Leveling Up: How To Touch Her

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.

AKA: "hover hands"

For example: a chronic case of “hover hands”

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.

And sometimes it's an invitation to break a motherfucker's fingers.

And sometimes it’s an invitation to break a motherfucker’s fingers.

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:

  • Forearm
  • Feet2
  • Shoulder
  • Upper Arm
  • Back of the hand
  • Upper back
  • Palm
  • Waist
  • Lower back
  • Thighs
  • Hair
  • Neck
  • Face

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.

NO man out there is going to get away with the casual boob-honk. Don't try it.

No man out there is going to get away with the casual boob-honk. This includes you. You are not the special exception to the rule. Don’t try it.

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 herFor 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.

The jury's still out on the meaning of the "forehead hug".

The jury’s still out on the meaning of the “forehead hug”.

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.

...although if you have to lean in to do it, you're kind of giving the game away.

…although if you have to lean across the entire table to do it, you’re going from “flirty” to “glaringly obvious”.

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.

The moment was ruined five seconds later when she got hooked into a game of Candy Crush Saga.

The moment was ruined five seconds later when she got hooked into a game of Candy Crush Saga.

Building Chemistry

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.

And the entire universe starts silently screaming "DO IT ALREADY!!!!!"

And the entire universe starts silently screaming “DO IT ALREADY!!!!!”

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.

  1. See what I did there?bad joke seal []
  2. 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.bad joke seal []
  3. 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. []

  • Branden

    Dat bad joke seal gif.

  • wjmorris3

    I… think I'm going to stick with the strategy of not touching, given I find the idea of me actually touching a lady incredibly creepy. (Mind you, I don't think it's creepy for the normal male to touch a woman under normal circumstances, but I'm hardly normal.)

    • LeeEsq

      Why do you think that you aren’t normal enough to touch a woman? You say that your strategy isn’t to touch but that implies your interacting with women on dates or at least in ways that aren’t entirely platonic or professional. If your normal enough for this than your normal enough to at least attempt touching. You might be surprised at the result.

      • wjmorris3

        Okay, I may have misspoken. If I could get a date, then my strategy would be not to touch. I tend not to touch in general because I feel I should hold myself to what I consider a higher standard of conduct.

        • nonA

          And this is when you need to stop and completely reevaluate your assumptions.

          Specifically, why is touching a bad thing? The fact that you chose the words "higher standard of conduct" speaks to loads of issues between you and landing a date.

          Those ethereal, ascended beings you're admiring from afar? In truth, they want to be touched. They also want to be fucked like porn stars. What you want to do is convince them that you're the guy they want to do those things with.

          • wjmorris3

            But I see stories like Steubenville and I resolve not to be the same as those kind of men. I try to treat everyone with respect, and part of that respect is not to broach another person's personal boundaries.

          • Beth

            You want to jump from minor touching right to Steubenville? I don't mean to sound harsh, but that's just plain ridiculous.

            "I find the idea of me actually touching a lady incredibly creepy"

            This sounds as if you've got some solid work ahead ahead of you in terms of basic self-respect. Since you're concerned about having high standards, you deserve more credit than you seem to be giving yourself. Why would any touch from you, even an innocent touch, be creepy by definition? As nonA said, women *want* to be touched — by the right person, in the right way. The Doc's advice here is golden on how to find the right way.

          • Gentleman Horndog

            YES. This. The RIGHT KIND of touching is crucial for taking things in a physically intimate direction — or even for gauging whether she's on the same page as you are in terms of wanting things to go that direction it the first place.

            If she's giving you green lights and you're still not willing to touch her hand, you're not going to wind up touching anything else of hers later on. Even though she might really, really want you to.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            The key difference there is that if at any point along the line you touch a sober, conscious person and they don't respond positively, you back off. We're not talking porn rehearsal in a crowded bar here (if people want that, they're gonna have to pay to watch, dammit!) but simple things like"hey, check out the guy with the parrot and the pierced frontal lobe" (which you;d point out to someone anyway) accompanied by a hand on their upper arm to get their attention. Your conversation partner is generally not going to go for the mace over that and if she does tense up, pull away or recoil in horror, then you just don't do it again.

            Being a gentleman (and GH can step in and argue with this) isn't about finding some distant, platonic, perfect higher courtly love. Its about showing consideration for the feelings of another human being. Sometimes those feelings are "I wonder if he's interested in me because I would love to get out of here and hump like rabid weasels on meth".

          • Gentleman Horndog

            Quite right. It's all about giving your prospective/actual partner's feelings as much consideration as your own. Recognizing when it is appropriate to shift into Humping-Meth-Weasels-Mode is an important part of being a modern gentleman.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            Also, bit of a digression for the prospective modern gentleman: don't kiss a woman's hand. It doesn't send the message of suave and sophisticated. At best it reads as awkward and outdated. At worst it reminds people of all those creepers at Ren Faire.

          • LeeEsq

            Everybody at the Ren Faire than?*

            *Yes, I have a real low opinion of Ren Faires. There is only so much historical revision and blindness that I can stand. The only lets dress up in costume groups that drive me for batty are the Steam Punkers because you can't ignore all the bad parts of the mid 19th century that easily.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            I have a love/hate relationship with Ren Faires, or more accurately guilds and SCA types. I like the overall idea but its rare to find one that really suits me and doesn't feel old and overdone. Same thing with fire performers, honestly. Steampunk I can deal with. The good ones do acknowledge a lot of the bad things of the era but deliberately rebel against it (hence the "punk"). If anything its a reaction against our own mass produced consumer culture. Let's face it, my own home genre of post-apocalyptia would be a worse place to live than either the 19th or 15th Centuries. Its fun to take the bits you like and build on it, though.

          • LeeEsq

            The main problem with Steam Punkers is that most of them, especially those in masculine garb, should be wearing more somber colors.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            This is going to wind up being a huge tangent if we pursue it but not everyone in the Victorian age lived in London or New York's upper class. Earth tones, which are Steampunk standard issue, were the popular in the working classes of England and America. Even the upper classes were more colorful than most people give them credit for. Do a quick Google Image search for Victorian [country] fashion or check out Gangs Of New York, which made a huge effort at accurate costuming.

          • Delafina

            Steampunk cosplayers don't claim that their costumes are intended to be historically accurate (rather, they're mimicking what some Victorian scifi writers imagined as the future, which obviously didn't actually end up being what the future was like), so what's the problem?

          • Georgia_D

            Actually, for the upper class woman, violently (to the modern eye) clashing trims and bright colours were pretty common outside of mourning. The chemical dies that were being produced during this period were harsher than the plant based ones previously used.

          • LeeEsq

            Everybody likes to play lord or lady but nobody wants to be a leper. Sometimes you do have to throw the baby away with the bath water.

          • FormerlyShyGuy


          • enail0_o

            Doesn't like babies, I guess?

          • eselle28

            To me it comes down to awareness. If someone genuinely idealizes whatever era based on their modern day playacting, it comes across as deluded. I don't see the problem with people playing around with some alternate universe version of the era where they pick only the pieces they like and acknowledge they're creating a completely imaginary world, though. It ends up being a fashion show as much as anything else.

          • Joy

            Yeah, I don't really see a problem with this either. I mean, I love pirates, have done so since I was young enough to pretend to be one on the playground. I'm well aware most modern or fictional takes on historical pirates have almost no basis in fact, and that real pirates were, you know, hygienically challenged thieves. Doesn't mean I can't enjoy my idealized fictional pirates.

            (Why yes, I do enjoy Renaissance Fairs.)

