I want to talk about one of the most common sticking points guys share when it comes to building attraction. I see this time after time in men who’ve not had much success with women. It gets especially frustrating when they’ve been doing the work and building the new sexy persona they’ve always wished they could be. They’ve developed their sense of style and they’re starting to get their banter down pat but whenever they go out, there’s always something missing. There’s something they’re lacking that keeps them from turning a pleasant conversation at the bar into a date. There’s something they’re doing wrong, some quality they lack that makes one person sexy and desirable and the other remain strictly platonic.
And to a man, it almost always boils down to the exact same issue: they’re afraid to break the touch barrier.
It’s entirely understandable: they don’t want to be creepy by accident and every woman out there has a story about the handsy guy who set their skin to crawling. But at the same time, being willing to touch the person you’re flirting with is vitally important. Touch is what makes the difference between a platonic friend and a potential lover. But you have to know how to do it right.
The Importance of Touch
Touch is one of the most important things you can master, hands down.1. It is one of the most powerful ways of connecting with somebody. The way we touch someone communicates far more than our words do. Touch can be a way of indicating attraction or a way of building comfort. Something as simple as a hand on a shoulder can be a sign of support or conveying a message of dominance or ownership.
It also tells the other person how we feel about them or the sort of relationship we want to pursue. This is incredibly important when it comes to flirting. The more we like somebody, the more we touch them – and vice versa. If you’re not touching the person you’re interested in, you’re sending a very specific message: you’re not that interested in them after all. Even something as simple as a light touch on the arm can make the difference between walking away from the conversation and setting up a date.
Think about it: we simply don’t touch our friends the way we touch our potential lovers. Not just in the obvious ways mind you, but in the little, almost unconscious gestures that relay a desire for a greater level of intimacy. Even the more playful ways of touching our friends – fist pounds, playful body checks, nudges, back slapping and high-fives – have a completely different feel than the ways we may joke around and tease people we’re intimate with – or want to be. Knowing how to communicate that difference is important – because if you aren’t touching, then you’re not going to sleep with them. Full stop.
In addition: touching can be a powerful way of letting the other person evaluate you. After all, knowing how to touch, when and especially where is incredibly demonstrative of higher social and emotional intelligence – highly attractive aspects in anyone.
But touch can be tricky, especially when it comes to flirting with women. It’s absolutely critical to remember that women frequently find that people treat their personal space as public property. Understanding how to navigate the space between welcome – even invited – contact and unwelcome is critical.
Fortunately, that’s why I’m here. Let’s get started.
Understand What Your Touch Says
First and foremost: all touch carries a message, even if that message was “oops, didn’t mean to.” Touch can be subtle, and the way you touch someone can convey very different meanings – even if it’s in the same place. One form of physical contact that might be acceptable – a touch of fingertips to the forearm, for example, might be completely unacceptable if the person were to use his palm. One is flirty while the other implies a level of familiarity or even implied threat.
The key to understanding the message contained in your touch is to understand the intimacy ladder; different locations on the body are considered more “acceptable” or “friendly” while others are seen as being much more personal and a few will be seen as incredibly intimate.
While this will vary depending on culture, in most Western societies, the general level of implied intimacy – from lowest to highest – goes like this:
- Upper arm
- Back of the hand
- Upper back
- Lower back
I don’t list breasts or crotch for obvious reasons: reaching for those without a clear invitation is almost always going to guarantee you a well-earned visit from the Slap Fairy.
How you touch someone also changes the implied message. Touching somebody with the back of your hand, for example is considerably less intimate and more innocuous than the fingertips. Touching somebody lightly with your fingertips is going to be slightly more intimate – and flirtier – than with the back of your hand. Your full palm implies a much greater degree of familiarity and intimacy and – depending on the location – an expectation of compliance.
It’s also worth noting: this is very dependent both on social context and on the individual. Everyone has their own boundaries and sense of body privacy. Some people will be cool with your touching their hair, for example; other people will have huge issues with it. Some people will have less issue with, say, a playful ass-grab (especially between friends) than they would with a hand on the lower back. If you are unsure, it’s better to keep to less-intimate forms of contact until the other person gives you the green light.
Read Her Touch
Just as you’re communicating intent through touch, so is she. The way that she responds to your touch tells you everything about how she’s feeling about you.
One of the quickest ways to get a read on how somebody feels about you is through the use of touch. One of the signs that somebody is interested in you is through what’s known as “reciprocal touching” – she touches you after you touch her. For example: you take my earlier advice and touch her on the arm while you’re making a joke, then take your hand back – casually, not like you’ve just been scalded – and wait. This gives her an opportunity to decide how comfortable she feels. If she’s interested, she’ll find an excuse to touch you back, most likely in the same fashion.
Similarly, if you are holding her hand or giving her a side-hug, disengage for a moment. Someone who’s in to you is going to want to re-establish contact quickly.
One of my favorite ways of checking for attraction is to use the high-five test. It’s very simple: when she says something that impresses you or makes you laugh, you say “that’s awesome. You get a high-five,” then offer a high-five with your fingers spread. If she’s interested, when she make the high-five, her fingers will intertwine with yours and she’ll clasp your hand.
When you’ve progressed to more intimate and lingering levels of touch, see how she responds; if you put your hand on her lower back, does she relax into it? If you give the side-hug or put your arm around her shoulder, does she stand there, or does she lean in towards you? The more she relaxes or conforms to you, the more interested she is. Even a basic hug can tell you how she feels; someone who isn’t interested in you sexually is going to give you the “a-frame” hug – one that’s mostly shoulders, with plenty of space between your pelvis and hers. Someone who is into you is more likely to hug you around the waist or give more contact from the waist down.
