Help, I suffer from chronic bitchface
October 13, 2013 1:38 PM   Subscribe

How do I seem more approachable in social settings without being a total fake?

Last night I was out with some friends and friends of those friends, when a guy from the latter group came over and asked why I was scowling. This is not unusual, because over my lifetime I have been asked plenty of times why I was upset or mad when in reality I was just staring into space or lost in my own thoughts. I think my default face is set to "scowl," especially when out in bars and such because if I'm not engaged in conversation or listening to live music I am probably people watching or thinking about everything I need to do the next day.

This guy informed me that the way I was sitting, with arms crossed and feet propped up on a chair, was making me unapproachable. I told him that I was tired (after participating in a 6 mile obstacle course earlier that day, in which he also participated) and that meeting people at bars was just not my thing but I was with a group of friends who were interested in meeting guys and whatnot. I became interested in his assessment of me since like I said, people always think I am angry when I'm not, so I thought maybe I should get an objective opinion of how I come across.

Guy said I needed to smile more, get out there and dance, make eye contact and gently compliment men who approach me because if a guy approaches me, he's putting himself on the line and I should acknowledge his effort. He did make one interesting point: no one particularly likes the shallow, small talk mating rituals of the bar scene but everyone puts up with it so they can eventually get past the small talk and on to a first date.

I am conflicted for several reasons. First, my instinct is to reject the notion that I am required to appear pleasant and sweet and smile at men like some sort of decorative plaything. I usually visit bars for a purpose: either meeting someone there or watching live music. I hardly ever go out with a group of friends and wait to be hit on. However, I realize that being more approachable can only benefit me. It's not like I intend to go out and scowl all night and give the impression that I'm a miserable bitch. I am not into small talk nor am I into meeting people at bars, but maybe it would be good for me to work on social skills that seem to be required in your 20s. I'm sure there are some interesting folks out there among all the superficial alcohol-soaked flirting that I apparently just don't understand. I am not particularly looking for a relationship but am not opposed to one either. I feel that through work, church, and a few hobbies that I am in contact with plenty of people, and maybe I am unknowingly giving off the impression that I am not to be messed with.

My question is this: being that I'm naturally introverted and can get lost in my own thoughts, how do I be more approachable while still being true to myself? Is there some mantra I can chant to myself so my face isn't unknowingly scowling all the time? I dislike small talk, and would rather quickly get past the what do you do and where did you study line of questioning. Sometimes I just feel like observing and not being assertive. How can I not wear myself out but still be socially graceful? Thanks in advance.
posted by thank you silence to Human Relations (41 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I have two reactions to your question. First, I'm not entirely convinced that his "helpfulness" was not just some low-grade pick-up artist bullshit. The emphasis on body language and the semi-insulting approach have a whiff of that. So, as far as that goes, fuck that.

I think the primary antidote to seeming unapproachable is to find things that interest you in the people you meet or that approach you. I find that almost everyone I encounter has something interesting to say and I find that when I talk to them and draw it out it makes us both happy. But, I'm a dude, so take that for what its worth.

I'd also categorically reject the idea that you are obligated to compliment men who approach you, dance or make eye contact with anyone if you aren't feeling it. That's just a load of crap.
posted by Lame_username at 1:56 PM on October 13, 2013 [58 favorites]

Guy said I needed to smile more, get out there and dance, make eye contact and gently compliment men who approach me because if a guy approaches me, he's putting himself on the line and I should acknowledge his effort.

Did you actually ask him to explain all this to you or did he offer this opinion unsolicited?

If the first, then it is slightly less offensive, but still bullshit. You are under no requirements to be the life of the party, whether you are tired or not. You are not the entertainment, you do not exist to provide men with eye candy or to gently fucking compliment them for hitting on you. Oh my fucking god.

If he offered this opinion without you having asked him to explain his initial unsolicited compliment on your facial features, then fuck him in the nostril with a fistful of broken glass.

If you feel like you glare a lot without meaning to, and in general want to stop doing this in public, it can help to remind yourself of something that legitimately cracks you up every time (my personal go-to is chubby pug puppies running in slow-mo), although this has the side effect of making you giggle to yourself in public for apparently no reason.

