Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"The Copulatory Gaze" and the Body Language of Flirting

Whenever I'm around this one guy I know, I feel my head tilt to the side and my hand reach out toward him, as if to touch him. I try to stifle these gestures because they are sexual "tells," that is, unconscious moves signaling unspoken thoughts or intentions. And these particular gestures, I must confess, are universal mating signals. In terms of biological signaling, I may as well be breaking out the landing gear lights and guiding him to my gate, so to speak. I don't actually wish to mate with this dude (oh hell no) but, clearly some part of my subconscious is thinking he's fine. Real fine.

That's what's interesting to me about these mating gestures. I don't wish to signal anything to this guy, but my body certainly does, and I wonder what mechanism is at work there. I mean, why him? I am fascinated by how my body responds to him automatically and unconsciously. I don't mean to do the whole head tilt thing, it just happens. And although I'm not going to act on it, I have to admit that it's fun to feel my body react, feeling the pull of attraction and knowing I'm part of a timeless biological dance.

So what am I signaling exactly? Well, Grasshopper, a head tilt does a few things. It makes me smaller, for one, and exposes my vulnerable neck. These indicate "I am harmless." (Note: I may or may not actually be harmless.) Appearing harmless is a good thing, mating-wise, according to Helen E. Fisher in her completely fascinating book, Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and DivorceMen also try to appear harmless. All of their initial mating gestures are geared to convey the basic message, "I am here; I am important; I am harmless."

Writes Fisher:
"Men tend to pitch and roll their shoulders, stretch, stand tall and shift from foot to foot in a swaying motion. They also exaggerate their body movements. Instead of simply using the wrist to stir a drink, men often employ the entire arm, as if stirring mud...And the whole body is employed in hearty laughter--made loud enough to attract a crowd."

In the 1960s ethologist Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt used a secret camera to document female flirting behavior around the globe. No matter who he was creepily spying on scientifically studying, a universal flirting pattern emerged. Again, here's Fisher:

"First the woman smiles at her admirer and lifts her eyebrows in a swift jerky motion as she opens her eyes wide to gaze at him. Then she drops her eyelids, tilts her head down and to the side, and looks away. Frequently she also covers her face with her hands, giggling nervously as she retreats behind her palms."

Of all the courting gestures, to me, the most potent is the so-called "copulatory gaze." In cultures where eye contact is permitted, potential lovers will stare into each other's eyes a second or two longer than is necessary (generally two to three seconds) and, if interested, their pupils will dilate. Eye contact seems to trigger a primitive part of the brain, notes Fisher, calling forth one of two basic emotions--approach or retreat. "You cannot ignore the eyes of another fixed on you," she writes, "You must respond."

Many of these courting gestures are present in animals as well. Female possums do the coy look/head tilt move. Snakes, frogs and toads inflate their bodies to draw attention to themselves, and "pygmy" chimpanzees at the San Diego Zoo look deeply into the other's eyes for several moments before having sex. (No documentation exists on whether they also make each other mix tapes.)

My favorite animal courting move, however, comes from the chimps observed by the lovely Jane Goodall at the Combe Steam Reserve in Tanzania. When a female is in estrus (heat), a dominant male doesn't muck around with the loud laughing and notable drink stirring, he gets right to the point. "A male will stare intently to get a female's attention, sit with his legs open to display an erect penis, flick it, rock from side to side (and) beckon her with outstretched arms."

Yes, it's kind of comically direct, but I can see how with the right chimp, or my case, human male, it would be quite heady to be so courted. Although it would have the unfortunate side effect of eliminating the wholly enjoyable pastime of analyzing and dissecting a potential lover's moves. "Okay, so last night, Fred was staring intently at me, displaying his erect penis and flicking it. What do you think he meant?"

Thus we get to your questions of the day. One of the reasons I'm so fascinated by this subject is because I was always bad at interpreting such signals. What about you? Do you consciously use these gestures, or have you noticed yourself doing them? Do you notice when a potential suitor is doing these things, feel a general intuition about their intentions, or what?

Please, do tell.

25 comments:

Vapid Vixen said...

This has just made me painfully self-conscious about myself now. On the up-side, I now know what it means when one of the sales guys at work calls me into his office and starts flicking his penis. Thanks for the insight!

JackJuste said...

ITA with the male thing except the drink stirring. Course, I'm rarely around drink with stirring implements but, my mate claims I bury my whole nose & mouth in a pint glass when I'm randy. The stand up taller and stretch..yup. I'm grateful, Jill, for the tip on female gestures... now I get WTH the hot chick at Trader Joe's is about. I'm standing up taller already...

