It’s an old cliche that 90% of communication is non-verbal, but it’s true. So much of how we communicate intent and meaning to others is through our actions and our body language rather than our words. What you say and how you say it are two different things; in fact, tone and expression can alter the meaning of the words you use. How many times have you been talking to someone and they assumed you meant something entirely different from what you said because of your “tone”… a tone that you were totally unaware of?
Just because you think you’re saying something clearly doesn’t mean that it’s coming across the way that you intended. Your words – and by association, your intent – carry less weight when your tone and non-verbal cues completely contradict them. And while you may not realize it, this inherent contradiction can be hindering your interactions with women. After all, if a woman is hearing a different message than the one you’re trying to convey, she’s going to be less likely to want to see you again.
It’s a common problem amongst guys – we tend to be less emotionally expressive than women, especially with respect to our voice and body language. But while we’re socialized that stoicism and emotional steadiness is a good thing, it cripples our ability to connect with women. Women aren’t going to want to date Paddy O’Solemn – they want someone who they can connect with on an emotional level. If you’re not used to expressing yourself, you are cutting yourself off from a valuable tool for forming that emotional connection women are looking for.
My Po-Po-Po-Poker Face…
One of the recurring issues that hinders communication (and thus, attraction) between men and women is the idea that men are different, emotionally. Men, we are taught, simply aren’t as emotional as women nor do they express themselves the same way. Men are rational and women are emotional, or so goes the traditional “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” cliche.
Not only is this not true, it does men a disservice; men definitely feel their emotions as strongly as women do, we’re just trained from birth that we aren’t supposed to express them. Men are taught that to wear one’s emotions openly is to be “weak” (or worse, feminine). The only “acceptable” emotions to express – the manly, strong ones – are primal: anger, desire and hunger. We aren’t supposed to admit to or express sadness, confusion, vulnerability or fear.
This regularly comes up in pop culture. We’re shown over and over again that cool people are, if not stoic then at least zen to the point of complete detachment. The height of coolness is often expressed by the idea that the appropriate reaction to anything is to be as unreactive as possible, betraying as little of our internal emotional state as we can. The unfazed and impassive man is seen as “cool” and reliable, a pillar of strength; the rubber-faced, expressive man is a volatile and unreliable clown.
Expressing ourselves is reserved for our actions, if at all.
Now to be fair: there are times when this is an extremely useful trait. Keeping a level head and an outward expression of unflappability is a plus for people in leadership positions, for example; seeming to be unsurprised or undisturbed in the face of disaster or dire straits helps to inspire and calm your subordinates.
However, while being unexpressive has its benefits in projecting confidence in the face of adversity, it’s incredibly detrimental when it comes to interpersonal relationships. It hinders communication between men and women and makes it much harder to actually relate to one another.
The difficulty arises in the difference in the way men and women are socialized. While boys are trained at a young age to suppress emotional expression, girls aren’t. In fact, much of the way women communicate is through facial cues, body positioning and eye movements – they quite literally wear their emotions on the surface. This ends up being one of the key reasons why men and women often have such a hard time communicating with one another; by putting such emphasis on being unemotive, we make it difficult for others to relate to us. Important contextual cues are being lost in the translation and we end up misunderstanding one another. You may think that you and your date had a wonderful time, but she had absolutely no idea how to read you.
A Lack Of Expression Is Unsettling
A lack of emotional affect is one that’s often played for comedy; Steven Wright and Ben Stein both have made careers out of being expressionless and impassive. The deadpan snarker is a long-established trope: dropping sarcasm and wit while remaining utterly straight-faced.
However, while that works for a specific effect, it’s utterly disturbing when applied to day to day life.
Imagine talking with someone who is utterly deadpan – stone-faced and serious, speaking in a continuous monotone, even when remarking on how tasty his steak is, or how he felt about the most recent episode of Doctor Who. You would immediately assume that there’s something wrong with him. We’re going to feel uncomfortable around someone who comes across as completely unemotional because of how unnatural it feels. And with good reason – a lack of emotional affect is often symptomatic of issues such as schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder.
But this is, admittedly, an extreme example. Let’s take a look at a more common situation – one that, in fact, has happened to me on more than one occasion.
Whenever I’m asked about the worst dates I’ve ever had, people are inevitably disappointed. They’re expecting epic stories of horrific individuals and mind-numbing, senses-shattering bad behavior and shenanigans worthy of a Farrelly brothers movie… but the absolute worst dates are the ones where there’s absolutely no connection whatsoever, when everything you have to offer is met with seeming stony indifference.
Imagine being on a date with someone who is, while not completely emotionally flat, very unresponsive. Your jokes are met with silence or a slight twitch of the lips that might be a smile, or it might be gas from the lobster bisque. Most of their responses to your stories are monosyllabic grunts – seemingly more intended to show they’re still listening rather than to respond. When they speak, they seem almost detached; there’s no real energy to them and they speak in low, uninflected tones that make them sound… disinterested at best. They’re folded in on themselves, resting their head on their hands while they speak, barely moving; they make next to no gestures with their hands or their face.
And then at the end of the night, they ask if they can see you again next week.
How, exactly, are you supposed to react? By every indication, they’ve just told you that they find you boring at best, a complete and utter waste of a Friday night at the worst… and now they’re asking for another date. You’re now left with a situation where you have to wonder whether you’ve completely misread the entire interaction or if there’s something manifestly wrong with the other person. Either way, it’s an uncomfortable position to find yourself in.