First, my instinct is to reject the notion that I am required to appear pleasant and sweet and smile at men like some sort of decorative plaything.

This instinct is 100% correct.
posted by elizardbits at 2:04 PM on October 13, 2013 [87 favorites]

I would recommend you get better at politely turning people down for social events when you are already tired, etc. I pulled my two sons out of school when my oldest was 11. He did much, much better socially (very dramatically so) after being removed from school and being exposed much less to social settings of the forced-on-him-and-can't-escape type.

So, since you are introverted, accept that there are limits to how much social blather you can take. Go home when you reach your limit. That makes it much, much easier to be approachable when you do go out. Go out only when you are really up for socializing and the odds are good that you will come across as warmer.

FWIW: I do not agree that you have any obligation to be approachable to men. I am naturally very approachable and I have worked hard to learn to disengage without being ugly to men because it got me harrassed a lot. A lot of men behave in a very predatory fashion. Any encouragement of such men opens the door to potentially pushy, harrassing behavior. So I kind of think you don't know what you are missing and do not really need to know. If you decide you actually want a boyfriend, come back and ask for feedback on how to arrange that. Until then, IMO, you have zero obligation to be more approachable to men.
posted by Michele in California at 2:06 PM on October 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I am going with the other posters on this one. This sounds like PUA garbage. Make my evening out more pleasant by looking pretty for me!

I have what one would call Chronic Bitchface, but I find the term to be kind of obnoxious. The skit covers Assholeface for men, but it does not have the same cultural baggage. Look, if you are out and having fun for yourself, then relax, Bitchface or no. You don't owe it to anyone to look 'appealing' (NB-- I am 100% sure you look wonderful however your face happens to represent. Appealing in this case means whatever this guy was talking about).

If you want to appear more approachable, then have fun-- don;t get lost in thought for too long, or wander off into a reverie. Engage. I tend to go into Bitchface when I let my thoughts wander from the present. You said it yourself in your post: if I'm not engaged in conversation or listening to live music I am probably people watching or thinking about everything I need to do the next day. Stay present and engaged. Remind yourself not to think about tomorrow or next week, but pay attention to the people and events in your immediate present.
posted by oflinkey at 2:07 PM on October 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Bitchy resting face.It's common. Were it an insurmountable barrier to meeting people, then it would have been bred out of our Darwinian pool, but... no.

If you are actually making an effort to meet people cold in a public setting, then you can consciously reset your face to a low-key smile. Otherwise, fuck that guy. You're not obligated to do shit and can sit where and how you like. You don't owe him or anyone else jack.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:07 PM on October 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I agree that this guy might have been trying to manipulate you. You certainly do not have to compliment or smile at anyone unless you want to.

That said, if you do feel that you are coming across in a way you don't intend, pay some conscious attention to keeping your arms open, facing the people you are with, etc.. All of that will be easier if you spend time doing things you enjoy.
posted by rpfields at 2:08 PM on October 13, 2013

Congratulations, you met a douche. Next time, tell him you look pissed off because you're tired of men objectifying you.
posted by matthew.alexander at 2:10 PM on October 13, 2013 [26 favorites]

This sounds like classic negging as preached/practiced by so-called "pick-up artists." Criticizing a woman for having "closed off" body language is part of their script.

I would disregard everything he said to you and only worry about any feedback you've gotten from close platonic friends and family.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:12 PM on October 13, 2013 [21 favorites]

I had a moment to think about this question on the bus a few weeks ago.

I only took a moment to think about it and then I said loudly to the guy "Fuck off! Fuck you and your opinion that I exist for you to look at and enjoy. Fuck your attitude that I have a responsibility to make you comfortable with my face. Fuck you!"

So maybe I'm not the person to give advice about how to make others feel welcome when you're tired from a long day. I hear this at least once a week on my way home from work, either while I'm on a bus, at a bus stop, or walking. And the only people I want to feel welcome in my life are people that I am actually welcoming into my life.

So I will answer that question. How I welcome people into my life.

I go to events that interest me. I ask questions of people who are doing something interesting. I answer interesting or pertinent questions from people.

