Love Signals, the Book

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. --Matthew, XII, 34

Other parts of the body assist the speaker, but the hands speak themselves. --

Courtship. Any of several nonverbal signs exchanged during the conversation phase of courtship.

Usage: From preverbal cues of presence, gender, friendliness (i.e., a willingness to be approached), and sexual attractiveness, men and women progress to the third or speaking stage of courtship. Talking to a stranger is a formidable hurdle in the progression to intimacy. Many couples remain locked in a nonverbal dialogue, unable to utter a word (see STRANGER ANXIETY). Those who do converse move beyond posturing to a harsher reality: speech.

Exclusive duo. To speak, a man rotates his face toward a woman. She revolves her face to gaze back into his eyes. Conversation locks the pair in a mini-territory as a courting duo. The visual focus on each other's lips, eyes, cheeks, and brows excludes others nearby, and reveals subtle cues with which to probe future possibilities of physical intimacy. Gazing too long (see EYE CONTACT), turning the face too far to one side (CUT-OFF), or in-rolling the lips to a thin line (LIP-COMPRESSION) may be decoded unconsciously as negative cues.

Lunch signals. Perhaps the most common nonverbal device for reducing conversation-phase stress is eating. Chewing, crunching, and grinding, e.g., reduce tension. Moreover, like a drug, food engages our nervous system's calmer parasympathetic division (see REST-AND-DIGEST). A tranquil mood arrives through ventromedial-nucleus circuits of the hypothalamus (Guyton 1996), as feelings of "tameness" come through stimulation of the brain's reward centers (Guyton 1996). Heartbeat slows, pupils constrict, palms warm and dry. Relaxation and peace of mind (the reverse of fight-or-flight) make it easier for couples to bond through words. Eating together stimulates bonding through the principle of isopraxism, as well, e.g., as couples share nachos, clink glasses, and break fortune cookies together. (N.B.: The soft, tactile cues used while making love (see LOVE SIGNALS V) also reflect the body's parasympathetic mode.)

Media. "More than anything else, women want you to make them laugh" (according to Esquire magazine [Spokesman-Review, Feb. 7, 1999]).

Oral exam. Speech tests the limits of physical closeness. While nonverbal cues show the body's "hardware," words reveal a verbal "software" of personal ideas, values, and intelligence, and inner notions about life and living. Thus, the conversation phase begins a deep probing, as pointed and subtle questions are asked. The face-to-face closeness of speaking accents the impact of nonverbal signs, signals, and cues as well.

Oral gambit. Polls reveal that what is said (i.e., the opening line) matters less than the saying (i.e., the content itself). According to Parade Magazine, e.g., a simple "Hi" works 71% of the time for men and 100% of the time for women, to launch the conversation phase. (N.B.: What popular polls exclude, of course, is the preparatory posturing needed to prompt a verbal reply.)

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. "Speaking, or more broadly, linguistic-like contact--which would include American Sign Language, writing [e.g., e-mail], using mutually unintelligible languages, and so on--appears to be essential if courtship is to proceed" (Givens 1978:351). 2. Women rate men more physically and sexually attractive when they verbally a. solicit a partner's opinion, b. show sensitivity to a partner's perspective, and c. display warmth and "agreeableness" (Bower 1991). 3. Men rate highly agreeable women as most attractive and desirable as dates (Bower 1991). 4. "The topic of conversation is irrelevant to the formation of a bond. . . . It is highly animated, responsive, immediate, and submissive" (Burgoon et al. 1989:326). 5. Across cultures, women seek mates who speak about their ambition, industriousness, and good financial prospects (Bower 1995). 6. "Thoughts and emotions are interwoven: every thought, however bland, almost always carries with it some emotional undertone, however subtle" (Restak 1995:21).

E-Commentary I: "I just spent a few minutes going through The Nonverbal Dictionary and am searching for an answer. My boss came in the other day to welcome me to my new position with this organization. I have to tell you I am very attracted to my new boss (we are both single) and I think he feels the same way towards me. When he came in to welcome me I was sitting at my desk in my room. As I swung around on my chair to greet him, he took a chair and placed it in front of me less than 3 feet directly in front of me. He was smiling and welcoming me to my new position and how impressed he was at my interview and with my education/skills. I am trying to find out if your site has information regarding sitting postures. You see, my boss was sitting with both his legs wide apart. I've noticed in other meetings he normally sits with them together or less than 6 inches closed. Can you help or guide me to a site where I can find why he did that?" --R.St.L., USA (9/24/99 12:12:12 PM Pacific Daylight Time)
E-Commentary II: "I have a rather interesting nonverbal situation that has been moving along for almost two years. I met a rather powerful male political figure who, on our first meeting, engaged in heavy eye contact, lip pouts, palm up displays, open stance and self touch (back of the head and face) and even at the end of this meeting a quick wink. I encouraged this with an involuntary head tilt, smile, side glances and the like. I think it was very unusual for both of us to behave this way. Since this time I have contacted him, in writing, about certain issues to which he has been receptive. I have also had brief visits with him on several other occasions. On each of these in person meetings, I am overwhelmed by his visual attention. He attempts to engage me in eye contact that lasts longer than a few seconds, and I react by gazing away and squinting/grimacing. I would like to be more direct, but the situation is very overwhelming. Do you think this is somewhat clunky courtship behavior or is it more of a connection to the power constructs of a political role? This interaction is disquieting, and I would like to figure out what is going on. Thank you for your help. disquieting, and I would like to figure out what is going on. Thank you for your help." --K.S. (5/3/01 12:32:33 PM Pacific Daylight Time)

Neuro-notes. A recent invention, vocal language may date back only ca. 200,000 years. As human primates, we have not fully come to grips with the prolonged, face-to-face closeness required for speech. Speaking to a stranger, e.g., stresses our autonomic nervous system's sympathetic (i.e., fight-or-flight) division, which a. speeds our heartbeat, b. dilates our pupils, and c. cools and moistens our hands. The limbic brain's hypothalamus instructs the pituitary gland to release hormones into the circulatory system, arousing our blood, sweat, and fears.


Copyright 1998 - 2016 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Love Signals, by David Givens