          • Gentleman Johnny

            I love the Republic Of Venice with its carnivale, fencing, casinos, merchant princes and such. I'm also a huge fan of its spiritual cousin Braavos. That's not to say that if I had a time machine I'd want to move there. I'm well aware the canals were (and mostly still are) open sewers. I've heard a friend of mine describe the front of The Venetian hotel and casino as "so pretty! Its like Venice without the smell!"

          • Georgia_D

            Me either. We don't have Renaissance Fairs in Australia but I do like the SCA. I don't really have a 'persona' as such so don't consider myself a "lady" and I wear mostly middle-class clothing. I'm well aware it's not the middle-ages or the Renaissance, I just like to make costumes and wear them. The SCA is the best outlet I've found for doing so but I'll take any others I can find along with it!

          • Gentleman Johnny

            Everybody likes to play lord or lady but nobody wants to be a leper.

            I see you've never met Ded Bob's assistant, Smuj.

          • Delafina

            I gather you have no use for scifi or fantasy books or movies, then, either.

          • Ryan

            Plus, you don't know where that hand has been.

          • OtherRoooToo

            "Also, bit of a digression for the prospective modern gentleman: don't kiss a woman's hand. It doesn't send the message of suave and sophisticated. "

            Well … I don't know about that as an ironclad rule (not that any of the guidelines here are, because individuals and cultures are different, which is kind of the point).

            I've experienced that when meeting friends of friends, and/but it's been at certain events, or in certain places – not Ren Faires – and the guys who have done it, they ID with old world cultures or are from different countries and, as a rule, have been very well socially "calibrated" (I think that's the term of art here).

            So there's that.

          • Joy

            I'd agree with that. I think *as a general rule* hand kissing is probably not the best idea, but there are absolutely men who can and do carry it off beautifully (and I personally find it borderline giddy-inducing when they do). It is, however, certainly not for everyone–many of the men who seem most inclined to use it are the ones who are least successful at it–and it is definitely not a Touching 101 move.

          • eselle28

            Yeah, I've seen this done successfully as well, but I'm inclined to classify it as a rock star move – the kind of thing that's likely to work only if you're both extremely well socially calibrated and when the woman in question is already having blushing gigglefits.

            When attempted on a person who's anywhere short of that or by someone who comes across as hungry for sex or touch, it has the potential to completely backfire. I'd say it's a 501 type move, intended only for graduate students of touchy flirting, and only ones who can pull off a specific persona at that.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            Tougher to pull off than a fedora. 🙂

          • Gentleman Johnny

            Ah, see, most of the times I've seen anyone do it, its been people who identify with old world cultures in a way that is wince inducing. My mistake, then. Proceed with caution. 🙂

          • OtherRoooToo

            "Ah, see, most of the times I've seen anyone do it, its been people who identify with old world cultures in a way that is wince inducing."

            *stifles smile*

            "Proceed with caution. 🙂 "


            I'm personally partial when Jay Gonzalez or Pedrito Martinez does it. But they're multiple-award-nominated and -winning artists, so they've … seen and done a lot of stuff, and I'm a fellow musician and giggling fangirl, so there's also that.


          • Gentleman Johnny

            Interestingly, the common theme here seems to be that it works great from someone who the woman in question is already awestruck with. I mean, sure, if I met a Morticia to my Gomez Addams it would probably become a habit but not on first meeting. Then again, I don't have a legion of fan girls who go into giggle fits. . .although a couple of my mask characters do. Hmmmmmm. . . might work well with my stylin' grim reaper.

          • Beth

            Apropos of nothing, Humping Meth Weasels is the name of my next band, or possibly our first album.

          • Gentleman Horndog

            See if you can get Casual Boob Honk as your opener.

          • Then all you need to do is ask before you touch someone. Go halfway through the motion, then pause and say, "Mind if I touch?"

          • LTP_aka_TheWisp

            Hm, couldn't asking before a minor and innocuous touch, and thus drawing attention to it, with someone you don't know well give it an importance that it wouldn't have had otherwise and make it *more* likely to be uncomfortable for the recipient?

          • eselle28

            There are some people who'd rather not be asked and who might find it stilted or a turn off, but I'd say that on average, asking is less likely to lead to a situation that's actually uncomfortable for someone. Another option, especially for those who are risk averse, is to simply wait until you do know someone a little better, making it more likely that asking won't be awkward and that touching that isn't someone's cup of tea will be forgiven.

          • Anything's possible, but I don't think it's worth worrying about.

          • toddsmitts

            Interesting side question for wj, what if one of those "ethereal, ascended beings" (totally gonna steal that, BTW) happened to touch YOU at some point? Say a hand on your knee or hand while a party, maybe a hug, or God forbid, even a kiss on the cheek!?

          • wjmorris3

            I don't remember the last time it happened, but I'd probably recoil quite a bit. After all, I shouldn't be putting myself in that position.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            In a position where someone who's interested in you can touch you?

          • Guest

            Why "shouldn't" you?

          • LeeEsq

            Touching isn't a bad thing but doing it wrong can get the toucher into a bit of trouble or lead to rejection at least. Remember, "a crowded subway is no defense against unlawful sexual conduct." Its easy to see why a guy would want to take a somewhat to very cautious approach to touching dates considering what can go wrong. The guys that seem to be the best at touching are blessed with an inability to consider what can go wrong.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            Or, alternately, an ability to ensure consent either subtly or overtly. This kind of goes back to awkward vs creeper. If you're well calibrated enough to know your hand on the shoulder wasn't well received then you already know better than to escalate to a boob honk with intent. The difference between a friendly touch on the arm as part of flirting and one that's deliberately testing whether or not someone will enforce boundaries is difficult to describe but (IMO) not difficult to perceive.

    • Delafina

      So, er, I assume you're dating because you want to, at some point, have a lover, yes? You understand that if that's your goal, you are going to have to eventually start touching the person, right? These things don't go from no contact at all to sex without anything in between.

      • wjmorris3

        Sex is not the final goal to me; marriage (eventually) is. I couldn't care less about whether I have sex or not.

        • ccmc

          Would your ideal marriage partner also not be interested in having sex? (Because there is no tone of voice, I'll explicitly state that this is an entirely neutral question.)

          • wjmorris3

            One can only hope, that would make things less complicated!

          • ccmc

            Okay, then it seems that your decision to refrain from touching is entirely consistent with the sort of romantic relationship you would like to have. I would, however, encourage you to take a look at the thought patterns underlying the belief that you touching someone would be creepy. I'm not saying that you're "supposed" to desire touch or anything; I just hate to see someone thinking so negatively about themselves.

        • Delafina

          That's fair, assuming you're able to find a wife who's also asexual. But even most asexuals prefer to have some affectionate (platonic) contact.

  • Kylroy

    If ever there was a DNL article that called for the "advanced" tag, this is it.

    • Gentleman Horndog

      Or possibly some sort of "caution" tag? Nothing in here is super difficult or requires a really impressive degree of social calibration, nothing on the level of Doc's article on daylight cold approaches. And if you're looking for physical intimacy, you're going to need to learn to be, well, physically intimate. But it definitely requires a degree of caution if you're new to it, because if you fuck it up badly enough, you're straying into "assault" territory.

  • LeeEsq

    If you need to learn how to touch, take dance lessons. It helped me get over my aversion to touching.

    • Gman

      THIS THIS AND THIS!!! From my current point of view, I have no doubt that dance lessons practically gave me some very important tools that I desperately needed in romantic situations, mostly learning that touching women in a more flirty way isn't something that is inherently wrong. Before dancing, I seriously believed that touching a women in almost any way was something that "assholes" do and that it isn't respectful.

