Yesterday, I mentioned that Leanne Banks talked about the 12 steps to intimacy, which came from Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist's Classic Study of Human Intimacy by Desmond Morris (originally published in 1971). Linda Howard has addressed them as they apply to writing romance. The following is part of a post I did in November, 2008.
1. Eye to body –
This is the sizing up of a potential mate. The woman walks into the room. The man looks at her and decides if she's someone who appears to meet his criteria. Hard wiring suggests he's looking for a mate who appears healthy and able to bear his offspring, but we've all met guys where merely having two X chromosomes is enough. However, if the female doesn't measure up, he moves away.
2. Eye to eye –
Assuming the woman passed muster in step 1, the man will attempt to make eye contact. If the woman averts her eyes, that's a "pull away." The man has the choice of moving on, or perhaps accepting the challenge and trying again. Be aware that a fixed gaze can also be viewed as threat behavior, so there's more fodder for the push-pull.
3. Voice to voice –
If she's accepted his gaze (and, by the way, the woman is doing the same kind of sizing up at the same time), the next step is to strike up a conversation. You want to pull them apart, perhaps your hero uses the pickup line from hell, tells a bad joke, or is a "me me me" conversationalist.
4. Hand to hand (or arm) –
The very first step in physical contact. This is the step where intimacy begins. Allowing someone to touch is a measure of trust. The woman is accepting some vulnerability here. Touching signals to others that there's a 'couple' forming.
5. Arm to shoulder—
Putting an arm around the woman's shoulder (what teenager in a movie theater hasn't tried that move?) Holding hands still allows keeping some distance, but an arm around the shoulder draws the couple closer on a physical level. Trust continues to build. Again, if the woman pulls away, you've created some tension. She may not be ready for this step yet.
6. Arm to waist, or back—
Here, if the woman is put off by the man, she'll move away, often unconsciously. If he puts a hand at the small of her back, she may increase her pace to move out of reach. Arms around the waist show a growing familiarity and comfort in the relationship.
7. Mouth to mouth-
Kissing. The first kiss is a milestone in any romance novel. Both parties are vulnerable. Look at the romance books you've read and see how many of these 'first kiss' encounters are cut short. The author is creating tension by pulling the characters apart. How is the kiss described? Is the author pushing the characters together with their reactions to the sensations?
8. Hand to head-
This is done by both men and women. Whereas the initial kiss may have been only a touching of lips, as the relationship develops, the woman may run her fingers through the man's hair. The man may cradle the woman's face. Allowing someone to touch one's head shows a deepening trust. Does the woman allow the touch, or does she pull away?
9. Hand to body—
This step moves the couple into the beginnings of foreplay. This is another area where the author is likely to use the external plot to pull the characters apart. The phone rings. Someone knocks on the door. However, it's still quite possible for the emotional pull-apart. Is the character having second thoughts? Is there too much guilt?
10. Mouth to breast—
This step shows a great deal of trust. It's still possible for the woman to pull back, although this is another step along the foreplay route.
11. Hand to genitals—
Most of the time, this is the point at which there's no turning back. The commitment has been made. If the woman does change her mind, it will be very frustrating for the male (a MAJOR conflict). It's also likely to label the woman as a "tease".
12. Genitals to genitals—
This is the sex act. It may happen on or off the page. However by now, the reader should be at least as anxious for the relationship to be consummated as the characters are. Perhaps more.