The Person behind the Smile

by Heidi Holfeltz Parker

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    How do you get to know the person behind the smile? How do you break down barriers that prevent real communication? How do you become friends with a member of the opposite sex? Is it even possible?

    I discovered awhile ago that it is possible. I was dating Steve at the time. We’d been out four or five times, and I’d enjoyed the time we’d spent together. Steve was the Young Adult president for his stake, a good student, a sports enthusiast (he’d been on his high school tennis team and spent each Saturday morning and every other free moment playing basketball), and an incurable mountain man. (He kept his sleeping bag and backpack locked up in his jeep lest the urge to head for the hills hit and he be caught unprepared.) By our fifth date I’d figured I knew him fairly well.

    He picked me up that night, and we went to the movie Fiddler on the Roof. After the show, we dropped by a pie shop. As I took my first bite of the monstrous slice of banana cream pie in front of me, he startled me.

    “You know,” he said, “I really don’t know you very well.”

    He knew at least as much about me as I knew about him, but I was unable to respond immediately (banana pie, you know), so I just nodded my head up and down.

    “I want to play a game.” (He was the first guy I’d dated to come right out and say he played games.) “Do you want to play?”

    I swallowed, smiled, and said, “Yeah.”

    “Okay. It might seem corny at first, but just give it a try.”

    He explained the rules. He would ask three questions, and we would each take five minutes per question to respond. We would both answer each question before going on to the next. The object was to let the other person get to know the person behind the smile.

    I took another bite of my pie as he began.

    “If you had a full day to spend doing anything you wanted, what would you do?”

    “You go first.” I pointed to my pie.

    I’d never known he wanted to learn to skydive. Or how much he loved his nieces and nephews. (He would have spent the afternoon with them at the zoo.) I’d known he liked good food, but I had not known he was a great cook. (He’d said, “I’d just fix a simple breakfast: strawberry waffles and whipped cream, fried eggs, bacon, orange juice and oatmeal.” I decided that moment was an inappropriate time to bring up my lack of domesticity—I didn’t have the slightest idea how you went about washing clothes in an automatic washer or how to fry bacon.) He surprised and delighted me when he told me he was a photography buff; we set up a date to go shooting the following Saturday. I found myself starting to like this game more and more. (It had been months since I’d held a roll of Kodachrome tenderly in my hand.)

    His next question threw me a little. “Heidi, what is one thing that you’re good at, and why do you enjoy doing it?” I didn’t like the idea of having to brag about myself, but I finally decided I was a fairly good tennis player. Anyway, I enjoyed playing the game. Two or three weeks later, I regretted my choice as we climbed back into his jeep after a big match: he beat me 6–0, 6–1, 6–0.

    He asked his last question. “All right, question number three. If you had $100 to spend any way you pleased, how would you spend it?”

    I can’t remember now how either of us said we’d spend the money, but I remember well the hour-long discussion that resulted. Steve revealed a side of himself that night I hadn’t known before. He had always appeared so confident and in control, as though there was never any question where his life was headed and how he’d get there. But the more he talked, the more I realized he wasn’t so different from me. He too struggled at times to know what he should do with his life.

    Steve had been home from his mission nearly six months, and he was anxious to decide on a course of study that would suit him. He wanted to teach seminary, but was also considering getting an MBA or going to law school. He wondered if he would find the same fulfillment in the business world he would in teaching. (He loved to teach and was a natural at it—I had attended his Sunday School class the week before and had been amazed at how gifted he really was.)

    I don’t know if he was any more certain which direction his life should take after that discussion than he was before, but we’ve talked since, and both of us agreed that that discussion was a turning point in our relationship. Though it took place years ago, that question date is still one of my most memorable. I was surprised at how much I learned about Steve that night, and I remember he said the same thing about me as he said goodnight. It established a firm foundation of trust and openness upon which we could further build our friendship.

    Of course that’s just one way to get to know the person behind the smile; there are lots of others. And none of them are difficult. All it takes is a genuine concern for the person you want to know better and a willingness to share your ideas and feelings with someone else. It’s as simple as sharing your feelings about the movie you just saw with a friend as you drive home together, or telling a friend about your latest hobby as you bake a German chocolate cake together to take to a neighbor.

    Though I can’t promise these are foolproof ways to snare a husband or wife (Steve got married a year or so ago to someone else), I can promise they’re great ways to really get to know the person behind the smile!

    Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh