Reality is a complex concept. We think of the world as fundamentally physical and distinguish between the objective physical reality and our perceptions of that reality, our subjective realities. To understand social dynamics, we need another concept of reality: the concept of “social reality”.
In a room full of people, everyone has his or her subjective reality with respect to the social system: the set of social perceptions and judgments he or she holds. The social reality of a group of people is the set of social judgments that the members of the group agree upon. In other words, it is the intersection of the group members’ subjective realities with respect to the social system.
If you look at a girl and she keeps eye contact, this means she is interested in you at some level – and you in her. But this is not the crucial point for further interactions. The crucial point is that you know she is interested and she knows you know (and vice versa). Social reality is a powerful shorthand for describing this mutual consciousness of mutual agreement about a social situation.
The eye contact makes the mutual interest a social reality between you and her (and anyone who sees and understands it). This social reality is what makes it easy to walk up and talk to her.
But perhaps you hesitate before walking up to her after the eye contact. This would show that you don’t believe in the mutual interest indicated by the eye contact. If it is not your subjective reality that there is mutual interest, then it is not social reality. During the eye contact, mutual interest was social reality between you and her. But your hesitation undoes that social reality of mutual interest. If you approach after hesitating, therefore, she will be unresponsive.
Note that this explanation of her unresponsiveness is subtly different from the more conventional notion that your hesitation indicates lack of confidence and thus makes you unattractive. Both explanations have merit. They could be taken to explain different phenomena. But perhaps they explain the same fundamental phenomenon from two different perspectives.
Let’s take a closer look at this. We can intepret the hesitation from two apparently opposite perspectives. We can say, your hesitation shows that you don’t understand the meaning of the eye contact. From this perspective, the eye contact had an objective meaning, but you suffer from a lack of social perceptiveness. Alternatively, we can say that your hesitation shows a lack of proactivity in defining a social reality that is constantly in flux. From this perspective, the eye contact was ambiguous, but opened a window of opportunity for defining social reality, of which you failed to take advantage.
Both of these perspectives parse the social dynamics into discrete events and emphasize opposite influences. In reality, social dynamics is time-continuous and the two perspectives describe a singular phenomenon. Perception and action merge in the singularity of the social moment.
Just as the meaning of interactions in social reality depends on the swift and fluid formation of implicit mutual agreement, so does a person’s social value, i.e. his or her value in social reality. A person that does not project high social value, cannot have high social value, simply because for the high value to be social reality requires agreement of all parties including the person in question.
Recall that social reality is defined as a function of a group of people. In a room full of people, we can say, there are as many social realities as there are (sub)sets of people. Ironically, a person projecting low social value can have high social value among all sets that exclude him or her, but not among any set that includes him.