      My first dancing lessons were in Cuban salsa. Boy was I a nervous mess during my first few lessons. But seeing how I was touching other women and how good it dancing made me feel despite the anxiety, I pressed on with it. Eventually, I wound up learning a more sensual dance style known as Bachata – which taught me how to touch in more intimate ways (while still being respectful) and how to develop confidence in my touch and even how to flirt a bit. Even though a lot of what I learned was under the social norms of my dance community (which is a naturally more touchy-feely kind of community to start with), I have no doubt that it helped combat my anxiety in this area

      • LeeEsq

        Salsa as most people learn it was actually invented in the tropics of New York City.

        • LeeEsq

          Note, to the people that gave me negatives. Salsa is derived from Cuban dance but as currently practice was refined or invented by Cuban and Puerto Ricans living in New York City.

      • Falcon

        Last year, my acting class had an end of year performance. My partner (a girl) and I had a 30 minute, single act play which involved some fairly intimate actions – definitely not something you'd get away with doing to someone you had just met, with the possible exception of a sex worker (incidentally, that was exactly what her character was!)

        I was afraid to suggest practising these things during rehearsals because I didn't want to be pushy. However, once she decided to go for it, I was all in. Let's just say that it was the exact opposite of horrible 😉

        What I don't know is what it would take for women to want to do those things with me without being prompted by some script.

        • Gentleman Johnny

          Well first off, rehearsal is rehearsal. Don't be shy beyond a little "so, how we gonna go about this?" On the other hand, the amount of time you have to spend with someone in close quarters when rehearsing is a great chance to get to know them and maybe ask them out after your working relationship is done.

          As far as how to get someone to do things off stage, see. . .well, lots of things in the archive. This article's not a bad start.

          • Falcon

            I think the fact that it was more than just a performance for me (although I did my best to hide those feelings) had something to do with my reservations.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            Yeah, I get that and it was just a school production, so I'm not going to harp on professionalism much but it is important to separate the characters from the actors. You want to believe it in the moment so you've got some real emotion to put out there but be able to back up afterwards.

            Now I'm actually not terribly experienced in trying to turn a stage relationship into a real one. It seems to me that if you asked her out for post-performance drinks, you're both going to want to talk about the show. So you've got a pre-existing bond, no worries about having to work together tomorrow and relationship/sex talk is already on the table. That's a pretty good leg up on your average date.

          • Falcon

            It had nothing to do with the characters – it was hyper-excitement about having an opportunity to get close to a woman physically. I'm sure it's a consequence of a lifetime of deprivation.

            Now I feel like we're drifting a bit too far off-topic. I see the point LeeEsq and Gman were making – engaging in activities that involve physical contact between people can help you overcome some hangups. Just be aware that there may be others you'll still have to face.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            That's sort of what I mean, though. Yes, its having a woman physically close but its like having a woman doctor checking for hernias or something. It doesn't necessarily mean anything. I'm curious now, did you guys get to pick partners and material or was it assigned?

          • Falcon

            It was assigned, but we had the option of backing out if it was too uncomfortable. The teacher thought the role would suit me well – the guy has psychological issues; he visits a sex worker regularly and is under the impression that he has a real relationship with her.

            I understand that it doesn't mean anything, but it's still exciting. My mind wanders and I can't help it. Even just hugging a girl can cause my heart to redline.

            Yes, this sounds like a very emotionally immature and inexperienced person – and I probably am. I don't actually want to feel and act this way, because it's a huge burden for me, but it happens.

            I've taken care to describe everything as accurately as I could, but I tend to have trouble articulating my feelings.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            Nah, its all good and its completely understandable. Trust me, my palms still sweat whenever someone suggest a duet number with me in it. I guess what I'm saying is that sort of thing's a heady mix. If you're going to act on it after the show (and there's no reason not to), you've got an ideal starting place for building chemistry.

      • OtherRoooToo

        Bachata is something that, imo, would need an "advanced" tag on this site.

        Most gringos who try bachata who think they're "super dancers" and "socially calibrated" and think they know what they're doing … don't necessarily really know what they're doing there.

        You throw in mixed cross-cultural cues, and … yeah. That's something that needs a *lot* of Practice Prior to Attempt.

        Approach with Caution.

        • LeeEsq

          If they take a few months of lessons before going on the floor, they will be fine. It requires just about as much caution as the rumba or the tango, two other dances that could get very touchy-feely and closely intimate, The idea that "gringos", which I presume you mean white guys, are inherently unsuitable for bachata and other Latin dancers is insulting. Its like saying people of color can't dance ballroom because the lack European sophistication or some other such drivel. Stereotype, much?

          • OtherRoooToo

            "The idea that "gringos", which I presume you mean white guys, are inherently unsuitable for bachata and other Latin dancers"

            Aaand that's not what I said.

            There's a fairly significant difference between being "inherently unsuitable" for something and refusing to learn anything about the culture(s) surrounding it … and/or thinking you already know everything about the culture surrounding it.

            If you're in a room with an Argentininian, a Dominicano, and a Puertorriqueño, and you start talking about how you think tango and bachata and rhumba (you spelled it wrong, BTW, and you "Anglicized" the spelling, which I count no small irony in context) are pretty much all the same because they're close touchy-feely dances, well … :-/

            I guess in that way one might well equate the first & last things, though; thinking one already knows so much one doesn't need to learn anything else might well make a person "inherently unsuitable" for some things, if that person refuses to budge from that position.

            I'll make sure to let my Latin@ relatives & friends know you see it the way you do, though.

            (Also, you probably don't remember all those things I mentioned – repeatedly – about your attitude and the way you speak to women and interact with them having a potential impact on your dating life and why you might or might not be finding the success you're looking for, do you? Friends tell friends about the way men speak to them. Girls do talk.)

            Thanks for making my points for me.

            You have yourself a nice day.

          • OtherRoooToo

            "If they take a few months of lessons before going on the floor, they will be fine."


            Um, okay.
            You go right on thinking that. *nods*

  • StarlightArcher

    It's tricky, the first touch. I know that for myself I *hate* being touched by strangers. As in hate it like I hate nails on a chalkboard. Anyone who has not been given permission (usually by me touching them first) is immediately put in the "will never touch me again" category if they trip over my body-sanctity boundary. Of course this is my personal mileage, and is why I have a reputation as a frigid bitch.

    When interacting with someone like me, the best first touch would be to simply offer your hand to them. As touches go, it's the most innocuous and to a certain extent trust building. It shows that you're willing to give someone else the power of accepting or declining touch. And it avoids accidentally setting off someone's proximity alarm.

    • Thereal McCoy

      I don't like being touched by strangers or by friends, either. I hate having to hug everyone when I enter or leave a gathering. I just don't get why everyone assumes the default is TOUCH ME. I don't know when I started doing this, but I ask before I hug a new person. And I don't hug often.
      Only established boyfriends get to be handsy with me, and even they have rules.

    • Ghest

      Yes, I'm not really touchy with strangers either. It took me a long time to get comfortable when all my college friends decided we were hugging friends – and some of these were people I had known since grade school! Now I am actually pretty okay with touching in my social circle but not with people I just met or strangers.

      I have a question for the women who regularly post here – have you found it to be true that a guy NOT touching you means you lose interest? This isn't something I have heard in my social circle but I'm wondering if maybe the reaction I would hear instead of "no touching" is just "no chemistry" or "not interested". I hear much more about "creepy touching" for obvious reasons.

      • unicornjackal

        Lady here.

        If I am talking to a guy and flirting with him (and if I am flirting, I am interested), including touches and if he does not reciprocate, I will at some point assume he is not interested.

