Thursday, November 29, 2007


No. Not the game! Well, at least not the video game.

We're talking about the real time, real human art of intimacy. The unwritten rules we live by which keep us safe. Oh, wait. They were written down, by Desmond Morris in "The Naked Ape." That's pretty much what humans are you know. We have a nicely polished veneer. We have a fabulous fashion sense (when we choose to employ it) and we can read. But we're still creatures of instinct.

Take that lovely cowboy cover of my first Loveswept. How well do you think you'd have to know a guy to let him wrap himself around you and grab hold of your waist? Pretty darned well or you'd be uncomfortable at the least and terrified at the worst.

Why? Because we build trust in other human beings one step at a time. Just like everything these days, "intimacy" has its own twelve step program. Each step is critically important to the development of relationships. Here they are:

1. Eye to Body. Like it or not we all have a type. That first cursory glance gives us information, lets us know if this is the kind of person we'll let into our circle.

2. Eye to Eye. This is the first make or break moment. There is risk here. What if the other person looks away? Looking away quickly and then right back is okay. That signals interest. But what if the person merely looks away in disinterest? There's a crushing blow to the ego!

3. Voice to Voice. This helps us determine if we can communicate, do we have common interests, do we think alike, can we have points of agreement on which to build? There is a sensual component to the voice as well.

4. Hand to Hand. Here's a biggie. By extending your hand to someone when we were still clubbing mammoths for food, the extendee was taking his life in his hands. An injury to a hand meant probably death. Life was too risky with only one hand. Mammoths are big. So, there is risk in extending the hand. The open hand says, "I'm vulnerable. I have no weapon and I'm willing to try." Even though the hand is a big step on the intimacy scale, it's as much about friendship building as relationship building. The individuals can stop here. No harm, no foul. If the individuals move farther down the steps of intimacy, things can get tricky. Expectations will begin to rear their ugly heads.

5. Hand to Shoulder. When men do this, it's the buddy thing. A symbol of approval. Women don't seem to clasp each other on the shoulder, do they? But if a man puts his hand on a woman's shoulder he darned well better have permission to do so or it's considered an aggressive move. Women take their shoulders very seriously. (I personally think this may stem from those early days of bra wearing when the boys had to snap the backs and straps.)

6. Hand to Waist. With the exception of those moments when we say, "Cheese!" for pictures, you don't find a lot of hands/arms around the waists unless there is an established relationship. And generally you don't find this in same sex relationships. (We're looking a the hetero situation at the moment.) The waist is halfway between some pretty interesting body parts! Vital organs are only an Aztec priest's grasp away. Tingling things begin to happen. Young men's thoughts turn to fancy. And there is an element of "claiming." Of ownership, doncha think?
When a heroine is put in a situation in which the hero has to say...teach her to rope and his arm's around her waist, this will be awkward if the relationship's emotional trust hasn't built to allow for this leap in physical intimacy.

7. Face to Face. Anytime *anyone* gets in your face this is a clear invasion of your space. How someone invades your space can make you weak in the knees or make you go for your gun. For an emotional bond to continue, couples allow this face to face contact. This is a rehearsal for other more intimate acts to come. A small moment to lose themselves and recover. Rejection after a successful kiss is likely to smart quite a bit! If a kiss is rejected, you can bet the rejected party is going to be reviewing all the signals to this point and wondering where they've gone wrong.

8. Hand to Head. Heck this goes along with # 7 usually. But consider the danger. A blow to the head and you're dead. That's why this is so far along the scale of intimacy. Remember this instinctive reserve and need to define our space is grounded in genetic memory and basic survival. How many of us immediately move our head away from someone who's reaching out to remove a leaf or tuck a loose strand of hair back? It's instinct to move our heads away from any invasion of space. Only our most trusted circle can enter this zone unchecked.

9-12. These last four are *definitely* sexual and should be private, but sadly these days (g) they are not. Private, that is.
(9) Hand to Body,
(10) Mouth to Breast,
(11) Touching Below the Waist, and
(12) Intercourse.

There you have it. Mankind's roadmap to sex, bonding and space invading. Teenage boys have always known that if they can just get that arm around a girl's shoulder in the movies that they were making significant progress.

Is it any wonder that the romantic clench has always held such special importance to romance readers? We can read the messages and signals sent by that body language. To the outsider the pose might look physical, but we know that the emotional bonding comes first. Nature set up a system to help our brains and hearts bond first.

So, who's been flirting with their eyes lately? Creating a little interest? Did your sweetie-pie skip a few steps? (That ratchets up the stakes and the temperature real quick!)


Betina Krahn said...

This totally explains why I go Postal when I see some slouch walking along in the mall with his hand grasping the back of his woman's neck. It seems so egregious I want to run up and get in his face. Me. The pacifist. I cannot think of a situation in which this would be a positive or even acceptable gesture. The woman might as well be wearing a dog collar and leash. We don't even do this to our children!

Whew. I think I got it all out.

I've never been good at flirting. I either want the full relationship or I don't and it must be written all over my face, because guys either flee like the hordes of hell are upon them or they cozy right up and settle beside me into domestic bliss. So far, I've had two keepers.

