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From the Inside Out > 14
Dating From the Inside Out
The Affects of
Once you spend some time creating a dating
goal plan and addressing what kind of dating social
life you desire, it’s important to think a little
about the kinds of signals that are sent in social
One fascinating arena with regard to the dating and
mating game is the nonverbal world of body language,
or proxemics, the study of the appreciation and use
of space. When it comes to spatial boundaries, human
beings are generally quite territorial as a species,
but it’s usually barely noticeable unless there
is a “violation” of personal space.
Researcher E.T. Hall created the term “proxemics” in
1963 while investigating the "fixed" and "semi-fixed" contrasts
in physical space. Specifically, he found that fixed
feature space is characterized by unmovable boundaries
(such as divisions within a structure), while semi-fixed
feature space relates to fixed boundaries such as physical
things. “Informal space” is the personal
zone that varies among individuals and situations.
As mammals, the spatial zones also constitute areas
in which humans protect themselves from outside intrusion.
In some cultures, spatial territory is not nearly as
limited as it is in the United States. Comfort levels
vary and differ widely, depending upon that status
quo within a particular culture. However, most would
agree that maintaining control over personal space
is a key factor in social comfort levels.
How one approaches space in general can vastly affect
communication. Spatial territory for communication
generally consists of four categories for informal
space: the intimate distance for embracing or whispering
(6-18 inches), the personal distance for conversations
among good friends (1.5-4 feet), social distance for
conversations among acquaintances (4-12 feet), and
public distance used for public speaking (12 feet or
Individuals usually perceive a distance that is appropriate
for different types of messages, and also establish
a comfortable distance for personal interaction, per
behavioral studies. The personal space boundaries are
defined nonverbally. Behavioral research suggests that
the violation of personal space can have adverse effects
on communication. Therefore, successful communication
encounters hinge on the respect of an individual’s
personal space boundaries. This is especially important
to keep in mind when approaching people for the first
Personal Space and Communication
Communication is probably one of the strongest tools
used in social interaction. When people are trying
to attract suitable social interests, it’s all
about communication, and how one is perceived. Once
it is determined that someone is “attractive” by
someone of interest, it is then time to hone in on
more mental, spiritual forms of communication. While
physical space is obvious, other, non-verbal communication
and actual words spoken, can also fall within the realm
of “personal space.”
Understanding physical space is an important part of
the communication process, because violations of it
can undermine any success one might have with social
attractiveness, whether bodily or analytically. Consideration
of personal proxemics communicates attitudes. When
someone does not respect personal boundaries, it causes
a negative impulse on the part of the person being
violated. This is because personal space provides a “security” type
of boundary for people. To intrude upon it threatens
that security. It also gives off a sense that the violator
does not respect the person whose space is being invaded.
Keeping Our Distance
Research has indicated that Americans, in particular,
have much more strict personal space boundaries than
many other cultures. In general, physical contact is
discouraged, except in moments of intimacy. However,
there are times, when the group energy of a large crowd
is necessary, such as sports, music, or theater. At
those times, personal space boundary invasions are
tolerated for the sake of the event.
The distance between two people conveys a desire for
intimacy or lack of interest. It can also trigger control
or fear, such as during police interrogations or when
criminal activity is contemplated.
Vocal messages are qualified and conditioned by the
handling of distance, and the substance of a conversation
can often require special handling of space. Spatial
changes provide a tone to communication, and may also
counteract the spoken word.
When attitudes are controlled, a sense of power enables
one to feel that their “world” is controlled.
Attitude is reflected through body language, and may
be adjusted to suit any given situation in an instant.
Any given statement can have numerous meanings, depending
upon which words are emphasized. This is because messages
come 55% from the body, 38% from voices (inflection,
intonation, volume) and 7% from actual words.
Hidden Meanings in Movements and Gestures
Understanding the hidden meanings in movements and
gestures can allow one to read more intuitively how
they and others feel about something. Generally, in
order to place any significance on any one particular
body cue, or even a few of them, one has to consider
it within the context of a group.
These are some very simple movements that human beings,
in particular, have been found to associate positivity
with. Smiling instantly and clearly demonstrates confidence,
friendliness, a positive attitude, a good mood, and
can give the impression that you're fun to be with.
Another posture to adopt are ones that show an "open" and "direct" flow
from the body. When you're open, directly facing the
other with your hands to the side, perhaps with palms
facing up and
towards the other, is exposing or presenting yourself
An obvious "closed" body posture is arms
crossed, which shows a barrier that can serve to repel
people away and reduce intimacy. Ever notice how bodyguards,
for example, adopt that stance? Other "closed" stances
can include using other objects, between yourself and
the person you're talking to, such as a drink or your
hands, Other body orientations can include pointing
your shoulders, body, or head in another direction,
turning your attention away and toward something else.
Closed body postures are very common because they
serve to reduce the level of perceived intimacy in
a situation. Psychologically, presenting oneself
to others inherently includes the possibility of
rejection. Because people don't like rejection, they
will often unknowingly close themselves off, essentially, “rejecting” someone
before the other has a chance to “reject” them.
Eye contact is obvious, powerful, and arousing. Direct
eye contact shows self-confidence and can show that
you're very interested, or that you mean what you
are saying. It has been known to boost physiological
Another method of showing interest while communicating
is nodding, because it can be a powerful reinforcer.
For example, if you are talking with someone and
agree with or even just understand what is being
said, nodding slightly gives the person you’re
talking with the impression that they are being listened
to and understood. Typically, when someone is talking
with a person and they are not interested or disagree,
rather than nodding, one might look away or even
veer in the other direction. It is also possible
at that point to change the topic of discussion so
that it is going in a more desirable direction.
up distance between you and someone else can be done
by "leaning" (if
seated, leaning slightly toward the other person, or if standing slightly leaning
your head toward the other). Increasing proximity reduces both the real and psychological
distance between two people, helping to create a sense of intimacy or togetherness.
By getting a little closer or leaning slightly toward someone, the message
being conveyed is that you're interested in what someone has to say. The opposite
is also true. Keeping distance or leaning back or away from someone indicates
that you're not really interested in them.
In modern society, and larger cities,
particularly, touching without familiarity is generally taboo. This could
be one reason why touching, if done appropriately,
has an immediate, almost magical effect on another person. Its communication
power is equaled only by the smile and, perhaps, eye contact.
The key to all of the spatial communication methods
is knowing how to read and use them. Being alert to
body language cues can provide insight into what types
of communication work and which don’t, while
offering some indication of how you are perceived.
By always paying close attention to a situation and
mood, you can be sure not to force something if it
doesn’t seem appropriate. Conversely, you can
learn to utilize social cues you may not have noticed
before, as perhaps an invitation to continue conversations
or take them to the next level in the development of
friendships and romantic involvements.
Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer,
currently doing research for a romantic screenplay
she is writing. Her Dating
From The Inside Out column
is published every Tuesday.
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