Where to flirt
Flirting is most socially acceptable at parties, celebrations and social occasions/functions. At some such events (e.g. Christmas/New Year parties) a degree of flirtatious behaviour is not only socially sanctioned, but almost expected.
This is because most parties, celebrations, carnivals and festivals are governed by a special code of behaviour which anthropologists call cultural remission a temporary, structured relaxation of normal social controls and restrictions.
This might just sound like a fancy way of saying letting your hair down, but it isnt. Cultural remission does not mean abandoning all your inhibitions, letting rip and behaving exactly as you please. There are rules of behaviour at even the wildest carnival although they may involve a complete reversal of normal, everyday social etiquette. Flirtatious behaviour which is normally frowned upon may be actively required, and prissy refusal to participate may incur disapproval.
Flirting is also socially acceptable in some public settings, usually where alcohol is served such as bars, pubs, night-clubs, discos, wine bars, restaurants, etc. One survey showed that 27% of British couples first met their current partner in a pub, and alcohol was voted the most effective aid to flirting by respondents in the Martini Flirting Survey.
Flirting in drinking-places is, however, subject to more conditions and restrictions than at parties. In pubs, for example, the area around the bar counter is universally understood to be the public zone, where initiating conversation with a stranger is acceptable, whereas sitting at a table usually indicates a greater desire for privacy. Tables furthest from the bar counter are the most private zones.
As a rule-of-thumb, the more food-oriented establishments or zones tend to discourage flirting between strangers, while those dedicated to drinking or dancing offer more socially sanctioned flirting opportunities. Restaurants and food-oriented or private zones within drinking-places are more conducive to flirting between established partners.
Schools, colleges, universities and other educational establishments are hot-beds of flirting. This is largely because they are full of young single people making their first attempts at mate selection.
Learning-places are also particularly conducive to flirting because the shared lifestyle and concerns of students, and the informal atmosphere, make it easy for them to initiate conversation with each other. Simply by being students, flirting partners automatically have a great deal in common, and do not need to struggle to find topics of mutual interest.
Flirting is officially somewhat more restricted in learning-places than in drinking-places, as education is supposed to take priority over purely social concerns, but in many cases the difference is not very noticeable. Taking a course or evening class may in fact provide more opportunities for relaxed, enjoyable flirting than frequenting bars and night-clubs.
At work, flirting is usually acceptable only in certain areas, with certain people and at specific times or occasions. There are no universal laws: each workplace or working environment has its own unwritten etiquette governing flirtatious behaviour.
In some companies, the coffee machine or cafeteria may be the unofficial designated flirting zones, other companies may frown on any flirting during office hours, or between managers and staff, while some may have a long-standing tradition of jokingly flirtatious morning greetings.
Careful observation of colleagues is the best way to discover the unspoken flirting etiquette of your own workplace but make sure that you are guided by the behaviour of the most highly regarded individuals in the company, not the office clown, groper or bimbo.
Almost any participant sport or hobby can involve flirting. The level of flirtatious behaviour, however, often tends to be inversely related to the standards achieved by participants and their enthusiasm for the activity.
You will generally find a lot of flirting among incompetent tennis players, unfit swimmers, cackhanded potters, etc., but somewhat less among more proficient, serious, competitive participants in the same activities. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but before joining a team or club, it is worth trying to find out if the members have burning ambitions to play in the national championships or win prestigious awards for their handiwork. If you are mainly looking for
flirting opportunities, avoid these high-flying groups, and seek out clubs full of happy, sociable under-achievers.
Although they have the advantage of providing conversation topics of mutual interest, most sporting events and other spectator pastimes such as theatre or cinema are not particularly conducive to flirting, as social interaction is not the primary purpose of the occasion, and social contact may limited to a short interval or require missing the action.
The most striking exception to this rule is horseracing, where all the action takes place in just a few minutes, the half-hour interval between races is dedicated to sociability, and friendly interaction between strangers is ctively encouraged by racecourse etiquette. In fact, our own recent research on the behaviour of racegoers indicates that the social micro-climate of the racecourse makes it one of the best flirting environments in Britain.
Who to flirt with
Flirting for fun At one level, you can flirt with more or less anyone. An exchange of admiring glances or a bit of light-hearted flirtatious banter can brighten the day, raise self-esteem and strengthen social bonds. Flirtation at this level is harmless fun, and only the stuffiest killjoys could possibly have any objections.
Clearly, it makes sense to exercise a degree of caution with people who are married or attached.
Most people in long-term relationships can cope with a bit of admiration, and may even benefit from knowing that others find them or their partners attractive, but couples differ in their tolerance of flirtatious behaviour, and it is important to be alert to signs of discomfort or distress.
Research has also shown that men have a tendency to mistake friendly behaviour for sexual flirting. This is not because they are stupid or deluded, but because they tend to see the world in more sexual terms than women. There is also evidence to suggest that women are naturally more socially skilled than men, better at interpreting peoples behaviour and responding appropriately.