If you're asking how to just appear neutral, then the answers I can offer to that is meditation and therapy. I discovered through therapy that I was/am a much angrier person than I thought I was. And meditation allows me to notice when I'm holding tension in my face. Which I only care about because of future wrinkles, and not because of how anyone might feel about my bitch face.

I also work on practicing mudita, which is best described as "the opposite of jealousy" or "empathetic joy." So, watching other people dance brings me this feeling. Learning that other people have reached a milestone or attained something they worked hard to get. Hearing about the good fortune of a stranger is pleasant. This can bring a smile to my face at unexpected times.

An interesting aside about posture, closed body postures are considered "weaker" and space taking body postures are considered "stronger." This is because open body postures require more area around you and show your willingness to, well, take up space. So the funny thing about people who feel compelled to come comment on your closed body would actually (notice the qualification! This is not a universal statement I'm making!) probably not bother talking to you if you presented as more powerful. Which is a catch-22 when you're tired. I don't feel powerful when I'm tired, and closed body positions happen to be more restful for me.

But ya. Probably don't cuss out teenage dudes on the bus like I did. I could have gotten my ass kicked. (There's never an "A++ you did exactly the right thing there" response to street/bus/bar harassment.)
posted by bilabial at 2:13 PM on October 13, 2013 [41 favorites]

I usually visit bars for a purpose: either meeting someone there or watching live music. I hardly ever go out with a group of friends and wait to be hit on.

Then you don't WANT to be "approachable" by the people you meet in bars, do you? No, you do not. I don't either. Usually the sorts of dudes who approach me in bars are not ones I want to encourage to approach me in the first place (I tend to be a creep magnet and seriously need to bring people along as bodyguards to help detract those guys). Seriously, fuck him. If YOU aren't there to "meet guys in bars," you don't have to "put yourself out there" and "SMILE!" if you don't want to. Hell, I wish I made a better bitchface to intimidate people, but I'm about as intimidating as a cute wittle mousie, hence the creep magneting.

I don't think this is something you need to worry about changing in this situation.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:15 PM on October 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

my instinct is to reject the notion that I am required to appear pleasant and sweet and smile at men like some sort of decorative plaything

I think your instinct is correct. Lots of stuff is context-dependent, and I think you instinctually understand this, which is why you are at least somewhat conflicted: on one hand, there are certain situations (hanging out at a bar with friends, riding public transit, etc.) where you simply have no obligation to be social with strangers. In fact, it helps to not be social so that people can have some level of personal privacy in an otherwise busy, crowded environment.

On the other hand, I think you intuit that there are circumstances in which appearing friendly and approachable is useful-- parties, work gatherings, friendly get-togethers containing friends-of-friends. And these are circumstances where learning how to have approachable body language and being socially attentive is useful. I have some of the same habits as you and have had people say things like, "I thought deanc totally hated me!" when I completely did not and wish I had come across as more friendly.
posted by deanc at 2:16 PM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

So you're wondering why you project the impression you don't want to be there when you make clear to us how much you didn't want to be there and, further, you think yourself so far above the people within it comes close to contempt? I'd suspect that attitude is coming through in your body language and expression much more than you think it is.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:22 PM on October 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

I need to amend my statement. I somehow managed to delete some words out of a sentence that changes the meaning of that sentence. It should read:

I go to events where I expect to find people that interest me.

Because the sentence as it stands looks like any place where I am interested in the event means I ought to be open to socializing. And that is emphatically not true for me, and I am an outspoken extrovert. But sometimes I just want to walk around the museum without some stranger following me around asking me what I think of the photography exhibit.
posted by bilabial at 2:25 PM on October 13, 2013

i'm not going to comment on the guy and whatever his deal was but thought this was interesting.

people always think I am angry when I'm not

i wonder if you do have a lot of anger, buried anger, but are just not aware of it.
posted by wildflower at 2:26 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Telling you to smile and dance is gendered and dumb, and this guy may have just been sexist.