        But that is after I have touched him first, obviously. So either he is not interested, or he is so uncalibrated he does not understand I would like him to touch me back, both of which are dealbreakers for me.

        The creepy touch is when I am talking to a man, not flirting, not touching, and he starts touching me right out of the blue. Or when a random man just passes by and touches me without saying anything.

        I am a huggy person with people I like. I sometimes use it to telegraph my interest to new guys, because for me being willing to have a full-body hug with a person I have just met, it means I like them a lot. If I do not like someone or do not want them to hug me, but it is insisted on (and I often just let it happen because I don't feel like protesting), I accept a very cursory hug, where our chests are not usually touching. Sometimes I also just say no directly, if I extremely dislike them.

        Hope that was helpful.

        • OtherRoooToo

          What you said.

        • Chazz

          It's a tough one to call though.

          I am a guy who absolutely hates being touched. So I probably wouldn't reciprocate. In fact I might go as far as being turned off by a woman who insists on touching me.

      • AstralDazzle

        I've lived in parts of the U.S. that have some of the biggest personal space gaps in the world, where it's not uncommon that even among couples, touching only happens during designated "affection/sex hours" of the night, in private, or greeting hugs and a kiss. It's changing somewhat, and a lot of people have seemed to get less reserved as they get older, but men have been so reserved, that I, personally, wouldn't lose interest for that alone. I pay more attention to eye contact, facial expression, conversation tone, body language and positioning.

        • adamhunter1223

          Where I live (Minnesota) the only time I've ever seen people get affectionate when there were other people around was the ubiquitous Hallway Makeout (TM) in high school. Otherwise, that is Something One Does Not Do In Public (capitalization for emphasis). Doesn't matter if you're dating or married, it's something that happens behind closed, preferably locked, doors. I've met people from other parts of the country that were much touchier, but it was always really awkward. I had to explain to one guy that putting your hand on the shoulder of some guy you just met might be fine in France (where he'd spent the last five years) but here he was seriously creeping people out and could very literally be setting himself up to get punched.

      • StarlightArcher

        For me personally the quickest way to get me to lose interest will be with poor conversation skills. You can usually get a sense of chemistry through conversation, which can include touch though it's not a requirement. Then again, I'm a cerebral gal; I'm usually looking to see if a guy who can "touch" my intellect far more adeptly than he can my hands.

      • Duval

        Well, I'm a girl who really, really dislikes being casually touched by strangers, so my feelings on this might not be totally typical…but I think that whether a lack of touch implies that someone isn't interested depends a lot on context. For instance, if I touch someone I'm interested in, and they draw away or don't touch me back, I pretty much assume they aren't interested and that I should back off. But in other cases, not touching can build tension, and there are a lot of ways you can read attraction that don't involve touching people. So, like, if they're standing a bit close, or leaning forward as we talk, or making a lot of eye contact, or conspicuously mirroring me, all of those things also signal attraction, and you don't have to be totally glommed onto each other for that to be readable. I kind of prefer this situation, personally, since being touched even in fairly innocuous ways will sometimes make me jump right out of my skin.

      • N3rdyGirl83

        A Girl Here (32 years, some dating history, although not much)

        I know this is pretty old, but I figured I'd add my $0.02 too:

        If it's a first date/I haven't actually gone on a date with the person (i.e. just met the person), I'm generally uncomfortable with touching (although if I touch him, I'll be fine with similar touching back – such as a light touch on the arm).

        If we've gone out more than once and he hasn't attempted to touch me (non-sexually) in anyway, I assume he's not interested (and get really confused if he contacts me afterwards).

        I've had a guy touch my hip to guide me into a room on a first date (which resulted in me freezing up, but thankfully not running away from him), and also a (different) guy barely touch me after about 6 dates and getting pretty close to sleeping with him, but he hadn't even kissed me (glad I didn't go through with that one).

    • Soledad

      I can't help but think about how ironic it is that you wouldn't be compatible with someone who's exactly like you in this regard. IE, if you both have the same touch preferences it would be impossible for either of you to touch the other without turning them off, since the other touching first to signal permission would turn you off.

      Not that there's anything wrong with your preference, it just struck me as interesting.

  • Maximilian

    You forgot to mention latex gloves or hand sanitizer, Doc.

  • Carlos

    touch terrifies me. As friends? Easy. If I’m dancing with you, or if I’m on a date with you? Also, easy. Everything else? Extremely hard. The worst of these is when I’m attracted to a friend. I don’t know how to gauge when I should touch someone, or how to discern between a friendly touch and a flirtatious one.

    I have a friend who gives great hugs. I haven’t noted how they are in the lower-body, but whenever I hug her, she brings my upper-body in tighter. The other day, that same friend lightly scratched my chin while we were talking about how I had lost 45 pounds over the past year and a half. My heart rate shot upwards because no one had done that to me before. I think she’s like this with most of her friends, even if she’s reserved. But a tiny voice in the back of my head says it’s flirtatious, which bugs me to no end.

    • nonA

      Someone can't enjoy flirting if they're reserved?

      A lot of people like to flirt for the sake of flirting. Realize that they're out there, and learn to enjoy the interaction for what it is.

      • Delafina

        Wish I could thumbs-up this more than once. Flirting is, just like good conversation, dancing, etc. enjoyable for its own sake and doesn't have to be goal-directed.

  • trixnix

    A friend of mine has taken to touching women he meets and I personally thing he goes in for the touch far too fast. I once saw him walk across a dancefloor and put his arm around two women who were dancing by themselves and I wanted to shout across that the move he was about to make was a bad idea. He got blown out quite badly and then wanted to leave the club. He's toned it down a bit and now tends to put his hand on the woman's shoulder during the conversation but I still think he's too soon in doing it.

    Another friend of mine is perhaps a little too touchy feely to the point of making women feel uncomfortable. He likes touch and I do remember him trying to playfully tickle me once before getting the distinct impression that if he continued I'd rain down some serious crap on him. Some women don't seem to mind him but I have reports of two women noticing that he tried to get away with touching them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable.

    I participated in the free hugs/hugging total strangers event last week and I found it a fairly weird experience. I don't get positive energy from hugging random strangers. I would have preferred free compliments because at least those could be authentic and genuine and considered. Some people said it felt like I didn't want to hug them and I didn't really. A hug has to mean something for me. An authentic purpose not a nonsense random grab.

    I'm not great at touching women in a flirty way. My first girlfriend had to take my hand and show me where she was okay with being touched by me. I don't really believe in the whole building attraction/creating chemistry stuff because so much of that in my mind tends to happen unconsciously. But I do agree that touch can be a powerful communicator.

    • Beth

      The Doc didn't specifically discuss tickling, but here's my own attitude: anyone who tickles another person without permission is committing assault. I've been hideously ticklish all my life, and it was considered REALLY FUNNY. It's not funny. It's a method of bullying and abuse.

      Remarkably enough, people stopped casually tickling me "for fun" when I started punching them in response "because, sorry, it's an automatic reaction and I just can't prevent myself from doing it, you really shouldn't tickle people without their permission. I hope you can get your glasses fixed/the bruises don't last too long/your nose stops bleeding."

      • Re: tickling-I'm horribly ticklish as well, to the point where some folks seemed to get almost a sadistic pleasure out of tickling me. Fortunately it's nearly disappeared as I've gotten older, but it was pretty rough my first few years of college, where the second a boyfriend found out I was ticklish, he would be poking my sides at every opportunity.

        I remember one time my freshman year I was jeans shopping with my mom, and she had me lift up my shirt a little to see how the jeans sat around my hips. My boyfriend had been tickling me so severely that I had black and blue marks up and down my sides. My mom kinda freaked out a little, haha.

