Symbolic Interaction and Flirtation

You’re wondering what ‘symbolic interaction’ is, for heaven’s sake, and also what it has to do with flirtation.  Well, I will tell you.  Symbolic Interaction is a sociological term used to describe how people look at things and how it affects their behavior.  For instance, in America, mummies are a symbol of death and fear, so we react in that way.  In Egypt, however, a mummy may just be a historical symbol treated with respect, not repulsion.  So how do mummies translate into flirtation?  No, I am not going to tell you how to flirt with a mummy.  (That would be rather one-sided, if you ask me.)

Symbolic Interaction is part of my sociology class.  My sociology textbook had some interesting things to say about American culture and how people behave.  I am going to share some things from the book below, because you will find that a worldy textbook has some very interesting things to add to what we have already covered.  Please take a moment to read through it as I think it adds some scientific backing to the Biblical concepts we have been discussing.

Touching:  Not only does frequency of touching differ across cultures, but so does the meaning of touching within a culture… An experiment with surgery patients illustrates how touching can have different meanings.  The nurse, whose job it was to tell patients about their upcoming surgery, purposely touched the patients twice, once briefly on the arm when she introduced herself, and then for a full minute on the arm during the instruction period.  When she left, she also shook the patient’s hand…  Men and women reacted differently.  Touching soothed the women patients.  It lowered their blood pressure both before the surgery and for more than an hour afterward.  The men’s blood pressure increased, however.  The experimenters suggest that the men found it harder to acknowledge dependency and fear.  Instead of a comforter, the touch was a threatening reminder of their vulnerability.  Perhaps.  But the answer could be much simpler:  being touched by a pretty nurse aroused the men sexually, which increased their blood pressure… 

Eye Contact:  One way that we protect our personal bubble is by controlling eye contact.  Letting someone gaze into our eyes — unless that person is an eye doctor — can be taken as a sign that we are attracted to that person, and even an invitation to intimacy.  Wanting to become the ‘friendliest store in town’, a chain of supermarkets in Illinois ordered their checkout clerks to make direct eye contact with each customer.  Women clerks complained that men customers were taking their eye contact the wrong way, as an invitation to intimacy.  Management said they were exaggerating.  The clerks’ reply was “We know the kind of looks we’re getting back from men,” and they refused to make direct eye contact with them. 

Smiling:  In the United States, we take it for granted that clerks will smile as they wait on us.  But it isn’t this way in all cultures.  Apparently, Germans aren’t used to smiling clerks, and when Wal-Mart expanded into Germany, it brought its American ways with it.  The company ordered its German clerks to smile at customers.  They did — and the customers complained.  The German customers interpreted smiling as flirting.

Eye Encounters are a fascinating aspect of everyday life.  We use fleeting eye contact for most of our interactions, such as those with clerks or people we pass in the hall between classes.  Just as we reserve our close personal space for intimates, so, too, we reserve lingering eye contact for them. 

Several girls mentioned that they had not thought about the eye contact issue very much.  While I think it is necessary to look someone in the eyes while talking to them, looking ‘deeply’ or maintaining eye contact during a conversation with a man issues a challenge to him.  It signals that you are interested in a more intimate relationship than ‘just friends’.  I think the textbook did a good job showing how our actions can symbolize something totally different than we even intend — which is what flirtation is.

I hope all my readers have enjoyed this study of flirtation.  Rest assured I am learning right along with you!  Our next study will begin on Monday, and I will be covering “Waiting — When Not Dating”.  God Bless!


One Response

  1. Another good post…

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