But your question suggests that you get this other times. I think sometimes it has nothing to do with your being a woman and is just people rudely telling you how you ought to appear for their sake. I'm male and receive the same general sorts of comments (you look angry/sad/unhappy/aloof/arrogant). Not sure there's a lot you can do about it other than trying politely to reply that, in fact, you are not unhappy and that if people wonder whether you're unhappy they should talk to you instead of making assumptions based on superficial markers.
posted by pdq at 2:28 PM on October 13, 2013

Seriously. That guy was not being "nice". He was reading your body language correctly and wanted to change it. Now, i think he did want you to be having fun and is possibly not a hellacious douchebag, but the comment about guys putting it on the line when they come to you...ugh.

We are ALL putting ourselves out there when we talk to strangers or guys we are interested in or whatever.

I think that most men and a lot of women think if a woman is not smiling and laughing, the other expression is not "neutral" but "scowly bitch face." Fuck that noise. If I am scowling you will know because it will probably be at you when you ask why i look like I'm scowling when I'm just lost in thought. If I was scowling, you would not approach because you would be afraid.

/end rant. Scowls at screen.
posted by sio42 at 2:31 PM on October 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

How dare this prick tell you how to hold yourself comfortably?

Don't give your approachability another goddamn thought if this kind of jerk is the only one being put off by it.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:31 PM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

"I am required to appear pleasant and sweet and smile at men like some sort of decorative plaything."
Well, no, but I don't equate being pleasant and approachable with being a plaything. If you want to make friends of either sex, you might not want to look like you're having a terrible time.
Do you like listening to live music? If you like what you're hearing, then showing it isn't a bad thing. Actually responding to and showing your reaction to music, art, food, the weather does make you more vulnerable--you're open to being hit on, to having someone think you're a dork for jumping up and down and smiling--but if you're having fun, who cares?

Being open to new experiences and new people isn't the same as presenting yourself as a toy or a decorative object. Being able to have a conversation with a stranger about a subject of mutual interest is a very useful skill, whether you go home with the person, make future plans or never see that person again.

There's plenty of territory between "pretty doormat" and "total bitchface." For quite few years, bitchface was my default setting and I wasn't terribly happy with myself or my circumstances. For various reasons and accidents, I switched over to presenting myself as being approachable (no visible cleavage required) and my life got better. I got better jobs, better friends, had more fun--now it's possible that maybe these things would have happened anyway, but I think that changing my attitude about myself and other people had a lot to do with all that.

Life is not an edgy indie movie where the cool guy is intrigued by the mysterious woman who looks like she's going to bite someone. I think the guy in the bar was trying to hit on you, and his unsolicited advice was lame. But sometimes you learn from these weird encounters.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:31 PM on October 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm curious how old you are and where you live. I used to get a lot of comments like this when I was younger (teens and early-mid 20s) and most especially in the US. Same accusations of anger, etc, urged to smile more, etc. It's a pick-up line, and kind of an offensive one at that. (Implies that young women exist merely to provide a pleasant, sexually-charged environment for men. I mean, why are you obligated to be out there flirting on the dance floor when you just want to relax and hang out with your friends? Yuck.) It probably indicates that you do seem at least somewhat approachable, because if it were a serious bitch-face they'd be afraid to approach you at all. (I can turn on actual bitch-face when needed and it really does work.)

I received these comments much less frequently in Germany, where I lived for many years, even though I was frequently approached by men and women who wanted to engage me in conversation for whatever purpose.
posted by stowaway at 2:31 PM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Whoa, that guy was bigtime negging on you. And also, it sounds like you weren't actually there looking to meet someone to date, so his "advice" seems really presumptuous. Like every single woman at a bar must surely be there to get hit on and find a mate? I would promptly ignore everything he said.

However, if you do actually feel that you scowl and seem unapproachable too much, and YOU, personally, want to change that, then that's another story. I have also been told that I have this problem and last year I made a new years resolution to stop balling my fists up when I walk. I chose this because it seems to lead to me tensing up every other part of my body, including my face, thus leading to Bitchy Resting Face. Since I've gotten out of the habit, I've noticed my face is much more relaxed by default and I now sport a pleasant almost-smile that has done wonders for my approachability. Maybe you have a similar body habit that makes you tense your face up, and you can work on that?

