Usage: From verbal and nonverbal cues exchanged in the speaking
phase (see LOVE SIGNALS III), men and women progress to the fourth
or tactile stage of courtship. Older than words, older than Homo
sapiens--older even than vertebrates--touch encodes a primordial sense of
closeness (see TOUCH CUE). Among the least ambiguous and most
believable of signs, touch cues are profoundly "real" to the brain. Tactile
messages lead couples ahead in the courting progression, often despite
reasonable objections, to one of Nonverbal
World's most rewarding experiences.
Baby signs. Humans are mammals, for whom reassuring hugs, snuggles, nuzzles, and kisses evolved as nurturing cues in the mother-infant bond. That we touch lovers softly, as parents caress babies, happens for sound evolutionary reasons. Just as enamored elephants intertwine their trunks and wooing whales nuzzle, so couples touch a. to stimulate the caring and b. to simulate the harmlessness, of infancy. Through the tactile channel, men and women "become each other's baby."
Culture. 1. "KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Islamic police turned Valentine's Day into a fright night for 208 Malaysian couples, raiding hotel rooms and lovers' lanes to enforce rules against illicit sex and cuddling [Islamic law forbids unchaperoned touching between unmarried couples]" (Anonymous 2001C:A5). 2. "'Adults would call it [the full-contact "freak dance" style sweeping U.S. high schools] the Kama Sutra with clothes on. That's what one of my chaperones calls it,' says East Valley High [Spokane, Wash.] Principal Jeff Miller" (Lalley 2001:F1).
First touch. The first touch--a milestone in courtship--is likely to seem casual, unpremeditated, and "accidental" rather than "serious." An eager hand reaches out to a neutral body part (e.g., to a forearm or shoulder) which reacts by accepting the contact or by pulling away. Sensitive tactile pads of our fingertips used as tactile antennae gauge the slightest startle (see STARTLE REFLEX), tenseness (see FREEZE REACTION), or hesitation of response. Negative replies include angling away (see ANGULAR DISTANCE), leaning away, and no reaction. Positive responses include a. lifting the shoulders (see SHOULDER-SHRUG), b. sideward head-tilt, and c. returning the touch with a touch. Thus, partners learn a great deal from the first manual contact, which deftly probes beneath words to feelings. Touching another's body, which captures full attention, is the evolutionary true test of where a partner stands.
Hugging. Primate holding in the arms, a natural mothering response, is met with clinging, an infantile sign of needing to be mothered. Thus, embracing is the evolutionary correct way to say "I love you," and the proper primate way to say "I need you" as well. As humans embrace, a gentle rocking motion from side to side occurs. Swaying, a positive sign, stimulates pleasure centers linked to the inner ear's vestibular sense. Thus, not only do we rock babies but also those adults we love as well.
Intention to touch. An unacquainted couple may telegraph unconscious
wishes to touch by extending their arms and reaching their hands toward the
partner across a table top. In courtship, the hand-reach is a commonly used intention
Kissing. Locked in an embrace, ever so slowly the couple's heads may loom closer and closer, like docking spacecraft. Three inches away and closing, their faces roll several degrees right or left, in synchrony, so the noses will clear, and the lips begin a cautious link-up. The pair seals the fourth stage of courtship with a kiss (see also HOMUNCULUS).
RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. "Nuzzling,
licking, sucking, playful biting, kissing, and so on, which appear to have a
broad geographical distribution as sexually meaningful signs, can be used to
communicate the emotional intimacy that is prerequisite to sexual intercourse"
(Givens 1978:352). 2. "In courtship, only the ancient language
of touch can convince and reassure us that the ultimate closeness, sexual
intercourse, will be OK" (Givens 1983:83). 3. In the fourth
stage, "The expressions of affection that appear match those between caregiver
and child" (Burgoon et al. 1989:328).
Neuro-notes II. The most sensitive area of our face is the perioral area (which includes the lips and nose). The perioral area receives "serious" touches in courtship. Gently blowing in a partner's ear is pleasurable, as well, through stimulation of cranial nerves VII, IX, and X. Soft, touching cues are pleasurable because the thalamus routes information received from them to areas of the mammalian brain (including the cingulate gyrus, prefrontal cortex, and basal forebrain).
See also LOVE SIGNALS V.
Copyright 1998 - 2013 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Love Signals, by David Givens