        In short, I am also pretty anti-tickling unless I have already expressly given you permission, and even then I reserve the right to withdraw it. If I say "stop," you better be taking your hands off me immediately. Gentlemen, I'd stay away from the tickling unless you are very, very, *very* sure she is okay with it.

  • Beth

    Doc, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for recognizing just how far on the intimacy scale *hair* is. I'd like to add to that:

    I have very long hair. Very long hair is incredibly out of fashion, and has been for years. My hair being long is a special thing: I've been thumbing my nose at fashion for all those years, refusing to cut it.

    My hair is a special and intimate part of me. ALL my hair, including the ends. Even when it's braided.

    The fastest way to get on my shit list is to pull my hair, or touch it, or pet it, without permission. Even a light tug. Do this, and you might as well have gone for a "boob honk". You'll be lucky if I let you keep the hand.

    But did you notice those words "without permission"?

    Suppose I've been flirting with someone, and he or she says "Your hair is so amazing. May I pet it?" If the flirting has been going well, the answer will probably be "Yes," and woohoo, the other person has just made a major move with flying colours. If the answer is "No," the other person still gets brownie points for having asked before grabbing.

    You see how it goes?

    I have friends who sometimes pet my hair when we're hanging out. I've had lovers who've fetishized it. And I've had total strangers — or, what's actually worse, minor acquaintances — who seemed to think that walking up behind me and yanking my braid was an okay way to say "Hi," and not an assault.

    • A Shy Lady

      Seconded! I wear my hair in a longish braid, and every so often people I barely know will think it's OK to give the braid a friendly tug. But it feels really violating – for me specifically tugging on the braid seems worse than just touching my hair in general (although I can't recall anyone ever doing that) and I'm not sure why – it feels belittling, somehow.

      Seriously, don't pull her hair. This isn't elementary school.

      • unicornjackal

        I used to have hair down to my butt, and my mother's friends and other older people would often touch it without my consent.

        Men have not touched it, but some of them have expressed an attitude like I should keep it long because that is more attractive than having short hair.

        I eventually got tired of having it, and now it just touches my shoulders. I am actually interested in getting a partly-shaved hairstyle, because I think it would look cool and piss people off because holy hell how is a woman daring to have different hair. 😛

        Braid tugging is fucking horrible, I agree. Hair is a very intimate thing and you should always ask. Always. No matter what gender the person is. I think for a lot of people, their scalp is also very sensitive, and for me to allow someone to touch that is also a very intimate thing (because I react by melting a little, usually).

        I would count it as assault, especially since there are countries where that might be a prelude to having one's braid chopped off by a stranger.

    • Cat


      Which is why mine is usually in a bun out of reach. Do Not pull my hair- it wasn't OK in 1st grade, it's not OK now! Yes, my husband's hand is buried in my hair, and yes, he earned that privilege. You, no. I'll use it as a whip if you try.

    • Empty_spaces

      The worst response from a girl I flirted with I ever got, was when I touched her hair without permission.

      What I learned was, that even when people have interesting hair (in this case multicolor including blue), they certainly don't want you to touch their hair.

      Better learning this from a blog than from exprience….

    • StarlightArcher

      So much this! Hair is sacred folks, the only people allowed to touch it are those given express enthusiastic consent. Treat it like you would sexual contact, just with more clothes on.

      The loudest I ever screamed in my life was in college, when a guy thought it would be cute to grab one of my pigtails and start walking in the opposite direction. Sure he thought he was being cute, people inside the blast radius of my outraged shrieking thought he was being cute. My scalp and all the hair roots that he nearly tore out absolutely disagreed with him. Yet somehow it's always the woman who's the dramatic bitch for being incensed and having a legitimately horrified reaction to a truly invasive experience.

    • adamhunter1223

      I totally understand this. I'm a guy, and I keep my hair shortish so it isn't nearly as big a focal point as it could be, but I've had people ruffle my hair (because apparently doing it to a guy whose not only in his twenties but over six feet tall is funny) and it's beyond infuriating. In fact, the last time it happened (an idiot from one of my college classes) was the closest I've ever gotten to physically attacking someone.

  • Gentleman Horndog

    "No man out there is going to get away with the casual boob-honk."

    YESSSSS! *phrase-coinage fist pump*

    Now all I have to do is keep encouraging people to use "casual boob-honk" in the context of "appallingly terrible idea."

    • Gentleman Johnny

      I didn't mean anything by it. It was just a CASUAL boob honk! Its not like it was a boob honk with intent!

  • Henry Gorman

    When it comes to touch, I've often found that with a person you don't know well, asking can be a good idea. You can either do this explicitly (say,extend a hand), or implicitly (use your words!). I've found that this actually works really well in practice. It shows that you're going to be really respectful of the other person's boundaries, and a lot of people seem to think that it's adorable. It works especially well if you're earnest and emotionally open.

    • Gentleman Horndog

      Also, for some women (particularly, it seems, ones with a submissive streak), compelling her to admit she wants something physical to happen can be one hell of an erotic charge. (I imagine it's true of some men as well, but that's outside my experience.) With the right woman, the right context, and the right timing, "Would you like to be kissed?" can damn near melt her before you so much as touch her.

      • Gentleman Johnny

        I had to ponder that one for a second and while I agree, now you're getting into the real advanced stuff. Getting that charge is a completely different type of asking. Its a great idea but one that requires even more calibration than knowing when to go for a kiss in the first place.

        • Iris_8

          I think one of the most important things to notice there is the difference between "May I kiss you?" and "Would you like to be kissed?"

          The first is asking permission for what you want, the second is asking what she wants. The idea is, rather than asking for a kiss, you are offering one.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            Well yeah, but the way I read GH's idea, well, it'd read as a lot more than just asking what she wants the way I was picturing it. Something much more along the lines of leaning in, pulling back and asking "would you like to be kissed?" (when you're already all but sure what the answer is), playfully implying that maybe you won't kiss her after all.

          • Henry Gorman

            I've used both of these formulations myself, for various kinds of touch. I prefer to use the latter, but usually only once I feel very well-calibrated with the other person– if you aren't already pretty sure that the other person wants it, it comes off as presumptuous.

          • Jes

            I'm sure it varies between people but I'm liking this "Would you like to be kissed?" business a lot more than "May I kiss you, m'lady?"

    • Henry Gorman

      Gah, switch "explicitly" and "implicitly" in this post!

  • Hambleton

    I hate being touched because my body is gross and most of the human contact I had growing up is when I'd get the ever loving shit kicked out of me.

  • A Shy Lady

    Been reading for a while but this is my first time commenting, and I wanted to bring up something that isn't really spelled out in the article: women aren't born knowing the rules to this touching game either. So if she's shy, inexperienced, not used to being touched, or all of the above, she isn't necessarily going to react to you touching her arm or whatever with the perfect flirty textbook reaction. She might even tense up/seem startled for a second.

    You should definitely still back off when this happens, but I guess my point is that having to back off once isn't necessarily game over. Watch her body language – if she starts doing things like moving closer to you, leaning in when you talk, and kind of leaving her hand sort of obviously where it would be easy for you to touch it, it likely means your interest surprised her but she wants you to do it again.

    In my case, this behavior was never about playing hard to get – I was genuinely startled by the expression of interest from a guy I was talking to (it doesn't happen very often) and was afraid that I was misinterpreting it, so I tried to give him what I hoped was an obvious opening to do it again if he really meant it. And there was a lot of internalized socialization telling me that reaching out to touch him would be Too Aggressive.