Forcing yourself to flat-out smile more is just going to come across as smarmy and fake. Don't do that.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:35 PM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Forgot to add - forget about trying to change what your face is doing in repose. Just interacting with people, making some conversation, is the best way to seem approachable. If someone else is on the edge of the conversation circle get them included, too. No mantra needed. And if you're really not up for a night at the bar, don't go.
posted by stowaway at 2:35 PM on October 13, 2013

"but everyone puts up with it so they can eventually get past the small talk and on to a first date."

And holy hell does this set off my bullshit detector. This is NOT why I go to bars. And I would bet that many people, especially people who are already in a couple, are also attending bars for reasons that do not include "find a date."

So this guy just gets no respect from me. His assumption that your reason for being in a bar must be the same as his reason for being in a bar is words.

If you ARE at bars to get dates, then sure, meet people, smile more, laugh at the bartender's jokes. Have a twirl on the dance floor if that feels appropriate to the setting and music! Practice smiling coyly at potential suitors. Walk up to total strangers and ask them what they're drinking or how they heard about this bar. But if you're there listening to dark broody jazz music and you just got dumped by your boyfriend, or stood up by your friends, then no. You are not obligated to make it easier for other people to approach you.
posted by bilabial at 2:36 PM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The guy who approached you to tell you that you're unapproachable is a weirdo, and probably also a jerk. (And while I believe in being polite and pleasant to anyone who approaches me for any reason, including when they're being giant jerks, and approaching people romantically is legit hard, you don't get a special cookie as recognition for all your hard work in attempting to procreate!)

However, "bitchface" can be a legit problem, especially at work. I have a friend who had a naturally angry resting face and his natural speaking cadence was pretty curt, so when he rose to a managerial position at work, it became a real problem that was impacting his interactions with subordinates and peers and making him much less-effective in his job. People didn't like to work for or with him. He went to ... I don't exactly know if it was therapy or coaching or what, exactly, but to a professional who helped him with his self-presentation. He cultivated a more neutral "listening face," worked on his tone of voice, etc., and then was very conscious of those things when interacting with others at work. He still looks like the grumpiest man alive when sitting at his desk working on things, but he works to look and sound pleasant and attentive in, like, meetings.

I'd ask some trusted friends if you have an out-of-the-normal angry resting face, and if they think it might negatively impact your life. If they do, then maybe you want to work on cultivating an "attentive face" to use in place of your angry resting face at least some of the time, when you would like to appear more approachable and open, and pay attention to your body language at those times.

But if you just appear unapproachable when you do not want to be approachable, like in a bar when you're there to hear the music, well, don't worry about it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:36 PM on October 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

Thank you for all your responses. Some of you have pointed out some things that are not pleasant to hear (like that I have contempt for everyone around me, and that I'm quite possibly angrier than I think) but I think these may ring true. I think I definitely put walls up subconsciously when I'm out, maybe because I think no one will want me anyway so why even let them get close enough to reject me when I can just reject them first?

To answer a few things, I am in my mid-20's and live in the southeastern US. Last night one of the places we went to had live music and I danced, sang, threw my hands up, and generally had fun, so I know I'm not like, always completely unapproachable. But right after I definitely hit my wall so to speak, but people wanted to stay out and were depending on me for rides, but maybe I should have just insisted that I had had fun and needed to go. \

I feel torn between two worlds: one where I imagine that some awesome dude will strike up a conversation with me and it'll be great, and one where I'm like fuck that. Part of me wants attention when I go out, part of me resents that I want that attention. Not sure if that makes sense.
posted by thank you silence at 2:50 PM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The secret to not being fake is not putting yourself in situations where you'd feel like you have to be. If being at bars with friends who are looking to meet people makes you miserable, don't go! Why would you? You told that guy flat-out you did not want to be there. I would wonder why a grown woman would decide to stay somewhere she wasn't feeling instead of going home. You don't have to do everything your friends do, and if there's nothing you want to do with them, maybe you've outgrown them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:50 PM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Rather than analyzing the intentions of another's behavior towards you...relayed by you, let's look at your behavior.

