I know the look well. It is a heartbreaking composite of hurt, astonishment, and disappointment. There's no way to count the number of times I've seen the look, but I can say with some amount of confidence that I paid no attention to it until I was about 16. Up until that point, I didn't care enough to notice.
See, the look is fleeting, though it comes in two stages. In the first stage, it springs out unexpectedly - lifting eyebrows, widening the eyes slightly, and leaving the mouth slightly agape. In the second stage, everything tightens. The mouth seals itself into a grim line and the outside corners of the eyebrows lift at a slight angle as the eyes narrow. If you are not paying attention you will miss it, because depending on the person, it can happen in milliseconds. You have to become attuned to its presence. It was a long time before I realized its cause.
See, the look appears on a friend's face when I am a jerk. I don't mean a jerk who is kind of sarcastic or makes fun of someone. I mean a jerk who says something with malicious intent, who uses all the intimate knowledge he has gathered about someone to cause quick and devastating pain. You may have a hard time believing it, but I am one of the most skilled at doing this that I know.
See, beyond the oft discussed phenomenon that nice guys seem to finish last when it comes to young ladies' attentions and affections, there is another disturbing paradox. When you are seen as nice guy, nobody believes it when you tell them that your heart is full of all manner of darkness and venom. I know this is true, because as long as I can remember people have called me a nice guy.
The crux of this paradox is that being hurt by a nice guy hurts all the more because one has not put protections in place. One might wonder what he has done wrong, because how else can he explain what just came out of such a nice guy's mouth? Another might wonder could be wrong with her, to have let herself be so vulnerable with a guy just because he was "nice". All of these emotions are contained in that split-second of a look. Amazing, isn't it?
I'm not saying I'm a bad guy. But, if you haven't seen this other side of me, you will. It's only a matter of time. Sadly, there are lots of folks who can testify.
I saw the look recently. As soon as the words were coming out of my mouth, I knew the result. And in that moment, I was once again surprised by the forcefulness of the internal resistance to my immediate understanding that what I had said and done was wrong. Too often, the resistance wins. I did not apologize.
But sitting here typing at 3:00 a.m., that look haunts me. It unlocks the door to a host of memories in which I don't remember the words spoken, but I vividly feel the assault I have made on someone for whom I care. It's one of the worst feelings in the world.
One time in college, I was talking to a romantic interest on the telephone, and she was telling me how she did not understand this guy she had dated before who had said things to deliberately hurt her. When I told her I had done the same, she was quiet for a long time before she breathed, "But, why would you do that to someone you love?" I could only answer with a silence that whispered, "I don't know".
Every time I remember the look, it asks the same question. I still have no answer.