This letter makes me rethink all of my facial expressions.
Q: Hi Meredith,
I love your column and am a daily reader. I am writing an uncomplicated letter about a problem that probably goes way deeper than I realize. I am a 50something female in what I consider to be a very strong, loving, committed relationship with a man the same age.
For the second time in my adult life, I find myself in a relationship with an eye-roller. My first eye-roller was a stern, chilly, set-in-his-ways bachelor. Cuddling up to him was like trying to cuddle up to the statue of Abe Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. Many times when I said something to him that I thought was thoughtful, deep, interesting, etc., he would respond by slightly turning away and rolling his eyes. When I called him on it, he would become unresponsive. Needless to say, the relationship went nowhere and ended after about six months.
Fast forward to my present relationship, which has thrived over the past year and a half. We love each other and the relationship is strong. Of course, many issues have come up. At our age we both bring long histories and lots of baggage into the relationship. We have learned to talk to each other in a productive, loving way.
Last Sunday, woops, he rolled his eyes at something I said. It's about the third time he has done it, and was the first time I realized that this is something that has come up before for me. I am very concerned that again, there might be a dynamic of disrespect in the relationship, something that might be a dealbreaker for me.
He rolled his eyes when I brought up feeling hurt that he was not listening to what I was saying. When I called him on the eye rolling, he admitted it and kind of laughed but then tried very hard to tune into what I was saying. The conversation went well and I felt satisfied.
When I thought about all I know about my how he treats me and how our relationship has gone, I felt that he was not disrespecting me. I think that he rolled his eyes because he felt frustrated. He has told me a couple of times that he thinks everything is going great, then I bring up something uncomfortable and he feels "ambushed." This happened again, and I think the eye rolling was simply his frustration, that once again, he didn't see it coming.
I would like some insight into the eye rolling. Is it always disrespectful, or can it simply be frustration? Thank you in advance for your responses. I hope this letter is clear and doesn't leave out a lot of important details. I hope I expressed the piece that is really bothering me and have provided enough background to help folks give me some insight into this painful issue.
– Girldog, Massachusetts
A: Girldog, you've come to the right place. I am an eye roller. Even worse, I am a lip purser.
My eye rolls and lip purses are caused by many things. I tend to do one or the other when I am annoyed, when I feel threatened, when I haven't slept enough, when I think someone's being sexist, when I'm overreacting, when there's no more Diet Coke in the soda machine at work, and yes, when I'm being disrespectful.
I understand that you're sensitive to eye rolls because of your last relationship, and that's fair. It’s an awful thing to feel disrespected and belittled. I'm glad you're no longer dating Abe Lincoln.
But not all eye rolls are created equal. It sounds like your partner's eye rolls are his initial reaction to a difficult discussion. Like he said, it's about being ambushed. Once he figures out what's going on, he softens with respect. He's rallied pretty well, don't you think?
That's the important part, what happens after the defensive eye roll.
My guess is that you have some scary/patronizing/confusing facial expressions you don't even know about because you're not holding a mirror. I think you can give his occasional frustrated facial expressions a pass.
I have a pretty strong feeling that many of our readers are eye rollers. Readers? What do the eye rolls mean? Is she being patronized? Is there a way she can stop ambushing? Should he be allowed to eye roll? Anyone dating/married to an eye-roller? Discuss.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.