1. You obviously don't want to be there, but are just there for your friends.
2. Your feelings are coming out through your bitch face.
3. My question is this: being that I'm naturally introverted and can get lost in my own thoughts, how do I be more approachable while still being true to myself? Is there some mantra I can chant to myself so my face isn't unknowingly scowling all the time? I dislike small talk, and would rather quickly get past the what do you do and where did you study line of questioning. Sometimes I just feel like observing and not being assertive. How can I not wear myself out but still be socially graceful? Thanks in advance.

You can behave how you want, as there is no right or wrong here. But if you want to be 'socially graceful', it will have to be in situations where you don't want to be.

Basically, lose the bitchface when you have reason to have a bitchface.

And if you decide you don't want to lose it, then so what?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:54 PM on October 13, 2013

I feel torn between two worlds: one where I imagine that some awesome dude will strike up a conversation with me and it'll be great, and one where I'm like fuck that. Part of me wants attention when I go out, part of me resents that I want that attention. Not sure if that makes sense.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Just don't feel bad about anything you do.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:56 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Part of me wants attention when I go out, part of me resents that I want that attention

Well, my solution for this type of situation is to actively (as in: force myself to) expect less, and to observe instead - because observing people is fun; expecting people to do, or not do, certain stuff around me is just plain agonizing.
posted by Namlit at 2:57 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fuck that guy. But, as a reformed resting scowler, I can tell you that it's worth fixing for reasons beyond propping up the egos of douchebag PUA scumbags, as I'm the daughter of an unreformed resting scowler and see all the time how much better people react to me than they do to my mom, especially in the area of customer service. I simply made up my mind to have my resting face be a slight closed-mouth smile. Just a suggestion of a smile, nothing overt. It takes a lot of effort at first but it can definitely be done; I don't even have to think about it now. And, incredibly to me, people now routinely comment on my being a happy-looking person, and say things like, if I won't be at an event, "We'll miss you and your smiling face." I think the key is to work on this ALL the time, not just when you're at a bar or whatever. Truly make it your default expression. Kind of makes you feel a bit happier all the time as well.
posted by HotToddy at 3:24 PM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Part of me wants attention when I go out, part of me resents that I want that attention

My opinion is that it's really easy to get stuck in a negative feedback loop that creates just such an outlook.

You go out and are not opposed to some attention, then suddenly someone pays you attention in a way that makes you uncomfortable. However, realizing that you had wanted attention in the first place, you self flagellate for not appreciating the attention that you had mentally asked for.

I bet that it's not attention that you want, but respectful attention. As in, some fun and kind person speaks with you in a respectful manner. That's totally acceptable, and very healthy. Also, here's a little secret, most people know what someone who is "lost in thought" looks like, since most people have a stoic or expressionless face when they are thinking intensely as well.

What happen on that night, however, was that your desire for human interaction was met with unrequested criticism that was engineered to poke at a very common insecurity for us introverts, and frankly, you're letting it work. You're taking this person's negging to heart, and contemplating changing your perfectly legitimate bar behaviour in a way that would be more comfortable for men like him*. Wouldn't it be better to wait for the guy who comes up and says "hey, I hope that I'm not interrupting your day dreaming, I do that too, but I was wondering if I could buy you a drink?" than to change yourself for a guy who you weren’t interested in anyway.

*because lets be honest, if this guy was on Metafilter, he would have been mass flagged for his concern trolling "smile pretty and show me gratitude for interrupting you" attitude.
posted by Shouraku at 3:29 PM on October 13, 2013 [15 favorites]

Okay, well, for the record I have complete and total bitch face pretty much most of the time out in public. BECAUSE MY FACE IS JUST NOT NATURALLY SMILEY. It is not my job to smile for people to make them feel better. I smile when I am actually happy. You don't owe this guy or any other person a smile, conversation, or jack fucking shit. So yeah, fuck that guy.

When I am dealing with the public I do make sure to say, "please," "thank you," to hold open doors and to extend other common courtesies. I do also make it a point to smile at little kids and/or people with friendly looking dogs.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 3:31 PM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, agreeing with everyone that dude at the bar was definitely a PUA and negging you. At the same time this encounter seems to have struck a chord with you and maybe reflects other interpersonal feedback you've gotten from people who are more trustworthy? If this expression of resting anger is something you want to work on, I'd recommend working with a bodyworker who specializes in working with/relaxing the face. People can carry a lot of tension there unconsciously which can reflect the partial expression of chronically unexpressed emotions (fear, anger, hatred, etc.). The idea is that with some work, your face/body can be freed up to complete the emotional expression (cry, express rage, etc.) and then you can act in relation to that feeling. Thus your face becomes more lively and spontaneous rather than set and mask-like.

