business in a group of people — and had someone randomly comment on your expression? “You look annoyed.” “What is that look for?” “I know what you’re thinking: [at this point they venture a guess that’s not remotely anywhere near what you’re actually thinking]…” And my favorite: “Are you sick/tired/mad at me?”

If you’re like me, you’re often caught off guard by these types of comments, because (1) they come at you out of the blue, (2) they’re almost always negative or implying something negative, and (3) they make you the target of someone else’s mind-reading attempts. (And we all know what a success those usually are!)

I’m not sure how or why voicing an unflattering observation about someone’s most distinguishing physical feature — their face — became socially acceptable. It really shouldn’t be.

People, if you’re looking at my face and you think it’s telling you something, please be a little patient and don’t jump to conclusions. I’m on the wrong side of my face to know what it looks like to you. Most of us don’t have the tightest control at all times over things we’re unable to see. My mind is a busy place, and sometimes my face goes rogue and does its own thing while my brain is processing. It’s nothing personal. For some of us, what’s on our faces doesn’t always match up with what’s going on behind them. Even if it does, you can still safely let your comments about it go unsaid — I promise.

I respect the fact that you may have questions, though, so I’m going to make this real easy: No, there’s no hidden meaning behind why I’m looking at you this way or that. No, I’m not mad at you. I’d tell you if I was, and I’d use my words, not my eyebrows. No, I’m not sick. I stay at home when I’m sick. (I hope you would too.) Yes, I may be a bit tired, and chances are I already know my looks reflect this. It’s okay. There are plenty of ways to brighten somebody’s day, but telling them you think they look tired isn’t one of them.

So what can you do instead?

I don’t typically advocate for cliches, but for those who are genuinely curious, saying something like, “Penny for your thoughts” is a much better strategy. It shows you’re interested, that you’re not approaching the conversation with preconceived notions, and — best of all — it lets them know there’s no pressure to share. If you’re the one being asked, and you’re not willing to break silence for the paltry sum of one cent, you can politely decline.

Which reminds me, it’s worth mentioning: a penny doesn’t buy much these days. You want the other person to know their thoughts are valuable to you. How about “a cup of coffee and a donut for your thoughts”? As far as I’m concerned, that’s an idea you can’t go wrong with.

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