Let Your Eyes Say Everything Your Mouth Shouldn't--Following the Rules of Body Language
Everyone who's ever been on a bad date (can I see a show of hands please?) knows about common body-language signs and what they mean. Crossed arms. Eyes averted. Fidgety hand movements. Bodies contorted and shifted in opposite directions, as if repellent magnetic forces were at work.
Body language can be a powerful communications tool. If you believe behavioral science studies, upwards of 80 percent of all communication is nonverbal. All you have to do is look to the animal kingdom to see how rules of attraction are acted out via body language. Male peacocks show their colorful plumes. Lions fight each other to show sheer brute strength. Wall Street brokers reach deep in their pockets to draw their American Express Gold Cards to pay for the costly premating meal at Nobu.
Male and female courting rituals have always included these nonverbal signs of attraction. Awkward behavior induced by hormonal surges has affected dating traditions forever. Traditionally, men have been the pursuers, the hunters. Women have been the pursued, the selectors. Nature's explanation of this--that it is most beneficial for the continuation of the species for men to plant their seed as wide and as often as possible, and for women to be selective in choosing the strongest mates--fulfills the straight world's notion of "survival of the fittest" theory.
"Survival of the fittest" takes on a whole new approach in the gay male world--"fittest" becomes more than a metaphor. It means that those with the best faces and physiques have the greatest power. And it means that gay men, while traditionally the hunters, must find a way to be both the hunters and the hunted. Successful hunters cannot be too obvious in their pursuit. The hunted cannot be too fey in their selection. Ah, there's the rub.
To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, "Oh, the extent to which we'll go!" describes what some guys will do in their pursuit of a man. Eric, a handsome thirty-two-year-old sportswriter, developed a crush on Jess, a drop-dead handsome real estate agent, at an open house. As Eric put it, "I met this realtor, and even though I wasn't in the market yet to buy a home, I would've bought a year's supply of Barbie hair clips from this guy. I started frequenting open houses he hosted, regardless of the price range or neighborhood. But, every time he came near me, I could barely look at him."
Jess was friendly to Eric, but businesslike. Over the next four weeks, Eric thought he was being subtle and cool by just showing up and making small talk so that if things were to develop, they'd have a chance. Sometimes he would casually ask Jess about one of the properties, which ranged from a one-bedroom in the low $100,000 range to a million-dollar town house. Other times, he would be too shy to say anything at all. Maximizing body language does not mean standing frozen like an exhibit at Madame Tussaud's. When he did speak, he fidgeted with his hands like some reject geek from a John Hughes film. And out of shyness, he often averted his eyes whenever Jess answered him directly.
Eric's "pseudo-aggressive" dating strategy didn't work. In fact, Jess the realtor is probably calling Madonna right now to get the name of her antistalking security consultant. Eric should have maximized the first meeting better through more focused eye contact and body language that showed interest, not desperation. Eric's initial efforts should have been all about getting Jess to meet him somewhere more intimate for a drink, so that he could pursue in a focused and personal setting.
Jerry, a thirty-four-year-old single stockbroker from Chicago, had a much different, more successful experience using eye contact and body language. At a bar one night, he practically bore a hole through a hot man every time they passed each other, but the man would never look back. Every time Jerry looked at the guy, he held his gaze for a few seconds, and eventually the object of his lust started glancing back. They continued this dance for about an hour, pacing around the bar like panthers, sizing each other up from every angle amid the smoke and disco.
After a while, they were comfortable enough to be physically near each other, talking to others but with palpable sexual tension between them. They were standing closer, saying everything that needed to be said through body positioning and stance. By the time their eyes locked and they both said hello, they were already in the middle of a conversation that had begun with body language. No one had to make an awkward first move.
They exhibited the perfect attitude blend of "part hunter, part hunted, part wanting, part could-care-less" that always wins when you are on the prowl.
It's essential to maintain interest, but you don't want to come off as needy, desperate, or an immediate sure thing.
John, a thirty-nine-year-old financial analyst from Baltimore, summed up the feelings of several men I spoke with when he said, "It's hard to admit this because I sound so shallow, but as soon as you find out someone is totally interested in you, your level of interest falls a little." Maybe for men it's one of those unfortunate laws of human nature, like car wreck rubbernecking. It's definitely not helpful in streamlining dating. But that's where using body language can help.
Combat coming off as too interested by using body language to express yourself without giving away too much. Let the excitement build slowly and subtly. Unlike words, body language can rarely be used against you. No one can prove your intent. So you can maintain some mystery as you explore and initiate contact.
