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
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
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.
See also LOVE SIGNALS IV.
Copyright 1998 - 2013 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Love Signals, by David Givens