Have you ever found yourself not knowing someone’s name? Someone whose name you should know, so you feel silly asking? So you don’t ask. You slide by on talking to them when they look at you, coming up with generic nicknames, and eavesdropping in the hope of catching their name. The longer you wait to ask, the more awkward it would be to actually ask their name.
However, this is not a post about learning names. (Although that is important and it will help you on dates. Just saying.) I want to talk about physical contact. I mentioned this not long ago, but touching someone—breaking the touch barrier, is a big step for any type of relationship. Much like learning someone’s name, physical contact is important if you want to be anything more than, say, colleagues or people who stand next to each other in line at Starbucks. If you wait too long, the other person might have assumed you’re not interested.
Human contact is a big part of building any relationship. It can release oxytocin, a hormone that is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.” It makes people bond and feel connected. It’s also a huge part of nonverbal communication. Studies have shown that a doctor using a warm gesture such as a hand on a patient’s shoulder made patients feel their visit lasted twice as long. Another study showed that students who received a pat on the shoulder or back were more likely to volunteer in class. They felt safer in the environment to put themselves out there and speak up. I have a student who laughs and tries to shake me off when I pretend to rest my elbow on her head. Last week she told me she loves when I do that.
Physical contact is a big signal of attraction. If I put my hand on your arm while we’re talking, I’m doing a couple things at once. First of all, it’s showing very clearly where my attention is focused. It’s also setting the stage—hopefully—for more physical contact. I’ve used some pretty silly reasons to initiate this before. Just recently I informed a man that his tie was crooked and insisted on retying it myself. We had a nice little moment and when I said goodnight he did not hesitate to give me a long hug.
A word of caution, though: the type of contact you make is a big factor in determining your success. (Success, in this case, being measured by whether or not there will be continued touching in your future, regarding a potential partner.) Some touching is very platonic. A high five can get the ball rolling, but it’s not very romantic or sexy. I high five my students when they have a good day. You high five your buddies when your team scores a goal. You have to move past that pretty quickly. Other kinds of touching are creepy. I once had a random guy come up to me at a bar and touch my earlobe. I’m not kidding…I didn’t know his name and he tried to caress my earlobe. He was shot down. Don’t be creepy, guys. That gets you talked about on the internet. In the same vein, if you don’t know someone very well, being super aggressive can be off-putting or even kind of scary. You have to stick with more innocent types of physical contact until you’re more well-acquainted. Another time at a different bar a fairly big guy came up and wrapped himself around me, saying I looked a lot like his next girlfriend. (But that’s a story for another day.) I felt trapped. Please don’t freak anybody out, guys.
Stick to something on the innocent side (and keep your hands in safe areas—no introductory groping!) and hopefully you’ll both move past that into something more. Just don’t wait too long!