Belinda said...

When out in a bar or party situation, I definitely make a point NOT to make eye contact (especially prolonged eye contact) with the opposite sex. It's one of the 'I'm available and interested' signs. This is omitting people in my immediate party, of course.

Annabelle said...

Guilty here. Sooooo guilty.

I have a major crush on a co worker and I turn into a giggling geisha every time we talk.

Another guy is so sexy, I have to stop myself from hugging him. I limit myself to an arm our shoulder squeeze.

I love the study of body language. It is more telling than actual words.

Betty Fokker said...

I can't get a copulatory gaze going because Sweet Babou is afraid if he meets my eye I'll signal him to stop playing Angry Birds and empty the diaper pail. Mostly I know he is aroused when he comes up behind me and pokes me in the back ... without using his hands. He is the soul of romance, is my Sweet Babou.

Not the Hero said...

I'm going to have to try that flicking my erect penis thing. It sounds totally legit.

As for reading female body language, yes I am pretty decent at it, until a certain point. That point is usually when I'm attracted to her. Once I want to have sex with her, I'm lost. I either over analyze everything or I don't notice even the most blatant advance. I don't get it.

spiritsentient said...

Great post, great topic, great comments :)

I personally am a huge fan of:

a) freedom/free-will + personal choice
b) clear communication, including body language, and societal signals.

I believe the signals vary from culture to culture (though eye-gazing may be more globally universal...), and that they evolved for a reason. Dancing around, playing games, and avoiding our true-er goals of interacting, connecting, bonding, and growing together -- is not productive for life. So life ensures we have clear signals and communication.

I also believe that on the whole, humanity likes it this way.

Be as secretive as you like, life ensures clear communication.

I for one, go with the flow, and if I want to stare at someone's beauty... I will :) And I expect them to receive the attention as a wonderful compliment. Period. Then I either move on, or move toward ;)

Anyway, just my two cents. Fantastic post!

Mongo, At The Moment said...

Last weekend, I was at a neighborhood coffee hangout. A woman, who was (in one Dog's opinion) attractive, stirred her drink as she turned around from the coffee condiments counter, and found me looking at her.

Continuing to stir her drink, she raised her eyebrows. I raised mine. She smiled (no teeth), I smiled back. Then, she held up her left hand and waggled a two-ring wedding set on her third finger at me, and walked casually out of the shop.

She could have given me the middle finger, I suppose; no idea what that was all about, but I'm still laughing.

Paul said...

Flirting behavior can get into different arenas: political, economical or even carnivorous! A housewife is considered lucky when she ended up with an extra vacuum cleaner (think about all those poor male spiders!)...didn't you seen the male (or female) politicians angling their necks at you (or YOU!)...:):)

Enid Wilson said...

Why him? or why her? I watched a documentary and it said it's all because of our scent.

Every Savage Can Reproduce

jill hamilton said...

Vixen, I am enjoying the idea of your sales guy flicking desperately as you continually don't pick up his signals.
JackJuste, and if Trader Joe's chick touches your arm--you are so in.
Belinda, I have had several people (women) tell me that they never make eye contact with men. So strange that that is really all it would take...
Annabelle, if only we could quiz hugging guy to see if he is stifling the hugging urge as well.
Betty, I think you have the makings of a Hallmark card somewhere in there.
Not the Hero, good luck! let us know how it works out!
spiritsentient, yes. perhaps we could adopt semiphore for even clearer signals.
Mongo, i so love that you could observe the signals as they were happening. i aspire to your mastery of it all. p.s. a wee smile guide: smile, no teeth= okay. smile, botton and top teeth=aggressive, smile, top teeth= home run.
Paul, i will keep an eye out for overly flirtatious politicians.
Enid, now i wonder if scent attraction can overrule off-kilter signals or it good signals could surmount smell mismatch. someone, get on this at once and report back.

DuskyMaiden said...

Ah flirting... I was once an expert flirter. I don't know if I could tell you specific male gestures, I just knew them by instinct. And my own flirting moves - especially with eyes & mouth - I could turn on at will. But even more exciting is that feeling you describe, of finding oneself accidentally flirting due to that indescribable physical tug of someone. I really don't mind if I like the guy or not - flirting is fun! These days I'm a bit rusty and have lost confidence in my attractiveness... but I'm back in training. :)

Dusky said...

