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Proxemics in Communication and Dating

by eharmony Editorial Team - June 13, 2024

Body language is an intrinsic part of dating, particularly if you want to create a mutually respectful relationship built on trust. Often our non-verbal cues are more honest and effective than our words at communicating and expressing love and affection.

Proxemics in communications is a little-known component of body language but a vital one. Being attuned to it can help you build intimacy faster and establish healthy boundaries.

What are proxemics?

Proxemics in communication is a concept developed by the anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher Edward T Hall, who worked in the fields of personal space and social cohesion. Proxemics’ definition could best be summed up by the notion of people’s inherent need for personal space in social contexts, how they non-verbally regulate these feelings.

One could say it relates to proximity in communication or a simple notion of personal space but it’s more nuanced. Rather it deals with how a person non-verbally relates to socializing and personal space and its effect on communication and relationships.

For instance, how close you let a friend stand to you during a conversation would signal the level of intimacy and trust in your relationship to anyone watching the interaction.   

Types of proxemics

Proxemics in communications breaks down interpersonal space into four distinct zones of proximity during personal interactions.

Public distance

This is the least personal zone, usually greater than 12 feet. This kind of social distance isn’t for any type of personal conversation and is generally a proxemics zone for public speaking, as you’d have to shout to be heard. We often use this distance to feel a greater sense of power or security in a social situation.  

Social distance

This proximity zone is usually reserved for everyday social interaction ranges from 7 to 12 feet. This is the kind of distance you might keep for interacting in retail stores or talking to a stranger. It lets you communicate at a normal volume but creates enough distance so physical contact is still impossible. 

Personal distance

In terms of proxemics in communication, this personal space zone is 1.5 to 4 feet. Sometimes called your bubble, this is the average distance for friends and family. It lets you have a conversation without being heard and is close enough for people to read each other’s body language and exchange gestures like a touch of the arm or shaking someone’s hand.  

Intimate distance

Under 1.5 feet, this is the most intimate of zones, usually a space you’d save for your closest family members, long-time friends and, of course, your partner. At this distance, people can initiate more personal physical interactions such as hugging your friend or kissing your partner. This is also a space where you can detect scent signals in each other.

Proxemics in dating

When considering proxemics in communication in terms of dating, think about when you first meet someone: you might not put them at shouting distance but you may decide to sit across at a restaurant rather than beside or keep a slight distance when you walk together. It can also tell you how the date’s going as the further they decide to stand from you, the less intimate they’re feeling. 

As your relationship deepens, you may find on subsequent dates that they switch to an intimate distance so they can communicate more three-dimensionally with you. Not just to whisper and hug you but also to take in the way you smell, detect more subtle cues in your body language and read the signals in your eye contact.

But as a study from The University of York noted, technological aspects like video chatting have altered proxemics in communication in ways we don’t fully understand yet.1

A woman and a man sitting next to each other. The woman has a cup in her hands and smiles at the guy.

Body Language and Attraction

Proxemics in communications is a little-known component of body language but a vital one. We take a deeper look at body language and signs of attraction and how you can read them.

Proxemics in communication create more respectful relationships

From a romantic perspective, proxemics in nonverbal communication is more applicable, because it’s through these proximity zones that you can not only gauge someone’s attitude toward you but also how you can truly begin to communicate.

If someone gets close enough to touch and notice small gestures, it’s a pretty good sign.  But if they keep you at a personal distance then that might tell you all you need to know about your chances.

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