At the same time, it is unclear if maybe you are also just not that in touch with how you are feeling. Like it seems like you were unhappy to be at the bar, so that facial expression is congruous with how you were feeling. Perhaps in other situations you are actually unhappy or angry on some level and not in touch with that? I agree with others, that maybe you could also work on checking in with yourself and whether or not you actually want to do something, rather than forcing yourself to something for the sake of others. Focusing is a type of meditation that is intended to help people get in touch with their bodily feelings, feelings people may not have conscious awareness of. You might mess around with Focusing and see if there are feelings under the surface for you, and it might also help you to get a sense of what you actually want in a given situation.

I think this disconnection between internal experience/bodily expression is relatively common, and is in part a result of children (especially girls) being taught to conform to what others want from them rather than consult with their own feelings/selves. Also children are often taught that certain emotions are off limits or bad, especially anger/sadness. Eventually a person stops experiencing their anger/sadness/etc., even though others may see it in their facial expressions/bodily gestures. Ironically the PUA was trying to shame you into continuing to act in this inauthentic way. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry, dissatisfied, or not wanting to do something. I think getting curious about and accepting those feelings may be an awesome thing and will probably help you in the long run to have better relationships and more happiness in life. I personally have found my 20s to be a pretty intense time of figuring out what I wanted and what were desires that I thought were mine, but were really coming from other people. I think getting in touch with your body in a big key in making this differentiation. I guess rather than seeing this interpersonal feedback as a problem or something to "fix", maybe see it as an opportunity to get in deeper touch with yourself. And definitely don't follow the PUA advice to slap on a fake smile, ugh! :)
posted by amileighs at 4:20 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're not actually lonely, there's not a problem here. Your face is your face, and your body language says what you feel ("I don't particularly want to be approached right now", in this case because you were tired and meeting people at bars isn't your thing.) If you want to try to be more approachable, go for it, but this guy's opinion is just an opinion, however unusual his frank criticism and cold-reading may be.
posted by gingerest at 4:50 PM on October 13, 2013

I have a scowl-y/stoic resting face. I did not come to this understanding by a PUA, but through various interactions with both genders over several years. As a camp counselor I also had a camper who I thought was hating camp until I figured out that she's the same way, and it helped me actually see on someone else what my face does when it rests.

I have found applying eyeliner with upward-tilting wings to be the number one most helpful thing to do - it makes my eyes look way more smiley.

I also find that when engaged/conversing I'm fine, so if I'm at a function where I'm trying to impress people (interviews and important events) I make sure to try to find a buddy or actively listen.
posted by vegartanipla at 5:08 PM on October 13, 2013

how do I be more approachable while still being true to myself?

I do not think describing your resting face as a "bitchface" is conducive to being true to yourself, and I would just ask you to re-think your use of that word. I mean before, we would only get screamed at that we were bitches after a male stranger ordered us to smile, and we had the the temerity to respond negatively to his command. (Like the awesome experience I had, coming back from a long day, draining day in grad school, when a stranger ended up repeatedly screaming "fuck you" at my train even after it was pulling out of the station.) But now, with this word, we're taking it as a given that if we don't have a sweet submissive smile plastered on our faces at all times - so that any stranger who feels entitled to approach us, interrupt us, and give his opinion on us can feel more comfortable carrying out what he feels entitled to do - we are, ipso facto, being "bitches." It's deeply offensive.
posted by cairdeas at 6:16 PM on October 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Improv theater classes can teach you a lot about how your body language and expressions are read by other people, and they're a lot of fun to boot. If your "resting face" is really something you want to change, you can do that.
posted by sweetkid at 6:22 PM on October 13, 2013

I'm in my early thirties and I have big fuckoff scowl-lines between my eyes. Well, big fuckoff ones for someone without a hint of any other wrinkle. It's a testament to both my anger, and the fact I tend to scowl at rest.