And yet, this is how many guys come across on their dates. No matter how interested and enthusiastic they actually are, their outward appearance suggests that they’d rather be anywhere other than with their dates. So many people are determined to seem “cool” that they don’t realize that what they’re feeling and how they’re coming across are two entirely different things.
The poker face that guys are taught to adopt makes it more difficult for others to read you… and yet, “reading” others is precisely how we connect with other people. It’s difficult and uncomfortable to try to evaluate how others feel about us in a complete vacuum; what are we supposed to think when they say one thing but their tone and expression says another entirely?
Part of building chemistry is to find commonalities and expressing our passion for the things we care about, but the male tendency to try to hold everything back and give away as little as possible in our features makes it next to impossible to build those connections. Even the most fascinating subject in the world can be made boring when the person talking about it seems to not give a shit.
A Fear of Vulnerability
The way men are taught to surpress their emotions is a way of shielding themselves from vulnerability. It’s a way of keeping everybody from realizing that, while you may seem cool and collected on the outside, on the inside you’re a seething morass of emotions, anxieties and fears. Men, after all, are supposed to be “rational”; how are we supposed to maintain credibility if we’re willing to show that we are just as emotional and unsure as women are?
Moreover, we fear being judged and rejected. How many of us fear that our interests – whether we love comic books, b-grade sci-fi movies or even My Little Pony – are so “uncool” that we have to keep them secret for fear that the people we want to date will find out and dump us for being so damn geeky? Even at a time when geeking out over shows like Game of Thrones, Supernatural or Doctor Who is so common that even Buzzfeed is making jokes about it and appropriating terms like OTP (One True Pairing) and Shipping (hoping for two characters to become emotionally involved) from geek culture and Tumblr, people still think that it’s not “cool” to care about something and express your passion for it. The only way to like something is ironically, keeping yourself at least one step removed from it for fear of being a loser for loving something.
And yet, someone who has an unabashed love for something, even something silly, is at their core more confident and ultimately cooler than people who self-censor in an attempt to seem “above it all”. One of my friends has an absolute passion for some of the stupidest movies in existence; she is quite literally one of the only people who has a totally unironic love for Troll 2 and Mac and Me. She’ll cheerfully agree that they’re stupid, badly made movies… but she loves them to death. And when she talks about Hamburger: The Motion Picture or Voyage of the Rock Aliens, her entire face lights up with joy, and her passion is infectious. She’s utterly willing to let others judge her for her taste in movies, she just doesn’t care.
Another of my friends is an avowed beer nerd – get him talking about microbrews or craft brews and he’ll go on for hours… and his love for them is infectious. You may not be a beer person, but you can’t help being carried along by his passion for beers. It can be an utterly boring subject that he loves to a level most people wouldn’t go to, but he’s willing to embrace his passion without reserve or fear of being judged.
Say what you will about Bronies, but they’re willing to love what they love without giving a flying fuck what others think about them.
These are people who are willing to risk others thinking less of them for expressing themselves, for not censoring their emotions or trying to protect their egos by pretending not to care. And that speaks to a greater level of confidence than someone who feels that they have to hide their emotions behind a mask.
How to be More Expressive
There are some areas where men tend to get caught up when it comes to being expressive.
This is a big one. Most men don’t smile nearly enough – in fact, back in my early days, this used to be a sticking point of mine. What I thought of as “my smile” tended to read as a smirk; as a result, most of the women I was talking to either thought I was smug or that I was secretly laughing at them. A big, toothy smile is universally positive – it makes a person instantly more likable and conveys trust, respect and empathy. It also tends to make people much more attractive.
Tone of Voice:
Ever heard someone say “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it?” Your tone of voice conveys as much information and intent as your actual words do. The problem tends to be that guys speak in even, measured tones that they intend to mean “calm” and “in control”. Unfortunately, it usually comes across as a bored monotone. Modulating your voice a little – letting your pitch rise a touch as you talk about something you care about, dropping it when you’re being especially serious (or for comedic effect) can help make you seem more invested in the subject matter… and the person you’re talking to. Think of voice actors – they have to convey emotional content with just pitch and tone. Listen to some of your favorite podcasts, voice over artists and DJs – they change up how they speak on a regular basis.
Your hands are an often overlooked tool for expression. Many guys tend to keep their hands resolutely at their sides or crossed in front of them when they’re speaking. It helps keep you from coming across as “twitchy”, but it also makes you seem as though you’re ultimately uninterested in the person you’re with. You can use your hands in many ways – holding them out for emphasis, gesturing towards your date as a check-in during a story, helping convey size or impact. Just make sure to keep your gestures smooth and controlled rather than quick and jerky – slower, more deliberate movements convey confidence, while short and quick ones read as “nervous twitch”.
Men tend to be very stone-faced when it comes to conversation… and yet, there’s so much value to be found in facial expressions beyond a tight smile and furious anger. One of the reasons for Bruce Campbell’s appeal is how almost absurdly expressive his face is; he conveys so much humor and intent with just the set of his mouth and the arch of his eyebrows. The ability for facial expressions to communicate entire stories and color how our words and emotions come across is amazingly versitile. The most charming people tend to have the most expressive faces because of just how much intent is conveyed by our faces.
A properly timed waggle of the eyebrows can turn a turgid and cliche come-on into a shared joke between two co-conspirators. An eye-roll and a smirk can be used as an effective tease, while a well placed wink can take the sting out of a too-harsh joke. Holding back your emotions and censoring your expressiveness cuts you off from an incredible resource for engaging with women.
You may think you’re being cool. But it’s absolutely ruining your game.
Get a little goofy. Embrace your vulnerability and let your emotions show for once. I think you’ll be surprised by just how much people respond to it.