Indeed, scientists have recently claimed that women have a special diplomacy gene which me lack.
This means that women need to be particularly careful to avoid sending ambiguous signals in interactions with married men, and men need to be aware that married/attached males may misinterpret friendly behaviour towards their wives/girlfriends. Otherwise, light-hearted flirtation is both harmless and enjoyable.
Flirting with intent
But flirting is also an essential element of the mate-selection process, and when you are flirting with intent, rather than just flirting for fun, you need to be a bit more selective about your choice of target.
In mate-selection flirting, there are two basic rules about who to flirt with that will increase your chances of success and reduce the likelihood of embarrassing rejections.
1. Do initiate flirtation with people of roughly the same level of attractiveness as
This will give you the best chance of compatability. Most successful marriages and long-term relationships are between partners of more or less equal good looks. There is some leeway, of course, and other qualities are also important, but statistically, relationships where one partner is much more attractive than the other tend to be less successful. Studies have shown that the more evenly matched partners are in their attractiveness, the more likely they are to stay together.
But evaluating your own attractiveness may be difficult. Research has shown that many women have a poor body-image, and often underestimate their attractiveness. Some recent studies indicate, for example, that up to 80% of adult women believe that they are too fat, and try to achieve a figure that is around two sizes smaller than the body-size men find most desirable. If you are female, the odds are that you are more attractive than you think, so try flirting with some betterlooking
Men generally tend to be less critical of their own physical appearance than women. This is partly because standards of beauty for males are much less rigid than for females, and a wider variety of shapes and features are considered attractive. But it must be said that some men are also inclined to overestimate their attractiveness. If you are a more honest male, and do not consider yourself good-looking, remember that most men lack expertise in the subtleties of social
interaction, so polishing up your flirting skills could give you the edge over a more attractive rival.
2. Dont flirt with people who are unlikely to return your interest. Even if you are not looking for a long-term mate, you will enjoy flirting more with someone who
is interested in you. So it makes sense to approach people who are likely to see you as at least a possible partner, rather than those likely to dismiss you as unsuitable.
Evolution has favoured males who select young, attractive mates and females who select partners with power, wealth and status. Men therefore naturally tend to seek women who are younger than them and place greater emphasis on physical beauty, while women are more likely to favour older males with higher status and earning potential. Women also tend to prefer men who are taller than them. Analysis of thousands of personal ads where people are more explicit about their requirements, and more obviously conscious of the requirements of others shows that these are the qualities most frequently demanded and offered by mate-seekers.
Short, low-status males and older, less attractive females may therefore be a bit more restricted in their choice of potential partners, although there are many exceptions to this rule, and confidence and charm can outweigh apparent disadvantages.
In the How to Flirt section, you will find tips on how to tell immediately, even from across a crowded room, whether someone is likely to return your interest or not.
How to flirt
The first key to successful flirting is not an ability to show off and impress, but the knack of conveying that you like someone. If your target knows that you find him or her interesting and attractive, he or she will be more inclined to like you.
Although this simple fact has been demonstrated in countless studies and experiments, you dont really need scientists to prove it. You already know that when you are told someone fancies you, or hear that someone has praised or admired you, your interest in that person automatically increases – even if it is someone you have never met!
Conveying that you like someone, and judging whether or not the attraction is mutual, clearly involves a combination of verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
When asked about flirting, most people particularly men focus on the verbal element: the chatting-up, the problems of knowing what to say, finding the right words, etc. In fact, the nonverbal element body-language, tone of voice, etc. is much more important, particularly in the initial stages of a flirtation.
When you first meet new people, their initial impression of you will be based 55% on your appearance and body-language, 38% on your style of speaking and only 7% on what you actually say.
Also, their non-verbal signals will tell you much more about their feelings towards you than the words they use. We show attitudes such as liking and disliking not by what we say but by the way we say it and the posture, gestures and expressions that accompany our speech.
he customary polite greeting “pleased to meet you”, for example, can convey anything from I find you really attractive to I am not the slightest bit interested in you, depending on the tone of voice, facial expression, position and posture of the speaker.
When a man and a woman meet for the first time, both are in a difficult, ambiguous and potentially risky situation. Neither person knows what the others intentions and feelings are. Because stating intentions and feelings verbally involves a high risk of embarrassment or possible rejection, non-verbal behaviour becomes the main channel of communication. Unlike the spoken word, body language can signal invitation, acceptance or refusal without being too obvious, without causing offence or making binding commitments.
Warning: some of the non-verbal flirting techniques outlined in this section are very powerful signals, and should be used with caution. Women should be particularly careful when using signals of interest and attraction. Men already tend to mistake friendliness for flirting; if your signals of interest are too direct and obvious, they will mistake them for sexual availability.
