The Art of Flirting Whats Your Body Saying

By Andrew J. Pulskamp

When it comes to flirting what isn't said can often be much more important than what is. Before eyelash-batting Romeos and Juliets even open their mouths, body language has already sent a stream of signals to that certain someone across the bar. This nonverbal communication relays everything from "let's meet up later" to "back off, loser!"

David Givens is an anthropologist at the Center for Nonverbal Studies, in Spokane, Washington. He is also the author of Love Signals, a book that examines the rituals and nonverbal rapport of courtship. Givens' laboratories over the past 20 years have consisted of numerous, dimly lit establishments that are the stomping grounds for hormone-ridden humans looking for love.

Documenting the Chase

"I've logged a lot of time sitting at tables in bars, watching the behavior of men and women during courtship. It's kind of like the biologist who goes to Africa and watches animals in the wild," he says.

What he's documenting is the unspoken discourse that takes place between all flirters. Things like a tilted head, pouted lips or a simple smile can all signal a potential mate to "come hither."

These signals are so important because, like animals in the wild, humans are very wary of one another. A large part of flirting is about breaking down defenses. Givens explains, "I see a process of getting closer and closer. I break it down into a series of stages where people are trying to get physically closer. It starts with a stranger across the table and proceeds to the end of courtship, which is the lovemaking. The process is mainly about showing the other person that you are harmless."

The Flirtation Trap

Men often miss the "harmless" facet of flirtation and, instead, nonverbally communicate messages of power and aggression.

Owen McDonald, a freshman at the University of New Mexico has fallen into this flirtation trap. He says, "I think for a guy, you try to act tough [when flirting]. That's just like an unconscious primal thing to show the female that you're tougher than the next guy."

Givens says such beliefs are common among men, and also off target. "I know there's a lot of confusion in college students and men where they often think that they should give tough, macho guy type cues. But these don't do really well with women," says Givens. "When men are doing the macho guy stuff all they're really doing is securing territory against other men."

Givens advises men to appear more approachable if they're on the prowl. He says, "With women it's important for them to see that you can be soft and gentle, youthful and playful, so you can lure them in closer and closer."

Jennifer Rogers is a freshman at the University of Florida, she's seen what Givens is talking about when it comes to mega-macho displays. "I do notice that when guys walk in a room they have a sort of strut, they try to look powerful and intimidating."

That's not what she is attracted to. As Givens research suggests, Rogers definitely prefers the gentle approachable type to a puffed-out machismo character. She says, "I guess if [men] have quiet spirit and they seem concerned about the people around them, then that is attractive."

Female Flirting Faux Pas

Men aren't the only ones who commit flirting faux pas though. Women also make their share of mistakes. Givens elaborates, "With women, their main faux pas is not showing who they really are. They withdraw and don't do much of anything. They should be displaying who they are when they go to a place to meet people."

Such withdrawn behavior may explain why many men find women "mysterious" and difficult to figure out.

Givens says one way both men and women can come out of their shell is by going out with other friends when they're trying to meet people. Humans are more comfortable and animated when they're in groups. This animation signals others that one is capable of normal social behavior.

Going out alone, on the other hand, can send out antisocial signals.

Givens warns, "When you're alone, you're very quiet nonverbally. You're not showing anything and that looks suspicious." And suspicious is not the look flirters should be going for.

Essentially at the most basic level, good flirters look harmless. And there are a couple of easy ways to achieve that.

Flirting 101

Exposing the neck is one good flirting tactic. That area is an extremely vulnerable part of the human body. Showing it off lets others know that this is a non-aggressive person. Certain parts of the neck can even indicate further harmlessness. People who show off their neck dimple -- that shallow indentation just beneath the Adam's apple -- exhibit even greater vulnerability and thus approachability.

Necks haven't gone unnoticed by Carla Wilson, a junior at Arkansas State University. "You can see with people who are intimate that it is a real sign of endearment when they come up behind someone and put their hands on someone's shoulders and they touch their neck," says Wilson.

The neck, though an important facet of body language, is just one of many nonverbal cues that flirters should be on the lookout for. Another is the ubiquitous head tilt -- a posture that crosses cultures. It indicates coyness, submission and self-protection. Those indications signal to a potential partner that there is nothing to be afraid of.

As strange as it may sound, men might want to consider showing off their wrists and hands. They may not be the first body parts that come to mind when one thinks of attracting women, but according to Givens, humans notice hands innately.

"Women have a liking for the male hand and wrist. Instead of covering them up with a jacket or sleeve, or cuff -- roll up your sleeve. There are specific modules in the temporal lobe in the cerebral cortex that respond to nothing but hands. That part of the brain is pre-programmed to be nothing but a hand observer," he says.

For those who don't feel a passion for hands -- there's still more body parts that silently bespeak volumes.

Luscious lips say just as much without words as they do with. They are one of the most expressive body parts. Slightly pouted lips can signal to the opposite sex that one is harmless and available. Draw the lips back into a smile and love is in the air - showing the pearly whites is a fairly universal signal that one is not a threat.

The lips can also be damning. Beware of the tense mouth. This expression characterized by compressing and narrowing the lips into a thin line evokes emotions of anxiousness, nervous tensions, anger and intensity. Such emotions scare people away.

One such "tense mouth" moment will go down in history. Givens noticed the expression on President Bill Clinton's mug before he said, "Indeed, I did have a relationship with that woman . . . Ms. Lewinsky . . . That was not appropriate."

For people who think the science of nonverbal communication is poppycock, Givens offers a bit of empirical evidence. "I think the greatest example that I can think of that shows that anybody in any culture can court or flirt with anyone in another culture is a man I know from New Jersey," says Givens. "He's an ethnomusicologist and he went to central Africa to study Pygmy music. When he was there he fell head over heels in love with a Pygmy teenager. They went through a courtship and they eventually got married. He couldn't speak her language and neither could she speak his, but they negotiated the whole thing nonverbally."

Just because people are talking with their bodies, don't expect men to start saying, "Did you see the wrists on that girl?" any more than you would expect women to exclaim, "Boy, he's got a really nice neck dimple."

Much of this behavior is picked up on subconsciously. Which also means that just because the sexes aren't talking about these signals, doesn't mean they aren't noticing them.

Copyright March 21, 2000 by College Press Network (www.cpnet.com)

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Responses

  • LOCHLAN
    Does the body language cue lips to object endearment?
    3 years ago

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