One important thing to keep in mind is that her responses will also tell you when your touch is unwanted or pushing at the edges of the boundaries of where she’s comfortable. If you touch her – a hand on the shoulder, for example – and she freezes, then you’re actively making her uncomfortable. Similarly, if she tenses up when you put your hand on her back or give her the side-hug, then she’s very emphatically not cool with you touching her like that. In the event that you’ve pushed too far or have accidentally tripped up on an area that she’s not comfortable with, then you simply disengage calmly (again: not like you’ve just put your hand on a hot stove) and say “that seemed to make you uncomfortable. I’m sorry about that.”
As a general rule of thumb: it’s better to be the one who disengages first if you notice that she’s showing signs of discomfort. Noticing that you’re pushing up against a boundary and being willing to pull back is a sign that you respect her comfort levels and prioritize her feeling secure around you rather than your access to her body – an important trait.
How to Use Touch
Touch is incredibly powerful; the way you touch each other is not only a way of intensifying your connection but a solid indicator of how she feels about you. Whether you’re looking to hook up that night or to get a date later in the week, you want to be working your way up the intimacy ladder towards more flirty, intimate forms of touch.
(Note very carefully that this isn’t about the frog in the boiling water. You’re not trying to push boundaries or see what she “lets you get away with”; it’s a form of communicating. Trying to work social pressure so that somebody is ok with you touching their neck is not the same as building mutual attraction.)
The best way to initiate a touch at the beginning is in response to an emotional high-point. For example, when you’re telling a story, a moment to touch someone briefly (three seconds or so) is during a check-in: you casually touch the person you’re interested in on her upper arm with the back of your hand as you say “seriously, check this out.” Another time would be when she tells you something that makes you laugh – touching her shoulder or upper back with your fingertips.
Similarly, if you or she want to whisper conspiratorially and share a secret, gently placing your fingertips on her forearm as you lean in can be electrifying. It feels much more intimate – in a good way – and reinforces the “us vs. them” feeling, framing the two of you as a conspiracy of two watching everyone else.
As you continue talking and flirting and she grows more comfortable with you, you want to move to more deliberate, playful forms of touching. For example: playful pushes or shoves while teasing or in responding to a joke are ways of bringing you closer together and making you both more comfortable with more intimate forms of contact. It’s easier to go to say, a side-hug (again: timed to an emotional high point) when you’re at a more touchy-feely stage of flirting than from when you’re still feeling each other out. You may link arms to go off and refill your drinks or gently place your hand on the small of her back as you go to grab a cigarette or move to someplace where it’s quieter.
As you progress, you’ll find that your touches – and the times she touches you - are starting to linger and become more deliberate. This is when you can start moving to more intimate forms of touching – for example, taking somebody’s hand for an impromptu palm-reading and tracing your finger along their palm. I’m fairly extensively tattooed and frequently field questions from people I’m flirting with about whether (or how much) it hurt to be inked. If we’re at the right stage, I might take their arm and lightly run my finger along the inside of their forearm or the underside of their upper arm as a way of illustrating a point about sensitivity3 You might take her hand while you’re showing her something on your phone. It can be a bit obvious, but at this stage, it’s also fun and silly and you’re much more likely to appreciate the obviousness.
As your touches start to last longer and become more intimate, you can start using touch to build sexual tension and arousal. This needs to be played carefully and requires that you be fairly socially calibrated; if you’re pushing too fast, you run the risk of misreading her signs and overestimating the level of interest she has or how far she’s willing to take things at the moment. At the same time, however, studies have found that a soft touch of the face is considered to show the most romantic attraction – and to build that attraction, in turn.
One of the best uses of touch is to build towards the “perfect moment” for the kiss. One of the classic “moves” leading towards a kiss is to move in slowly and gently brush a stray hair out of the way with your fingertips. It lets you gauge the mood – if she tenses up or pulls back slightly, you know you’re getting the wave-off. If she’s into it however – her pupils dilate, her lips part slightly, she leans in – then not only are you golden but your touch will be electric in all the best ways. Other touches such as a feather-soft brush of the jawline or the cheekbone can also get the heart racing, setting the mood for an intense, amazing kiss.
Sometimes the strongest and most powerful use of touch – ironically enough – is to not touch. A critical part of sexual tension is the build up of anticipation, the teasing of the senses leaving her gasping for more. The expectation of a particular kind of touch can be almost more exhilarating than the move you make. If you have especially strong chemistry and the flirting is starting to get hot and heavy, moving into her personal space but not kissing her can entice her to close the distance and make the move herself. Warm breath on her neck can also be an incredibly arousing sensation and send shivers down her spine. But there is no sensation quite like the anticipatory tingling of a kiss that’s almost there, when you’re getting closer and closer and you know it’s going to happen but nobody wants to make the first move because you don’t want to risk breaking the spell and your hearts are pounding so loud that you’re amazed the neighbors aren’t complaining about the noise.
Touch is an amazing, important tool in any single man’s arsenal. If you can harness it and use it properly, you will watch your success skyrocket from that first meeting to that incredible kiss and everything beyond.
- See what I did there? [↩]
- It’s worth noting that many cultures – especially Hindu and Muslim ones – see the foot as dirty or impure and touching somebody with them is a serious faux pas at best and a deliberate insult at worst. Still other people have an aversion to feet for one reason or another and touching their feet or with yours can give them the wiggins. Tread carefully. [↩]
- That is: the more it tickles when you run a finger along it, the more likely it’s going to hurt if you get tattooed there. The underside of my arm felt like I was getting branded. [↩]