    • Guest

      Another Shy Lady here! Yup exactly. Especially the last paragraph. I just assumed that it had to all be in my head, that there was no way a guy would actually ever want to flirt with me so I'd get embarrassed and pull away like I had someone offended him. I know it doesn't make much sense, but I really didn't know what to do so assumed I should just make things as neutral as possible between us because clearly he touched me by mistake and was now worried he had made me think he was into me when he wasn't.

    • Guest

      Absolutely right! The responses described in the article would be from a woman who has a high level of social calibration. Social calibration is something women have to learn as much as men, and there are many women who are going to be struggling just as much as you are with trying to read the situation and respond appropriately. Especially if she's interested in you! Even then, don't treat Doc's advice as a formula, like "Touch A + Response B = Specific Outcome." Remember you are dealing with a real, individual person, not a statistic, which is really the whole point of the article, IMO — be aware of what you are doing and how the other person responds to that.

    • Joy

      Are you me? This was bothering me a bit when reading this article, but I wasn't able to articulate why to my satisfaction. But yes, all of this.

    • Gentleman Johnny

      Its not game over. Its back up and make sure everyone is comfortable. As you get closer to someone, whether in a night or a year, boundaries move. What you (guy who needs advice) don't do is escalate physically. Use your words, step back and re-assess how she feels, make it more obvious how you feel then (assuming you're still getting signs of interest) try again without being more intimate than last time.

    • For me it's not even that I'm particularly shy, when I was younger I was just not very good at knowing where my own boundaries were at all. I tended towards the opposite response, rather than tense up immediately or pull away, I'd let things slide for longer than I was ultimately comfortable with.

      I mean literally I have memories of myself staring at someone's hand on my thigh blankly and thinking "is this okay? am i okay with this? wow its been going on a while how do i make it stop. did he just squeeze my knee. holy shit." and then finding myself having to think of an excuse to get the hell out and panic in private (which I did).

      I dunno, I guess on that note I'm really glad the doc mentioned how the whole frog in boiling water technique is -bad-. While that was happening I had my arms tucked in close to my body and was not encouraging touch physically or verbally, so had the dude been reading social cues he coulda seen that I wasn't into it. We were both dumb high schoolers, though, so he was probably as shit at reading social cues as I was at giving them. (I later stopped talking to him because I couldn't have a conversation with him that didn't somehow end up about my breasts. So. There is that.)

    • Delafina

      Yeah, I have a bunch of friends who touch often, but I wasn't used to it when I first started hanging out with them, and even the types of touch I welcomed and enjoyed (e.g. I had a female friend who clutched my arm during a scary part in a movie, and one who tends to sit cross-legged with her knee touching mine, and another who tends to lean against me when she's laughing — all of which made me feel close to them and affectionate and trusting/trusted) often startled me and made me jump the first few times they happened.

      Of course, I tried to communicate after the initial startle reaction that I was fine with it, by touching them back, but the initial reaction would have read as a negative.

  • TheWisp

    Reading these comments, I'm frustrated by how every woman seems to have different standards for touching and *there is no way to know what they are until you test it out and take a risk*. Some women are horribly offended if you touch them even in an innocuous way without asking explicit permission, and will write you off immediately. Others expect touch and expect *you* to initiate it without asking permission, and if not then they consider the interaction platonic and boring.

    • ccmc

      Yes, two people who are not the same person have different preferences. I get that learning dating skills is frustrating, but it's not on women to all be the same so it will be less frustrating for you.

      • LTP_aka_TheWisp

        It's not so much that women aren't the same, it's that women seem to get angry at men for not psychically knowing their individual preferences. See the women above who said they would immediately write off a man who touched them even innocuously without explicit verbal permission.

        • eselle28

          Not everyone in the dating pool is a good match for you. Your options are to play it very safe and always ask, or to engage in a little mild touching when the vibes seem right and understand that some women may dislike that and choose to write you off because of it.

          The same applies to cursing, dirty jokes, being more blunt than tactful, and pretty much anything that isn't completely proper. Sometimes you do things in dating that turn the other person off – and men have these boundaries too.

          • enail0_o

            This! It's basically how human interaction in general works. There's a base acceptable range of behaviors, and within that, some people will like things at one end and others at the other.

            I think sometimes it comes off like interacting with women for dating has all these strange, unpredictable rules because we just don't usually discuss how one interacts with people in general in this level of detail, but it's really pretty much the same.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            Dating – like friends but with more groping. 😀

        • Delafina

          No, we get angry at men for not observationally respecting our boundaries.

          I'm not going to get angry at a guy for touching my shoulder to get my attention, but if I freeze up and move away, and he keeps doing it, then either he doesn't *care* about my boundaries (in which case he's a creeper and I don't want anything to do with him), or he's either too self-absorbed or too poorly socially calibrated to *notice* my boundaries (in which case I also don't want anything to do with him.

          Assuming you're not doing something that's wildly out of the acceptable range of behaviors between strangers (such as touching my chest), most women aren't going to get angry at you for doing it once. (If you do it once, get a negative response, and don't do it again, most women aren't even going to remember that you did it the first time, because the try-negative feedback-stop pattern is so normal that it doesn't stick out.) It's when you ignore that feedback that people get upset, and there's nothing psychic about that.

    • OtherRoooToo

      "I'm frustrated by how every woman seems to have different standards for touching and *there is no way to know what they are until you test it out and take a risk*."

      Well, the thing is, dude – we women-creatures? We're not a monolith..

      Different men have different preferences and touch tolerances, too.

      It's like that.

      And the other thing is – something similar was discussed elsewhere – learning to observe differences between humans can mitigate risk.

      But this human interaction and relationship thing? There is no way to eliminate the risk entirely. It can't be done.

      (I mean, you can't do it in AI either; so you might as well learn to do it in this realm, you know? 🙂 )

      • LTP_aka_TheWisp

        I just hate that it seems if a man guesses wrong he seems to be immediately lumped in with [creepers/Nice Guy TM/sexual harasser/entitled jerkass/etc.] instead of being given the benefit of the doubt that he isn't, in fact, a mind reader with malintent.

        • ccmc

          Well, I don't think it's necessarily getting lumped in with horrible people, but it can certainly indicate compatibility. Story time! The other night I was at a bar with a friend. A guy passed me on the way to the back of the bar and as he did he really quick gave me a little tickle right on my bra line near my arm. I kind of jumped, and when I told my friend what happened, she said, "oooh nice! he was cute!" I was like, "um, no. Not how I want a stranger to touch me. Don't care about looks." That guy didn't strike me as a bad guy, however much I didn't want him touching me. I'm sure he had received positive reactions from other people with stuff like that before, and had my friend and I been standing in reversed positions he could have had a nice little flirtatious conversation, but someone who starts with touch before words are even spoken is soooo not the right person for me.

          • LTP_aka_TheWisp

            That seems like a very reasonable reaction! But, I feel like most people aren't self-aware enough to know that there standards are subjective and *not* obvious. There's a big difference between saying you're not compatible and actively being angry at and criticizing men who guess wrong, which many women seem to do (men have similar behaviors, by the way).

            I can certainly imagine many feminist women saying what that guy did to you was straight up sexual harassment and he is a horrible person, while others, like your friend, see it as basic flirting and hot.

          • ccmc

            Yeah, humans do tend to generalize their own preferences. It's a tough temptation to resist.

            I would like to note: both my friend and I are feminists. 🙂

          • Chazz

            I'm surprised your friend would react that way. That is very gross behavior on the part of that guy.

          • Guest

            I dunno, the only time I ever hear of people jumping to such extreme negative conclusions about the opposite gender is online. In person things are far more nuanced. I can't think of the last time someone in my social circle accused someone else of being creepy, let alone anything more predatory.