Flirting used to be my number one favourite past-time... one I am currently attempting to re-learn.

I used to be pretty good at picking up on male gestures, but I've lost the knack somewhat. I think partly when I was younger and more arrogant I just assumed that most men would be attracted to me and acted accordingly! And you know what, it worked a lot better than my wise, wary ways of today.

I like deliberately flirting, noticing a worthy man (or woman for that matter) noticing me, and playing up on it outrageously. I can usually turn-on the eye gazes and coy gestures at will... about my only skill and not overly useful.

But much more exciting is the feeling you describe, of having this behaviour suddenly taking over oneself uninvited. As you say, it sure feels fun! Just like the effects of a good seduction, the ultimate for me is to have my body respond completely beyond my control.

Agreed that it is interesting to contemplate why we feel it for one person and not another, seemingly randomly. In my case, the man I have most strongly felt this for is also the best lover of my life... so perhaps my body knows exactly what it is doing?

Anonymous said...

New reader, chiming in way late here. So I'm a happily married woman for lo these many years, and last year I developed a crush on a much-younger man. However, I was so unfamiliar with the whole thing anymore, I didn't even quite realize what was happening at first. I was like, "wow... he smells really good... and I feel kind of light-headed when he stands too close to me... weird." And apparently, while my words and conscious actions were screaming "I am a married woman! Go away!" I still couldn't help making eye contact... and holding it way too long to be acceptable. Funny how these things are so beyond our conscious control sometimes!

in bed with married women said...

Dusky--Maybe you can hold an "interpreting gestures" class. I think I am just missing that chunk of brain.
Anonymous--I know, so weird how our biology is nudging us toward people with these signals.

Can't keep anything to myself said...

Reminds me of this guy a few years back.
We met in a group setting where he introduced himself and said he was from northern California. In the process he insulted SoCal, which is where I was born, so I had to defend it, not because I really cared, more for the sake of challenging him/pushing his buttons. So I inserted some snide remark. Don't remember what it was, but it definitely got his attention, and we had a moment of banter, while the rest of the group was totally excluded. After the group broke up, he took me aside and asked me out to lunch. Most bizarre thing ever. It was like an exception to the standard rules of flirting.
We had the most insane chemistry though. This guy drove me nuts.

William Quincy Belle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William Quincy Belle said...

"Okay, so last night, Fred was staring intently at me, displaying his erect penis and flicking it. What do you think he meant?"

Two words: spit take. Ms. Hamilton, I must make a note to myself to not eat or drink while reading your blog. I am going to be chuckling about this one for the rest of the day. Heck, the rest of the week! Priceless. :-)

Anonymous said...

Guys: eat celery. Women have a much more finely tuned sense of smell, and the celery makes your pheremones more prominent. It works! Google "celery pheremones".

Charley said...

Jill, I am a new reader, i keep going back in your posts to find them so entertaining and relevant now. hard not to comment even though long after the post.
The body language of flirting- so mysterious. Few years ago I met a man at a fundraiser, very interesting, great conversation, married, we had a great lunch few weeks later, talked about work, side projects, everything. After the third lunch some 10 months later we were in a hotel room, I was completely frozen in panic,not sure what and how it happened, nothing happened just FYI. But looking back and analyzing, I guess i must have flirted, my mind says no, but my body must have done what it wants to do. It was amazing though how i did not pick up on his signals consciously. I knew i liked him but i was blinded in a hormone storm. Now we are friends, still have great conversations which i love, and no behind-closed-doors action. Although still have crush on him but now consciously control my body language and only rarely give in few flurries to tease him.

in bed with married women said...

Charley, thanks for braving up and writing. and with such a good story, too!

Jim said...

I'm terrible at reading signals. Because I'm old and geezerly the only signal I can really send is something like ... yes, I have cash.

Luke said...

I guess the usual flirting moves don't register so much with me. But if a women slaps me up the side of the head, after a while I sort of get the hint.

perrbro said...

I now know why I seem to have a perpetually tilted head.
Not sure why I'm being notified about your blogs so late. But better late than never.

jill Hamilton said...

Jim, i suppose you could always try the groin yanking move. it's direct.

Luke, i don't know that slapping you upside the head is a flirting move, but then, i too suck at reading them, so wtf, it might be.

Perrbro, you flirt bastard, i think you are not being notified late, it's more that i was a lazy ass and put up a rerun. hence the comments from 2012.

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