Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Body Language of Competent Men

 Over coffee with a friend last week, we were discussing unfortunate mistakes in males in our pasts, and what she wants to find in the future. (Me, I found a man who's better than I deserve! I hope she may yet find such happiness for herself.) But one thing that came up was how we judge men upon first impressions, including their body language. 

And I realized that while she'd learned the hard way that what the media presents as "strong man who can protect you" generally actually represents "arrogant asshole with control issues", she didn't yet really grok what body language she should be looking for. She had no military background or experience, so most of my explanations were falling far short for lack of common ground.

Thankfully, we live in the age of the internet! I queued up two interviews of Highly Interesting men who'd been there and done that for a living - a retired Chief Warrant 4 who'd been a seal before joining 160th SOAR, and a retired Command Sergeant Major who'd been Delta. And while the content of said interviews was highly interesting (to me, at least, which is why I remembered them), all I really wanted her to do was to see their build and watch the body language. Because if I'm going to be showing examples, go for extremes so it's more obvious, eh?

Very few of the interesting men I've met were heavily muscled - most interesting gents are all whipcord. They range from thin and wiry to built solid, but not obviously heavily muscled (unless you notice that the neck is roughly the same circumference as their head.) The bodybuilder muscles-on-their-muscles look is far less common than the wiry rock-climber or very symmetrical compact swimmer build. 

And as for body language, unlike the macho, arms akimbo, chest puffed out body stance with the aggressive undertones you see in the movies, these two gentlemen were relaxed. Very relaxed. Not slouched, but there was nothing rigid or aggressive in their stances - almost hilariously so in one case, compared to the young army kid doing the interviewing. Both very relaxed, very calm gentlemen were still sitting with their feet positioned in a way that meant they could be out of their seats in a fraction of a second... But relaxed.

They also kept their hands centered and close to their chests when gesturing, and, as my friend noted, they were extremely calm, humble, and understated when talking about being truly interesting places and doing incredibly tough things. I was catching more dry humour than she was due to familiarity with the military, but she caught some of the jokes - and the way that a brief squint of the eyes and tiny lift of the mouth was their version of a broad, teeth-baring grin. And those eyes? They never stopped moving, scanning the environment between checking in with the person they're talking to. 

Because she was watching so closely, she caught the nervous tell on one - and turned to me in amazement. "He's more disturbed by retiring and entering the civilian world than combat?!?!?"

"Well, yeah. Transitioning out of everything you've known into a lack of structure is really tough, and scary." She boggled a little that something so familiar and everyday to her could be scary to someone who's been shot at with malice aforethought, and kept watching.

A minute or two after we'd paused the videos to talk over the astounding difference in what actual men who are tough and competent and protective are like versus the media portrayal, my husband came over and to ask me about something unrelated. As he and I talked, I saw her looking at my Calmer Half as if she'd never really seen him before.

As if she had just noticed for the first time that my darling gent is always very calm, very relaxed. Very. Relaxed. And he's quiet, and humble, and has a very dry, understated sense of humour, and his hands almost always stay centered around his chest even when he's gesturing, and his eyes never stop scanning the environment...

And she looked at me. 

And I smiled. 


  1. Women's body language is useful too, especially to predators. It's easy to pick out the women least likely to fight back, or are at least extremely self-conscious. Women like this seem to turn in on themselves, as if they're shielding their chest cavity.

    How does your friend carry herself?

    1. We're working on shoulders back, head up, and lean in instead of shrink away. Seriously - I think everyone in the group in Tiny Town has probably pulled her aside at one point or another, and tried to make that point. Without even being aware that the others had, because we're like that.

      It'll be a long road for her, but she's getting better!

  2. It is such a wonderful thing to find someone who believes their mate to be better than they deserve - when that mate feels the same way about them... I am sure Your Man says the same thing about you time and again...

    (Love the books, Dorothy! Keep writing, as I hope I have many years to keep reading!)

    Cap'n Jan

    1. It is awesome! And terribly useful, especially when he says things like "You're letting your self-doubt get the best of you. Stop it. I say you're wonderful, and my opinion is the only one that counts."

      Yes, he stopped and grinned at me after saying that, daring me to smack him while he was driving, and knowing I'd break up laughing instead.

      Thanks, and I'll keep writing!