            Do you find in your not online world, in your personal social circle, that a lot of people are labeled creepy or anything negative? And if so, do you find those to be unwarranted titles?

          • LTP_aka_TheWisp

            If I'm being honest, I don't really have much of an offline social life, so I get most of my impressions from people online.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            Ugh! That's going to give you a very slanted view. Meet people in person. Text gives you 10% or less of what's going on. Don't feel bad if you err on the side of caution for a little while. If someone is interested in you, it might take longer that way but you have to learn to crawl before you can walk.

          • Gentleman Johnny

            I can certainly imagine many feminist women saying what that guy did to you was straight up sexual harassment and he is a horrible person, while others, like your friend, see it as basic flirting and hot.

            Imaginary feminists are the worst but since you're never going to date one (they being imaginary and all), its not really a big deal.

          • adamhunter1223

            Quick Braline Tickle seems like it would be on the same lines as a Casual Boob Honk, as in they're both creepy as fuck.

        • A Shy Lady

          Women often have to make snap judgements about how safe they are with you, and the way you touch them can be big factor in that. We don't owe anyone the benefit of the doubt.

          It can be tough – learning to read body language does kind of feel like mind reading sometimes, and I struggle with it. But I think it's definitely possible to screw it up while you're learning without being forever considered a harasser. I would never describe a guy as "creepy" just because he touched my hand once or twice, but stopped after I moved my hand away.

        • Gentleman Johnny

          Except, as discussed in every Creeper article, he's generally not. If you make a mistake, back up, apologize, don't repeat it and you've likely salvaged it fine.

        • eselle28

          As others are saying, a creeper is someone who doesn't apologize and who usually keeps doing the offensive thing. A more typical reaction to one time negative behavior would be something more like, "Ick, I didn't like that at all. Not that interested in seeing him again." Another would be, "Yeah, not that big of a fan of that. Let's see of he pays attention to my request to knock it off." Only one of those guys gets a second date, but neither gets a universal condemnation.

    • Delafina

      Yes, how frustrating that women are individuals, and there's no cheat code or simple rules to follow for interacting with us.

  • adamhunter1223

    I can see this being a problem for a lot of guys, especially guys raised in families like mine where the overriding message you got about dating was 'women are sacrosanct, act with perfect chivalry or pay the price.' I don't think I'd have a problem returning a touch…maybe, but just the thought of doing the initial touch is making me cringe.

    Personally, I really don't like being touched. At all. I only let family members touch me under extreme duress and even then it's always extremely uncomfortable, so while I can understand (academically anyway) that touch is an important part of dating I have a really hard time envisioning actually doing it myself.

    • Hae

      I can see that straight up touching, such as stroking the forearm with your fingertips, is a brave move. But once you maintain that eye contact, get her smiling, and being more comfortable, tapping her shoulder to get her attention might feel more like the next step.

    • Marco Pura

      I agree with you on all points, especially with regards to family upbringing. Coming to the US (and the BA no less, a rather progressive and sex positive neck of the woods), from a conservative dating culture and old fashioned upbringing has been quite jarring. I was taught etiquette, how to address people, when it's appropriate to open doors and stand up at the table when a lady leaves, where and how to walk with relation to your date, how to listen and be courteous in conversation, but in the end it's all very dry and outmoded when it comes to trying to really connect with a modern woman. The social rules of dating here are much more flexible and less sexist, which is of course, objectively speaking, a good thing, but personally the lack of framework makes me more unsure of my footing. When I know that both parties regard touching as something that comes perhaps in the second date, and heavy touching/kissing coming on the third (and you can forget about sex until much later), then I feel less pressure to "make a move." I worry that my lack of physical chemistry (among other things) makes me come off as too stiff and reserved, too formal and boring in modern Western style dating.

      Like you, I know the importance of touch in an intellectual sense, but I don't really "know it" in my body language and action. I'd know that a hand around the shoulder or holding hands or leaning in etc. etc. is not only acceptable but desirable even on first dates here in SF, but actually initiating those things makes me feel very uncomfortable.

      • Gentleman Johnny

        I was taught etiquette, how to address people, when it's appropriate to open doors and stand up at the table when a lady leaves, where and how to walk with relation to your date, how to listen and be courteous in conversation, but in the end it's all very dry and outmoded when it comes to trying to really connect with a modern woman.

        It is and it isn't. If you're holding a door for whoever's behind you, not just your date, you come off as a decent guy. Walking with your date's hand resting on your arm can play off as very romantic if it doesn't feel forced. Just don't sweat too much whether she's on the right side or not. No one's going ot think she's for sale just because she's between you and the street. Calling everyone "sir" and "ma'am" if you don't know their names is a little outdated in San Francisco but its fine in the South. I do think standing up at the table has completely fallen away from use. Knowing how to listen and be courteous in conversation is gold. It shows you're interested and not full of yourself. The thing is, all of those customs developed over a few centuries where relationships didn't change that much. The reality on the ground had changed more from 1970 to today and from 1940-1970 than it did from 1740-1940. We're all playing catch up.

      • adamhunter1223

        Heh, I never got any formalized instruction, just half-joking reprimands not to be a pervert whenever I was in any way involved with a female roughly my age (I learned really quick not to mention if I ever had school projects that involved working with girls). The gist of it being 'the woman ALWAYS decides when to take things further and absolutely no sexual ANYTHING before the wedding, and maybe even after.' Oh, and also, kissing should really be saved until you're at the altar.

        Add in years and years of the typical nerd school experience (didn't get physically attacked too much thank God, but I sure as hell hated my classmates for years), Asperger's related social issues and anxiety and…well, yeah. Dating probably isn't going to happen anytime soon for me.

  • Jenna

    Two things, from completely different angles….
    I have been on dates that failed to generate chemistry partly because the table between us was just too big. To illustrate, when I am interested in a guy I will try to leave my arm within reach, or lightly touch his arm when making a joke, or telling a story. If the table is so wide that I can’t do those things without leaning waaaay over the table, no contact will be made.

    This week my roommate had a horrible date(her stated opinion). They had arranged a coffee date using okcupid, and on this very first date he walked up, hugged her and kissed her with tongue….
    No, they had never met before.
    She pushed him away and told him that he had gone way too far(for her, that’s a 6th date thing. For me, if I was feeling it, I might kiss a guy like that at the end of a first date. If I felt like it!). He did not get the hint and kept suggesting that she come over to his place for the weekend and a dip in his swimming pool. She kept saying no.
    No. No chance of that.

    So. I get that people are worried about there being no hard and fast rules(on the first date you may go this far, etc. ) but, really, the rule is to pay attention to the person you are with and what makes them comfortable or uncomfortable. Respecting the boundaries of this one person you are with are what is important, not all those people you are not with. If in doubt, ask! I don’t know anyone who requires a date to read minds.
    If, however, you have been told no and you are choosing to not hear it? That’s not being asked to mind read, and at that point you can take a long walk off of a short pier.

  • aaronhalfmaine

    I'm a little bit conflicted here. See, personally, I'm something of a Hugnostic, I get that contact is often a necessary part of human interaction, and that wanting to maintain that 1-metre zone of personal space can come off as a little cold, but at the same time, there's a lot of times that I simply feel uncomfortable hugging/touching anyone, regardless of gender. I know it's ridiculous, but a tiny, primal part of my brain screams "But they Might be a murderer! What if all this is a ploy so they can get close and shank you?!". That said, I can often deal in close and familiar company, because I'm pretty sure that I can either trust them or escape their grasp in a dire situation. (Although there's nothing worse than being in a hug that you can't get out of. NOTHING). Now, I've been trying to get better at this for a fair while now, and these days I can even hug aquaintances without slightly freaking, but I'm often still a little cold. How can I get better at allowing people into my personal space without panicking

    • adamhunter1223

      I'm the same way. I don't even like it when my family does the obligatory we-haven't-seen-each-other-in-a-while hug. Just the thought of going up to someone I haven't known for a long time (as in years) and touching them wigs me out. Just reading this article got my pulse up the point it usually is when I go running…

  • Me

    I would like to comment that context is *very* important when it comes to following the instructions above. And it's vitally important to base your approach on the woman's behaviour – if she's touching you, or giving very flirty touch-me signals you'll get a much better response than if you're just chatting.

