16 June 2012

Men wink at me

And it annoys me. Immensely. Except when it sends my heart racing and I smile like an idiot for the rest of the day. And perhaps even then. Most of the time it annoys me.

Today I shall philosopher a bit about winking. Why do people do it, what do they want to tell the world, and why do winkers generally seem to be men?

Now, much has been written about this topic (just try googling it), and I have done a bit of research besides my involuntary fieldwork (being female in Barcelona). Below I will present to you some of my most important findings.

First, the statistics, after the jump.

Demography of the winkers

Male. Male, male, male. I have never had women winking at me, though a friend of mine informs that she was once winked at by an attractive woman in Paris. For me, though, winkers have invariably been male.

Guys who wink at me
  • the guy at the cafeteria where I buy my lunch. (It began freaking me out after a while, and I began paying attention to it in general, and they all seem to wink at all females customers. Perhaps it's part of the job description?)
  • co-workers (young males seem to be the general indicator here, never had my boss winking at me (thank goodness...))
  • guys working at other places (say, I go to a small shop to buy coconut milk, and I'll be awarded with a wink on my way out)
  • guys on the street (this is rarer though, but that might be explained with me deliberately ignoring people around me when outside)

Age range
Anything between ”my age” and ”people who could be my grandfather”. No conclusive evidence.

Who is being winked at?

A super rapid survey among flatmates and friends indicates young and female as common denominators. (If any guys have been winked at, please let me know in the comments! I'm most interested.)

The history of winking

According to one theory, it has happened since the dawn of time: ”I think it dates back to our evolution ”. Another one goes that it comes from the times of Babylon.
Wikipedia has no clue, nor does google, and to be frank, I don't really care that much about it anyway. On to the next point.

The significance
According to Wikipedia  it can mean loads of things, but basically either complicity or sexual interest. Well.. romantic interest. Flirting, but:They're feeling the need to generate a positive or negative response from you before they verbally approach you, it's a sign of nervousness. Oh. Nervousness. Really? (not buying that one)
In Japan it's an offensive gesture, according to hearsay, indicating that someone wants to get raunchy with a woman. Wanting to get ”raunchy” with a woman I also interpret as sexual interest, though. So perhaps the difference is just the general prevalence and social acceptance of sexually propositioning women. I shan't go further into that here.
Science having been made clear, I will go more into my personal experience in the following part.

Apparent reasons for winking

Whether complicity or flirting, I invariably experience winking as somewhat patronising. ”I know something someone else doesn't” or ”I consider you available for me flirting with you”. Sometimes it was as if the winker were an older brother, but that is also patronising, isn't it? Particularly when the winker is not one's older brother.
I don't remember having received complicity-winks since I was perhaps 10 or so, so I'm more interested in the other ones. 

Often a wink for me provokes more questions than certainty.
Saying hello to a co-worker in the elevator sometimes results in a wink, for no apparent reason. I'm not flirting with the guy, is he flirting with me? Do people think we flirt? Do they think I'm an idiot for not telling him to cut it out? Do they think it's okay?
In the café, when I buy lunch, and the waiter wink, it makes me wonder. Is he flirting with me in particular? Or with everybody? And why on earth anyway? Am I misinterpreting something?
My general reaction often amounts to: what makes you think you have the right to do that?

Some readers might object and say, don't women wink as much?
Except for the above mentioned example, I haven't come across it, and I personally don't do it. Google doesn't present it as that common either.
It's not that I'm physically incapable of winking, and I usually get it right in the first try if I wish to blink with only one eye. However, I have never managed (consciously at least) to make a suggestive and daring wink that sets somebody's heart on fire. I never tried either, so that might explain it though.

On a side note, there's also the virtual version: ;)
I take this easier, though I often personally use it as something like “silly you” or “you should know that”. And perhaps tend to take it as such as well.
The sense “what I'm writing is a joke, just to make it clear should you be in doubt” also indicates that the reader might not be able to get that on his or her own. From some people I can accept a ;), from others it annoys me senseless. Some people ignore it if I write one, others explicitly state that I should not ;) them.
After all, it can be a bit patronising at times.

Back to the real life version. The theories I mentioned go “secret sign between two people”, implicitly: no one else notices. I beg to differ.
When you in the middle of a conversation interrupt eyecontact to wink to the girl passing by, your conversation partner will notice. (A particular situation like this still mortifies me, weeks later.)
If you're six people in the elevator and someone starts winking, the people around you notice, too.
People might also notice because I suddenly get a scandalised look on my face. Because, yes. It scandalises me. 

Part of the reason for that may be that it makes me doubt the situation I am in, and I don't like that. But I also claim the right to have an influence on the situation, and I feel winking to a degree takes that away from me. I take the real-life wink as an expression of a male's belief in the right to flirt with anybody at whatever time he finds it appropiate.

Short version: don't wink at me.

Readers, what do you think? Have you winked? Been winked at? What did it make you think or feel? Let me know in the comments!


  1. In an attempt to defend all the nice men who have winked at me, I tend to think that it's more like a subconscious flirting,( at least in a coffee shop) something that people don't really realise, therefore most of the times (esüecially in the case of a coffee shop or local store) you should just let it go. It's nothing sexual, nothing patronizing, it's nothing at all ( in the case of a coffee shop it could be rather seen as the description of a job, to make client's day a bit nicer, or a way to let a client know that the barmen is not just a coffee machine, giving you your next latte and doing so every day, it makes visiting a coffee shop seem a bit more like an experience of an "human exchange" - someone noticed you in this world where people just pass each other by, without giving a damn about others, yet it's as meaningless as American "how are you") I don't wink at people, but when I work at the coffee shop I just use the smile, for the same reasons following the same logic. I have to agree with you that tehere are also lot's of cases of taht annoying winking, where a man is patronizing you, and there you are allowed to be seriously annoyed and show your contempt, I do the same.

  2. Thanks for your comment, and I definitely see your point. However, even when working in a coffee shop with the same every day, there's a choice in *how* to be personal; as you say, you used to smile. Whatever someone personally means with winking, it still carries an enormous baggage of subtext that other things don't, so choosing this picks from that context, whether you want to or not. And it's also a thing that I saw guys to at girls (in the coffeeshop context), not guys at guys, so these people knew very well what it signified. A simple smile would have done the trick and been less potentially patronising. What I'm asking for, I guess, is also more consciousness about why we do what we do, even in these small things