Given the laws of human nature, here are seven step-by-step guidelines on how to avoid crashing and burning when you are in hot pursuit:
1. Don't tell everyone what and whom you are after. You do not need the pressure of a gay cheerleading squad "rah-rahing" you on as you make your move. You are not Rocky. This isn't about crowd pleasing.
2. Cut your losses when it's clear it's going nowhere. Take Eric's example as your paradigm; if, after the fourth house, "there ain't nothing goin' on but the rent," quit stalking the poor guy and move on to greener pastures.
3. Don't use lines! To paraphrase advice my grandmother gave me, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up, use a tired, worn-out line on him, and remove all doubt."
4. Remember that the word desperation comes from an ancient Greek term that roughly translates to "you'll never get laid."
5. Remember the first rule of business negotiations: be willing to walk away from the table. Nothing is ever as attractive to a man as a man who is interested and interesting without an agenda.
6. The eyes have it! Once you make eye contact, you need to hold it for five seconds. Count it out in your head if this is really hard for you to do at first. But there's no way you are going to pique a man's interest by speedily averting your eyes as if you were caught cheating on an exam.
7. When it comes to body language, imagine you are Baryshnikov without the leg warmers. Use body language to your best advantage by acting as if you are a dancer of the first order. Dancers put all their emotions, feelings, and desires into self-contained movement and body language. Every glance, posture, and gesture tells a story. So when confronted with the Antonio Sabato Jr. look-alike you want to meet, you decide if you want the story to be "I want you now, I will have you, and you will love it" or "I am a complete moron incapable of even cursory, nonshaking interaction, and by the way, I am probably this awkward in bed, too." The attitude you choose is the one you'll project.
Always Get the Card--Don't Give the Card
(Or: At Least Control Freaks Don't Sit by the Phone Waiting)
You meet a desirable guy and soon sense mutual attraction. You make it through enough introductory talk to realize he is someone you'd like to know better, but for whatever reason, one or both of you needs to end the conversation. At the point where it is time to exchange information, what do you do?
There is always that awkward moment. Do you pull out a card and hand it over? Do you scribble your name on a matchbook with a pen borrowed from some bartender and slip it to your new friend before he leaves? At a party, do you write something provocative on a cocktail napkin and have it delivered by one of the caterers?
It is always best in situations like these to get the card.
Why? Three reasons:
1. It gives you a sense of mystery. It shows interest in the other person, but it makes you seem more desirable, that you are in no rush to hand over information on yourself.
2. You get the control. Were you a little buzzed at the time of the meeting? Want to decide hours later, after you have come to your senses, that Mr. Right was a martini-induced mistake, not worth a follow-up? You can, as long as you haven't given him license to find you via phone, fax, e-mail, and courier.
3. No sitting by the phone! You don't want to be, or even give off the perception of being, helplessly and passively waiting for anyone to call you.
There are advantages to restraint. There are also advantages to control. It is a good tactic to be fresh out of cards when Mr. Obnoxious just won't leave the party until he gets something, anything, with your handwriting or contact information on it. But when you are the one who wants Mr. Right's telephone number, don't put yourself in the position of waiting to be called by giving out your card.
This means that you will be the one doing the asking. Once you achieve your goal and get his card, it really doesn't matter if you give him yours or not. But if the chances that you will do something awkward are greater if you get the card, then hand yours over. For example, what if he asks you for your card first? It will be strange for you to say, "Sorry, Charlie, no cards on me," have him give you his, and then mysteriously "find" one of yours in your left pocket.
Playing "cards" like this is a "who plays their hand first" Wild, Wild West scenario with precise timing. The stakes are high if you wait too long or get your bluff called.
Thirty-one-year-old Tony, research director for a major pharmaceutical firm, prides himself on his ability to assess a person's character. But he got really frustrated meeting men at parties and bars, giving them his card, and never hearing from them. "I knew we were hitting it off, so I offered my card because you never know how long you have to talk to someone at a cocktail party. Maybe he has other plans and has to leave, I don't know. So I wanted to be prepared. The guy would almost always smile and say he'd call, so I didn't feel the need to get his card."
But maybe Tony was too prepared. Maybe he played his hand too quickly. And as he learned from experience, he should have taken more control. When he met a guy he liked, he thought that leaving their meeting with clarity about who would call was all that was needed. Tony thought that being aggressive precluded his being the "happy to sit by the phone and wait for the call" type. Wrong.
He is now a big believer that, when it comes to the "data swap," it's more empowering for him to get the card first.
From the Trade Paperback edition.