Decoding Body Language on a Date

Body language. For all our hoping, it's still the one vocabulary that the Duolingo owl won't teach you. But in a world in which dating has become something of a science, it's hard not to want a primer in courtship.
Peacock spiders dance for each other, male elks trumpet, and tiny lizards bite potential mates. Body language is universal in dating throughout the animal kingdom – and we're still just clever apes. Our ancestors left some of the world's more traditional courtship displays back in the primordial ooze though, so what hope do humans have for finding love in the 21st century?
We know a thing or two about playing games at wink bingo and so here's a little secret: humans still follow some similar rules to their animal kingdom counterparts - at least when it comes to dating. Love is rarely just a dice roll away. And, while bellowing like a lascivious sloth is definitely out, we continue to use body language to externalise our wants, needs, and emotions.

Mastering the Poker Face

Our facial muscles can use both micro- and macroexpressions lasting a fraction of a second to display seven different emotions ranging from happiness to disgust. And we've all heard the one about a fake smile never reaching the eyes. For the secret admirers out there, it's not all good news. Many of these expressions become more obvious the more we try to repress them, meaning that you may well be wearing your heart on your face during that big date.
Gamers call these expressions 'tells', little quirks that can give away your position to opponents skilled in reading body language, and so learning to mask your excitement before a romantic encounter or a bingo game can help take the experience in a completely different direction. Perhaps you want to come across as aloof and mysterious. Perhaps you don't mind if your ex knows you've almost got a full house. Choosing to be yourself on a date is as valid a choice as wearing the poker face.
As mentioned though, your eyes can still give you away. Blinking slowly, 'flicking' (looking from the eyes to the lips and back up), and maintaining eye contact are some of the strongest indicators that your date is thinking about you and not where the fire escape is. The reverse is true too. While avoiding eye contact may indicate simple first-date anxiety, it's also a great yardstick for measuring annoyance, boredom and a terminal case of just-not-into-you.

It's All in the Hands

Scientists believe that the length of a man's fingers can reveal a great deal about his personality. For instance, the journal Personality and Individual Differences notes that a shorter index finger compared to the ring finger is indicative of a friendly attitude towards women, while an earlier study claims that the same finger ratio produces a more handsome man overall.
Science has demonstrated that different finger ratios can suggest anything from sex drive, promiscuity, hand strength, and even prostate cancer risk, though, we'd suggest a conversation over any amateur palmistry.
The same does go for women too though. Hand-orientated body language like hair twirling is a favourite courtship display in Hollywood movies but it does have some basis in fact. It's a preening or grooming behaviour we borrowed from our ancestors that's designed to appear flirtatious. Women can also be more tactile with a person that they're romantically interested in, with the gentle arm touch another popular movie trope and real-life way of demonstrating affection.

Exaggeration, the Lover's Friend

While it might be considered an annoyance in humans, exaggeration is another constant in dating – both in terms of body language and physical changes. Male fiddler crabs, for instance, have one claw larger than the other to impress the lady crabs and to fend off sexual competitors. Humans are a little more subtle, though much less able to open cans of peaches. Men, in particular, may try to exaggerate their height or confidence by standing up straighter or standing or sitting with their legs apart.
Yes, manspreading can be a courtship behaviour, as it indicates openness. In women, the opposite behaviour, having arms or legs crossed, is something the Guardian describes as 'cocooning', a gesture designed to ward off potential suitors. Sitting facing away from a date is a similar defensive behaviour for both sexes, though, again, shyness can play a part in creating situations that appear romantically hostile. Everybody is different so take things slowly and have fun; you never know when you might hit the jackpot.
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