    If actually you're on a date with someone, or you're at a venue like a nightclub looking to pick someone up the rules above make sense. If you're talking to someone you like at work or in class, or chatting up someone at the bookstore it's much, much more likely to result in them jumping back and making excuses to leave, right away. If you're Spanish, you're probably going to get away with better than if you're Norwegian, because of the different touch levels in the two cultures.

    Oh, and if you've been drinking, odds are you're touching more aggressively than you think you are. A drunk guy at a party leaning in and touching my bare shoulder while making flirty comments – ew!

    Thinking about it, this kind of touching takes a very well calibrated social sense, and either very good abilities to read other people's body language and reactions, or the asshole approach where you don't care if you make her uncomfortable. If you're being visibly, or even subconsciously awkward about it, or if you step even slightly over the lines of what the woman is comfortable with, it will scare off the person you are hitting on. Getting too close, too aggressively, and it does trigger a fear response, at a very instinctive level.

  • rammspieler

    I think I now understand what the Doc is missing when trying to convey his advice. I often find his advice to be either vague or too abstract. I think someone should try and break down his advice into step-by-step guides and flow charts.

    • Gentleman Johnny

      It'd be nice (well, maybe not) if people were simple enough that you could. The thing is, everyone's different and a lot of it depends on the other person.

    • Mara

      I find it helpful to pick out specific little bits of advice to remember, e.g. “Touch them with your fingertips on their forearm or on the back of their hand when you’re laughing at something they said,” or “Tap on their shoulder with your fingertips when you’re saying, ‘Hey, look at that.'” In this case, those two sorts of things are likely opportunities for breaking the touch barrier, so they’re useful to keep in mind.

  • Soledad

    On the feet and culture thing, my experience with dating women from Hindu cultures has been the direct opposite of the Doc's advice. They told me that feet were considered sacred (they touch the earth, and symbolize your connection to same), and that touching one's feet is considered a sign of respect. Children do it to their parents, for example.

    Obviously, not everyone feels the same way about it, but given that I have a foot fetish and have to screen my dates for compatibility in that regard, it's a topic that comes up early and often. It's usually the white girls who have a problem with it, rare as it is.

  • The last guy I wanted to have kiss me – I stood in front of him with my gaze adverted and my arms crossed over my chest and a wide distance between us. I'm the worst 🙁

    • OtherRoooToo

      Oh, Nichole, nooo! 🙁

      Were you nervous? What were you thinking about?

      • I was nervous because I REALLY liked him – I was scared. I have a hard time trusting people or opening up, and I had just been badly hurt, so how much I liked him freaked me out. I kinda ran away from him for a couple days before I came to my senses.

        Fortunately, he read me like a book. He went slow with me on our next date, touching me in small, romantic ways but giving me time and eventually I made the move to sit next to him and lay one on him when I was ready 🙂

  • I'll add – I didn't EXPECT him to kiss me with that body language, I just wanted him to. I copped to it later, totally owned that I was being awkward and horrible

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  • JustGamblin’

    As much as Ireally appreciated this article, I find how hetero-normative the language is to be a bit disappointing. It’s nothing to do with the advice — It’s brilliant stuff, and think it adapts perfectly to men with men, women with women, women with men, dwarves with elves. It’s just the language takes me out of it a bit. But I guess that’s for the benefit of the Doc’s target audience of straight men, so, eh.

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  • Lannitos

    Ok, so I HAVE to touch her, or it won't go anywhere, but doing so could make her uncomfortable, make her feel unsafe or threatened, and possibly land me in jail, or give me a reputation as a disgusting creep through the entire community, and there don't seem to be any indicators for which outcome it'll be, i'm just expected to instinctively… know, and if I don't i'm a creep and a bad person. I don't understand any of this. It seems like everything to do with dating is some artificial unnatural forced thing involving a contradiction between 'have to do this' and simultaneously 'this is completely unacceptable never do it.'

    Can someone PLEASE help? I don't know what to do.

    • Lannitos

      Seriously, can I get some kind of response from someone, please? this whole idea terrifies me and the repeated assertion that I HAVE TO do it is driving me into a panic. Can't I just not be comfortable with PUTTING MY HANDS ALL OVER someone i've JUST MET/am only on a first date with? Why should that be a universal deal-breaker anyway? And why do I keep hearing from other places it's also creepy to not touch someone you're flirting with, or to not make overtly sexual comments, And then that those things ARE always creepy, and never do them?

      i seriously don't get this. somebody please respond.

      • adamhunter1223

        I'm in the same boat, I Hate getting touched myself, and the only thing I can think of is that if you enter into a dating relationship with someone you've known for a while instead of a cold-approach (which I can't comprehend doing, at all, ever) it's probably okay to wait for a while until you've been on a few dates before you actually make the leap.

      • iliketowalk

        from my limited experience, i can totally verify what DNL says about this subject: you can totally not touch your date if you dont want, but, tipically, in that case the interaction at best becomes purely platonical. its just conversation. It isnt bad in itself, but, if you want something more than just a platonical friendship, you will get bored/frustrated at some point, you will want something more and will not know where even to begin.

        So, if you want something more than that, you must start somehow. I also believed that you just talked on and on with someone until magically, nobody knows how, you and your date ended up kissing/having sex/getting married/happy ever after/whatever, But it just doesnt happen like that. You have, at some point or another, to comunicate that you want something more than just talk.

        How do you do it? Flirting. And, part of flirting is touching a bit (at first at least) the person your interested in. You see, when you like someone, you would like to touch them. And when you touch them (subtly though at first*) you are showing you do have a more physical interest in them. Besides, from my extremely limited experience (i just tried it today the first time), i can tell you, it is pretty stimulating. Luckily she reacted well to it :)… i also liked it quite a bit.

        *But, how to touch so as to not come across as a creep??? Well, in this article, DNL has said that what is considered as less intimate is the upper arm, and touching with the back of your hand. So, the initial touch you should give should be in their upper arm with the back of your hand. This seems the less invasive one, and thus the less likely to come across as creepy. Also, you should start with very short touch… like 1 second or something. This is almost entirely harmless if you are talking with someone.

        But, when to touch???? I think a good moment (or at least, not so creepy) for that is when you want to ask them something (for instance, *hey, what do you do for work?) or something… then again no one can give you the perfect way to do it because there just isnt a perfect way. But this way i think is as not-creepy as it can get.

        Having said that… i think that if you are too unexperienced with women, you should just start talking with them, and forget abouth touching/flirting/banter/whatnot until you are more confident talking with women and have gotten bored of just talk which leads only to more talk. In my own experience, trying to do too much at once is just overwhelming… actually even DNL has said you should focus on very small improvements at a time.

        Hope it helps.

  • iliketowalk

    Excellent advice. Yes, i also got to that point where all i did was talk which only led to more talk and nothing more. And i got pretty bored of it. So, i tried this some days ago… worked out pretty well : )

  • LokiTetch

    the first touch is always going to seem so invasive 🙁