And that's okay!

I have a partner, I have friends, I am polite and pleasant to people I meet. I don't need to smile at everyone all of the time at every point. I smile when I want to, at who I want to. I pretty much never want to be approachable in a public situation unless I am actively working - at those times I concentrate on widening my eyes/eyebrows, lowering my shoulders and thinking mindfully.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:21 PM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's a question: how's your eyesight? I have a very 'bony' face - square Roger Ramjet jaw, prominent cheekbones, strong eyebrows. I was also very shortsighted as a kid, which meant I developed a bad habit of squinting all the damn time. This, combined with my intense-looking face, means a perfect storm for resting bitchface. I wear glasses now, but the muscles around my eyes seem to just want to squint. It gets really bad in dimly lit bars when I'm trying to see something.

I also want to give you a giant hug and tell you to stop being so hard on yourself. It's totally a-okay to feel ambivalent about being out in social situations. You're tired, but you want to spend time with your friends. The band sucks, but your best friend really wanted to go. Everyone around you is being a noisy jerk and you just want to chat with someone nice. You're allowed to feel like that. You know what'll make it worse? Labelling yourself overly angry or pathological. Then you'll cling to those feelings and let them define you.

Your face is fine. You are fine. That guy negging you at the bar? Not fine.
posted by nerdfish at 2:55 AM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

There is nothing wrong with you. This guy was a jerk who approached a stranger and insulted her.

Like you, I have been told that I look angry or sad all the time, and (maybe unlike you) I despise loud, crowded bars full of annoying drunk people, so when I am there, I'm all arm-crossy and scowly for a reason.

When I was 22, living in the southeastern US for 4 brief months, and less self-aware and less confident in my perfectly-acceptable default position of "loud crowded bars are not for me," I allowed myself to be dragged out to them by acquaintances who held other opinions about such bars. One time, something happened to me that is fairly similar to what happened to you. I actually AM a cantankerous person, though, so when this ridiculous guy came up to me at some horrible douche-ridden Atlanta bar and was all "you're so closed off" I was all "that's so people like you don't come talk to me" and eventually our conversation devolved into him demanding why I hated the world so much and me announcing that I hated any world that would put up with people like him. I don't know if that outcome was any better than yours was, but at least I felt good knowing he had a bad time that night too.

Anecdote, though: A few days after that incident, I allowed the same people to drag me to a party, and I sat on a couch cross-armed and scowling, and a guy came and sat next to me and said "I can't stand stuff like this either" and we had a nice conversation, went for a walk, and wound up dating for a few months. So maybe think of the scowling and arm-crossing as a filter!
posted by millipede at 7:00 AM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I had to work so hard to overcome default bitchface! And body language.
It was a slow process of paying attention to facial expressions and body language, but it paid off so well. People are actually more pleasant around you, more relaxed. It's kind of amazing how you can manipulate the vibe of the room. Give it a try!
posted by Neekee at 7:49 AM on October 14, 2013

My question is this: being that I'm naturally introverted and can get lost in my own thoughts, how do I be more approachable while still being true to myself? Is there some mantra I can chant to myself so my face isn't unknowingly scowling all the time? I dislike small talk, and would rather quickly get past the what do you do and where did you study line of questioning. Sometimes I just feel like observing and not being assertive. How can I not wear myself out but still be socially graceful?

Well, smile more.

I'm serious. I am a weird aloof person that has been, countless times- criticized for being aloof. It was later explained to me that other people took my "coldness" (if that's even the right word) for arrogance- which honestly couldn't be further from the truth. I am just a weird, sometimes aloof, chick that doesn't really make a huge effort to be something that I'm not.

AND I finally decided that, fine, I'm weird- they can get over it. If I don't attract as many people or have as many friends- then fine.

But I also started to smile more.

If someone met my eyes at a bar- they got a smile.

If someone made a joke- they got my smile.

If some dishes broke in the kitchen- they got my smile. (in a nice way)

And all of a sudden a serious amount of men began to buy me drinks.

Because I was smiling. And then it was a huge new problem! ie how to say no to a drink.
posted by misspony at 7:23 AM on October 16, 2013

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