Also-- that eye to eye thing. . . I think there are some people who are genetically predisposed NOT to look others in the eye. Or so it seems. Anybody else have family members uncomfortable with eye to eye contact? It flabbergasts me that someone in my family should be that way, but there it is. What do you think that's all about?

flchen1 said...

Very interesting to see it spelled out like this, Debra! Not much of flirter either, although there are days when I might appreciate some as a reminder of less hectic days :)

Michele Hauf said...

Great post! And hard to read because I'm one of those people that are very closed and hard to get to know. I sometimes think people think me a snob, but really it's just because I'm very shy and afraid of contact. Ask my friends. When hugs go round at the end of a lunch date, I'm the one creeping away to the car to avoid the contact!

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- Yep. These 12 steps explain so much. And your eye contact has probably always been your first line of defense in sorting out who was willing to give back as much as you are willing to put into a relationship. Holding eye contact is risky business. It's a dominance thing as well, so the men you scared off probably didn't have the essential confidence to deal with such a strong woman.

The men who ran probably needed at least the "illusion" that they were running the plays. (g)

Eyes are a powerful window and I'd say that anyone who has difficulty maintaining eye contact with known associates probably has serious confidence and trust issues. They'll be on the shyer side of the human spectrum even if they hide it well with other behaviors or lots of talk. (Don't you love arm chair diagnosis by completely unqualified people?)

Debra Dixon said...

flchen1-- I was fascinated the first time I was introduced to these concepts. It also (to me) explained a lot about why men hated women who could naturally shake hands. It forced/forces men to step up to the plate as an equal because of what the gesture represents.

Debra Dixon said...

Michele-- I live in the South--the land of the "I-don't-know-you-but-why-don't-we-

I spent most of my youth running the other way. I was horrified at all this. It wasn't until I was an adult that I was able to rationalize that people who offer this gesture in the South either mean nothing (literally nothing) by it or it's an honest attempt on their part to convey their acceptance of me. Since women don't do the hand to shoulder bit very much, the hug takes the place of that macho-approval gesture.

I realized I could accept a hug because I wasn't require to reciprocate that acceptance. I was the "huggee" and not the hugger.

Weird thing was...once I began accepting hugs...I started giving them. Not indiscriminately and rarely upon first meeting. But I do tend to dole them out when I feel someone needs approval or reassurance.

Helen Brenna said...

This is interesting, Deb. I do tend to be more like Michele, unless I'm with people I know.

But I've never liked people thinking I'm stuck up, so lately I've been forcing myself to make more eye to eye contact with strangers. It definitely gets easier the more I do it.

Something I've noticed is that most women tend to immediately look away. Most guys don't. Why is that?

Dara Edmondson said...

I love the way you explain things, Deb. So common sense and profound at the same time;-)
I'm the hugee type, although I offer one if someone looks like they need it.

Debra Dixon said...

Helen-- I think men hold the gaze longer because they have to indicate strong interest. They have to give the female time to react and gauge the response. Once they know females respond then the look becomes more dominance based. "Me big he-man. Are we clear? I can't look away until we're clear." LOL!

Dara-- Well, thanks! And also thanks for a great job yesterday!

Helen Brenna said...

So what if the woman sends back "Me big she-woman?" LOL

Samantha Hunter said...

Love this, Deb!

I've been reading the Nalini Singh books lately, lots of Were and shifter stuff, and how much they depend on touch, and it fascinates me because she talks about what she calls "skin privileges" -- Were characters rely on touch, but you have to be part of the pack to have your touch accepted. So I think there's a lot of animal brain basis for how we interpret touch...

That hits me as true to degrees with people we know, love, our pack -- my husband can touch me any way he please, and I love it -- even that first post about hands on neck. When we walk along, if he massages my nape while doing so, or hooks his thumb through the back of my jeans so he just touches... well, okay, I'll stop now. ;) The level of trust and intimacy is such that he can do whatever he wants.

That's the closest touch of course, and the next ring out is probably our children, and it's interesting to see who has what "privileges" from that point, extended family, friends, strangers...

I don't like people who stand and talk literally your face, and while I try not to back up, I usually do. I'm wary about my space with strangers. I also don't like hugging people I don't know, but I do appreciate a firm handshake, and I usually am offended if someone will shake dh's hand but not mine...

Oh, and no, I don't trust anyone who won't make eye contact. Just don't. That's automatically shifty to me...

Fun stuff to think about...and how all of this probably goes into our writing, even on an unconscious level...


Debra Dixon said...

Helen-- If she sends that back then I think we're in Betina's territory where she sends those strong equality signals. The man has to accept that, be intrigued by the response or he'll break off and move on.

Sam-- Oh, I definitely think we use this in our writing. And I can see how this is so important in a book culture including weres.

As for children they have to stop at the "head to head." At least until I can trust their impulse not to bonk me in the head!

lois greiman said...

Interesting stuff! So instinctual that we rarely think about it. But I agree, we're all just animals.

Christie Ridgway said...

Darn, I could have sworn I left a comment. Bad Blogger!

Thanks for letting me see that cover again, Deb, and I love the steps of intimacy. They are perfect for right now in the manuscript-in-progress because I'm ratcheting up the sexual tension.

I love the Desmond Morris. I have BABYWATCHING. Just went to check out what else he has out and THE NAKED WOMAN came out last February (parallel to his classic, THE NAKED APE). It looks interesting...