By Ken Gross, a local therapist who supports our ministry.
Grooming, in the context of dealing with the problems of male broken intimacy, refers to an
often unconscious process whereby a man connects in intimate ways with a potential affair
partner with a view to taking things further at a later date. Here are some basic truths about
- It is always relational in nature, even if the relationships developed don’t have serious
depth or staying power.
- It is mostly long term in nature, but can be short-term when sexual conquest is the
- It is always motivated by the groomer’s need to fill some form of intimacy deficit they
have; this makes all grooming self-centered.
- When a groomer is in an intimate relationship with another, married or not, grooming is
an activity of betrayal of their partner.
Here are some common grooming behaviors:
- Flirting. This is defined as a social, and sometimes sexual, pursuit of another person for
romantic/relational purposes. Flirting can be a light or soft method of connecting with a
potential partner that may inform the flirter of an interest, or lack of it, in taking things
further. If the potential partner responds back by flirting themselves, the original flirter
understands this as a “go” signal. Immediate flirting back can be with a smile, a verbal
comment or some other obvious body language communication; it may also occur later
through emails, texts or a physical reconnection within a day or two. Light flirting is a
relatively safe way of learning if a potential partner is interested, although the depth of that
interest is probably unknown.
Heavier flirting may involve adding combinations of verbal, visual and electronic
communication, and can seem like a campaign to attract another person. Flirting is often the
first stage in the development of an affair.
Some men who struggle with intimacy deficits are constantly looking for potential partners
and engage in flirting as a normal part of their daily activities. They will flirt with almost
anybody without regard to age, color, ethnic group, marital status or physical attractiveness.
Men who are married, and have one or more affair partners as well, will often flirt to keep
their potential future partner list as full as possible.
- Dripping. Dripping is a term borrowed from the world of marketing. It is a long term
methodology of developing a potential affair partner. The dripper will engage his target in
small and/or short conversations about any and all subjects. The objective is to build a
history or pattern of communication with the potential partner over a reasonable period of
time. Typically it will involve a combination of engineered and chance meetings so that
nobody will be able to detect a pattern. Visits to the coffee pot at work, walking past a target
person’s desk, leaving on the same elevator, crossing paths in a social setting etc. are ways
one can stop for a moment and discuss something. The key is the frequent non-threatening conversations that lead to the sense in both parties that they have a connection and can talk about many things. A good dripper can deceive a target person into the belief that the two of them have a set of similar beliefs and values. A dripper and their target would be likely to call each other friends.
- Touch. In a sense touching is another form of dripping. A groomer will sometimes touch a
person they are interested in to see their reaction. It could be a pat on the back, a flicking of
an imaginary piece of fluff off their sleeve, a sideways hug or a gentle placing of the palm on
the lower back – almost any non-sexual touch would qualify. If the touch is deemed
accepted by the groomer, they will then have a piece of data in their mind that will set the
stage for more touch, plus other things such as intimate conversations.
- Intimate Conversations (IC). The phrase “intimate conversations” can mean many things.
In our context of grooming the meaning is that a groomer will lead a series of conversations
with his target from a shallow place to a deeper emotional level over a period of time.
An IC series typically begins with innocuous interactions about mundane things; weather,
sports, the office gossip, maybe even religion or politics. The groomer has his IC antenna up
for an entry point. An entry point is something personal that a target person reveals about
themselves or the people that are close to them. Examples might be:
– A comment about gaining weight over the holidays.
– An angry statement about something annoying their partner did.
– A revelation about a child’s behavior.
– An assertion that they feel abused by someone.
Whatever is said by the target person is personal enough to begin discussions that have a
more emotional tone to them as compared to an intellectual, but not deep, run-of-the mill
dialog that is typical in social conversations.
At this point the door has been opened for the groomer to go deeper. A skilled groomer can
combine a good use of words and body language to suck their target right in. Words like “I
feel your pain” and “you must feel abandoned” are examples. The very skilled groomer will
attempt to get the IC to deeper levels; they will say something like, “What are you going to
do with that pain?” Competent groomers will not attempt to go too far too soon; instead they
will leave room for reacquiring the deep conversation later so they can combine dripping and
possibly touch with the IC series.
Whereas dripping can sometimes include other people who randomly appear at conversation
sites; ICs always occur as one-on-one confidential interactions. These are private
conversations, designed and used by the groomer to deepen the budding relationship while at
the same time working to isolate the potential partner.
- Hooking up. This is included here as it is possible to consider this behavior as a grooming
activity. It may be better to simply call this animalistic activity because there is little attempt to actually have a relationship. The usual objective of hooking-up is sexual conquest or gratification, and both parties have a part in it. Hooking up is seen at events like college parties, concerts or swingers clubs. It is common at adult book stores, and can be seen if one knows what to look for, at public places such as sporting events, malls, churches, bars and other crowded spaces. Same-sex hooking up is often seen occurring within those public places as there is a bigger pool of possible targets and anonymity is somewhat achievable if desired.
- Chance meetings. One obscure grooming technique is the “chance” meeting. When one
person is grooming another there is at least a minimal relationship established at some point
where the groomer determines he has attracted the target. However, he has a problem, there
may not be a mechanism for him to interact with the target to proceed with the grooming.
The groomer therefore has to create a series of chance meetings.
The groomer in this situation has to observe his target and possibly even stalk them to a
certain extent so that he can determine the target’s routines. Once these are known, the
groomer can arrange for himself to be where he expects the target to be. Ideally the target
will bump into the groomer at a selected site where the groomer is waiting, so that the target
has no unease about being followed. This would typically occur in a social setting where
there is some sense of safety; examples would be the mall, a coffee shop, church or the gym.
The groomer and his target would then meet by chance (from the target’s viewpoint) over a
period of time and the groomer would try to connect in deeper ways and may use a
combination of flirting and dripping in an attempt to get things going.
In chance meetings the groomer might say things like, “We meet again, it seems like we
enjoy the same things.” From the groomer’s perspective it is even better if the target says
such things, because they have then recognized and falsely assumed that fate has brought the
two of them together. For the vulnerable (which the groomer would likely not be in a
position to know) target this can be a powerful hidden force that moves them toward the
Grooming activity from men who struggle with intimacy deficits can range from being subtle
and even unconscious activity, to being overt, obvious to most people and manipulative. It is
always about getting what the groomer perceives they “need.”
An intimacy deficit is a state of being where a person has a relational/intimacy need that is not
being met in their lives. An example might be where a man has a high need for respect so he
works very hard at his job to earn that. For a groomer, it could be that he has a high need for
affection, and he doesn’t believe his current partner is meeting that need, so he seeks it in illicit
relationships with several partners.
Using the definitions on the preceding pages answer the following questions by circling your
I believe I have groomed by flirting: Yes No
I have been told by my partner that I flirt: Yes No
I have been told by more than one person I flirt: Yes No
I believe I have groomed by dripping: Yes No
My partner has told me that I seem to talk a lot to certain people: Yes No
I believe I have groomed by touching: Yes No
My partner has noticed and commented on my touching activity: Yes No
Others have noticed and commented on my touching activity: Yes No
I know I have indulged in Intimate Conversations: Yes No
My partner has noticed and commented on ICs they have seen: Yes No
Others have commented on how close I seem to be to certain others: Yes No
I have hooked up several times in my past: Yes No
I have created chance meetings in my past: Yes No
At least one person has accused me of stalking in my life: Yes No
Would you consider yourself an active groomer in your past? Yes No
Do you believe you are at risk of continuing this behavior in the future? Yes No
Write down in your own words what this questionnaire tells you about your past behavior and
your potential to engage in grooming in the future.