Your eyes are probably your most important flirting tool. We tend to think of our eyes mainly as a means of receiving information, but they are also extremely high-powered transmitters of vital social signals. How you look at another person, meet his or her gaze and look away can make all the difference between a successful, enjoyable flirtation and an embarrassing or hurtful encounter. Eye contact looking directly into the eyes of another person is such a powerful, emotionally loaded act of communication that we normally restrict it to very brief glances. Prolonged eye contact between two people indicates intense emotion, and is either an act of love or an act of hostility. It is so disturbing that in normal social encounters, we avoid eye contacts of more than one second. Among a crowd of strangers in a public setting, eye contacts will generally last only a fraction of second, and most people will avoid making any eye contact at all.
This is very good news for anyone wishing to initiate a flirtation with an attractive stranger. Even from across a crowded room at a party, you can signal your interest in someone merely by making eye contact and attempting to hold your targets gaze for more than one second (not too much more, though, or you will seem threatening). If your target maintains eye contact with you for more than one second, the chances are that he/she might return your interest. If after this initial
contact, your target looks away briefly and then looks back to meet your gaze a second time, you can safely assume that he/she is interested. If these eye contacts trigger a smile, you can approach your target with some confidence.
If, on the other hand, your target avoids making eye contact with you, or looks away after a fraction of a second and does not look back again, you should probably assume that your interest is not returned. There is still the possibility that your target is just a very shy person and some females may be understandably wary of signalling any interest in male strangers. The only way to find out is by close observation of your targets behaviour towards others. Does she consistently
avoid direct eye-contact with men? Does he seem nervous, anxious or aloof in his interactions with other women? If so, your targets reluctance to meet your gaze may be nothing personal, and it might be worth approaching, but only with considerable caution.
Once you have approached your target, you will need to make eye contact again in order to strike up a conversation. As soon as your eyes meet, you may begin to speak. Once a conversation begins, it is normal for eye contact to be broken as the speaker looks away. In conversations, the person who is speaking looks away more than the person who is listening, and turn-taking is governed by a characteristic pattern of looking, eye contact and looking away.
So, to signal that you have finished speaking and invite a response, you then look back at your target again. To show interest while your target is speaking, you need to look at his/her face about three-quarters of the time, in glances lasting between one and seven seconds. The person speaking will normally look at you for less than half this time, and direct eye contact will be intermittent, rarely lasting more than one second. When your target has finished speaking, and expects a response, he or she will look at you and make brief eye contact again to indicate that it is your
The basic rules for pleasant conversation are: glance at the other persons face more when you are listening, glance away more when you are speaking and make brief eye contact to initiate turn-taking. The key words here are glance and brief: avoid prolonged staring either at the other person or away.
The most common mistake people make when flirting is to overdo the eye contact in a premature attempt to increase intimacy. This only makes the other person feel uncomfortable, and may send misleading signals. Some men also blow their chances by carrying on a conversation with a womans breasts, rather than looking at her face.
The distance you keep from the other person when flirting is important, because it will affect his or her impression of you, and the quality of your interaction. Perhaps even more importantly, paying attention to the other persons use of distance will tell you a great deal about his/her reactions and feelings towards you.
When you first approach an attractive stranger, having established at least an indication of mutual interest through eye contact, try to make eye contact again at about 4ft away, before moving any closer. At 4 ft (about two small steps away), you are on the borderline between what are known as the social zone (4 to 12 ft) and the personal zone (18in to 4ft).
If you receive a positive response at 4ft, move in to arms length (about 2ft 6in). If you try to approach much closer than this, particularly if you try to cross the 18in personal zone/intimate zone border, your target may feel uncomfortable. The intimate zone (less than 18in) is reserved for lovers, family and very close friends. If you are close enough to whisper and be heard, you are probably too close for comfort. These distance rules apply particularly in face-to-face encounters. We will tolerate reduced interpersonal distances when we are side by side with someone. This is because when you are alongside someone, it is easier to use other aspects of body language, such as turning away or avoiding eye contact, to limit your level of involvement with the other person.
You can therefore approach a bit closer than arms length if you are alongside your target at the bar counter of a pub, for example rather than face-to-face. But be careful to avoid intrusive body-language such as prolonged eye contact or touching.
If you have misjudged the appropriate distance, in either a face-to-face or side-by-side encounter, the other persons discomfort may show in his/her body language. Your target may attempt to turn away or avert his/her gaze to avoid eye contact. You may also see barrier signals such as folding the arms or crossing knees, or rubbing the neck with the elbow pointed towards you. If you see any of these signs, back off!
Finally, remember that different people have different reactions to distance. If your target is from a Mediterranean or Latin American country (known as the contact cultures), he or she may be comfortable with closer distances than a British or Northern European person. North Americans fall somewhere between these two extremes. Different personality-types may also react differently to your approach: extroverts and those who generally feel at ease in company will be comfortable with closer distances than introverts and shy or nervous types. Even the same person may vary in tolerance from day to day, according to mood: when we are feeling depressed or irritable, we find close distances more uncomfortable.