Why do guys wink at guys?
May 3, 2010 10:40 AM   Subscribe

So I originally thought that winking was part of seduction...

I've been working at a new office and several guys in the office wink when they talk to me.

I'm a guy and these people are just regular guys. I don't think it's a "gay" thing, but what could this facial expression communicate?
posted by PowerCat to Human Relations (15 answers total)
posted by Perplexity at 10:42 AM on May 3, 2010

It's a cultural thing. I've encountered it working in a shop run/staffed by Israelis, and it equally weirded me out at first.
posted by griphus at 10:42 AM on May 3, 2010

Oh, and it represented a sort of silent and positive acknowledgment, like a friendly slap on the shoulder. Not necessarily something secret, like in our culture. They'd wink if I, say, did them a favor (getting someone's lunch from a shop) or made a big sale, or sometimes just to say hi.
posted by griphus at 10:45 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have known it to be a non-verbal cue to go along with or elaborate on a prank or lie that is being initiated on the fly.

Like, say you are standing around with two guys, and one guy says to the other, "Hey Bill, what's wrong with your nose? It looks all weird." And then the guy winks at you while Bill is distracted, trying to clue you in that he is trying to put one over on Bill and wants you to help him convince Bill that something is wrong with his nose, or at least to play along.
posted by Menthol at 10:45 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, as a way to make it clear that someone is joking with you when you aren't picking up on something subtle.
posted by Menthol at 10:48 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

A wink can be a silent "amirite" delivered simultaneously with a punchline or shared moment. My sister-in-law does this constantly and it weirded me out until I realized it was just her way of expressing shared humor.
posted by lekvar at 10:57 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

As in the previous thread, you must read Clifford Geertz on when a wink is a wink.

From Wikipedia:

Consider, he says, two boys rapidly contracting the eyelids of their right eyes. In one, this is an involuntary twitch; in the other, a conspiratorial signal to a friend. The two movements are, as movements, identical; from an l-am-a-camera, “phenomenalistic” observation of them alone, one could not tell which was twitch and which was wink, or indeed whether both or either was twitch or wink. Yet the difference, however unphotographable, between a twitch and a wink is vast; as anyone unfortunate enough to have had the first taken for the second knows. The winker is communicating, and indeed communicating in a quite precise and special way: (1) deliberately, (2) to someone in particular, (3) to impart a particular message, (4) according to a socially established code, and (5) without cognizance of the rest of the company. As Ryle points out, the winker has done two things, contracted his eyelids and winked, while the twitcher has done only one, contracted his eyelids. Contracting your eyelids on purpose when there exists a public code in which so doing counts as a conspiratorial signal is winking and a wink is the same thing as a nod to a blind man.
posted by jardinier at 11:11 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

My dentist winks so much that I thought it was a facial tic at first.

It seems to coincide with him saying something goofy. Like, "here is your night guard. I'm sure your husband will find it sexy."

I don't know about the cultural thing -- his last name sounds Italian.
posted by giraffe at 11:15 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some people can't turn off their flirting, either, even when they're not attracted to the gender they're addressing; these people are properly called omniflirts. I suspect they consider flirting a subset of trying to charm people and sometimes forget that they're just in charm mode rather than flirt mode.
posted by theredpen at 11:18 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wink when I know people well and I'm saying something jokey to them. That's all it means -- this is jokey.
posted by bearwife at 11:41 AM on May 3, 2010

It's the physical version of ;-)
posted by barnone at 12:55 PM on May 3, 2010 [6 favorites]

More data points: I know a handful of people -- all guys -- who use a wink to indicate sarcasm or a mild joke. Not a cultural thing, unless the culture in question is whitebread North America.

I've never seen anyone use it as a flirtation or seduction technique in real life.
posted by ook at 1:00 PM on May 3, 2010

Could be involuntary, and could be a twitch or tic caused by the stress of actual verbal communication (some people are real shy).

There are some people I talk to who compulsively lick their lips or stick their tongue out. I find it a little disquieting, but they probably are unaware they are doing it.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:11 PM on May 3, 2010

In one, this is an involuntary twitch; in the other, a conspiratorial signal to a friend. ...

Yet the difference, however unphotographable, between a twitch and a wink is vast;

But despite such separation, there is an unmistakable family resemblance.

Both stem from a normally underground, repressed part of the conversation and maybe even a normally repressed part of the brain (could the boy with the involuntary twitch have a touch of Tourette's, perhaps?).

In your case, PowerCat, if the conversations are taking place where other people in the office can hear them--particularly women-- I'd say these men are letting you know something unsayable is going on under the surface, and offering to let you be part of it.

Be careful; conspiratorial signals occasionally do signal a conspiracy.
posted by jamjam at 5:21 PM on May 3, 2010

Winking all the time is a bit weird, but I've never understood winking to be so narrow as to be confined only to romantic flirting. On the other hand, it does seem to be a gesture that's open to misinterpretation -- both sides of the Wikipedia discussion are addressed in this Seinfeld bit, for instance.

When I think of winking, I think of many non-sexual contexts (appropriate or not), for instance:
* Grandpa to grandson. "Here's $5 for an ice cream -- don't tell your mother!" {wink}
* Driver to cop: "I think I forgot my donation to the Police Benevolent Fund." Hands over wallet. {wink}
* Saleswoman to customer: "If you ask me, this pants suit is you." {wink}
* Singer introducing a parody on stage: "This may sound familiar." {wink}
posted by dhartung at 12:05 AM on May 4, 2010

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