The New York Times has an article this week that talks about the sociological and biological background of teasing and negging, which I think is really insightful. The author, a professor of Psychology at Berckley, argues that teasing is a natural human behavior, and that, done properly, it helps to build strong social connections between people.
But negging gets a bad rap. It’s seen as rude, or inappropriate in many circumstances. In sensitive situations, teasing is definitely out of line, but in the context of a friendly, social situation, like a date, or meeting a woman in a bar, it’s completely appropriate. Yet a lot of guys feel uncomfortable teasing others, especially women they don’t know well in social circumstances, because they’ve been told not to. The author writes:
The reason teasing is viewed as inherently damaging is that it is too often confused with bullying. But bullying is something different; it’s aggression, pure and simple. Bullies steal, punch, kick, harass and humiliate. Sexual harassers grope, leer and make crude, often threatening passes. They’re pretty ineffectual flirts. By contrast, teasing is a mode of play, no doubt with a sharp edge, in which we provoke to negotiate life’s ambiguities and conflicts. And it is essential to making us fully human.
The false notion that teasing (or negging) is akin to bullying or sexual harassment is something that I regularly have to address, both to media and often to my students. In fact, the New York TImes itself posted something similar a few months ago (See NYT post on Negging). But the fact is, done properly, a good neg is something that makes you feel comfortable and familiar with the people around you, even if it maybe makes you feel a bit less cool than them.
Another thing the author talks about are the cues that we use to show that we’re teasing, and what we’re saying isn’t meant to be taken seriously.
To make it clear when we’re teasing, we use fleeting linguistic acts like alliteration, repetition, rhyming and, above all, exaggeration to signal that we don’t mean precisely what we’re saying.
We also often indicate we are teasing by going off-record with nonverbal gestures: elongated vowels and exaggerated pitch, mock expressions and the iconic wink, well-timed laughs and expressive caricatures. A whiny friend might be teased with a high-pitched imitation or a daughter might mock her obtuse father by mimicking his low-pitched voice.
This is something that a lot of new guys don’t get. If you accept the notion that negs are meant to bring a woman’s value down (a notion that is wrong), you probably want to be taken seriously. Or they just don’t let the girl in on the joke, and therefore she doesn’t find it funny. A good example of this is in Cajun’s Keys to the VIP episode, where Mitch (his opponent/cousin) tells a girl “You look like a cartoon Christina Ricci”. Personally, I think that’s a hilarious neg, but Mitch was way too deadpan and the girl didn’t get it at all.
Anyways, it’s always nice to see the stuff I’m teaching being backed up by real academic research. We don’t call our approach “dating science” for nothing.