Reviving the Lost Art of Flirtation

Give yourself—and someone else!—permission to have a good time.
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Monica Gabriel Marshall
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Give yourself—and someone else!—permission to have a good time.
art of flirtation

Photo Credit: Shannon Lee Miller

If I were to give one piece of advice to any woman who feels like there are “no good guys out there,” who is tired of going out and meeting no one, or who is just plain over being single, it would be this: Flirt a little bit.

Flirting gets a pretty bad rap among intelligent, marriage-minded single women. I know I never considered myself much of a flirt. Actually, I prided myself on the fact that I was not. If a man wanted to approach me, I would be kind to him—the way I would be kind to any other person—but I certainly wouldn’t twirl my hair, flutter my eyelashes, and offer disingenuous flattery.

Luckily, that idea of flirtation has it all wrong.

I became a convert to flirtation by a Grouper date, of all things. Wanting to step a little outside of my comfort zone, I convinced two of my friends to join me on the group blind date—what I predicted would be a highly-awkward-but-what-the hell kind of experience; something that probably would go nowhere but might make for a good story. True to my predictions, my girlfriends and I found ourselves in a booth sipping bad cocktails over worse conversation; I was trying to figure out how far I could lean away from the man sitting next to me without being downright rude. But while I was busy wishing we were in a roomier booth, my friend had noticed that one of the other guys there was quieter than the rest—and really cute, too. The topic of celebrity look-alikes came up, so my friend took the opportunity to tell the shy guy that he looked like Mark Ruffalo (which he did), and as naturally as you can imagine, she added “Well, you’re really cute, so . . .”

The shy Mark Ruffalo–type, a little embarrassed but clearly pleased, honed in on my friend. He leaned in to the conversation and at the end of the night asked for her number. And the best part? Mr. Almost-Ruffalo and my flirtatious friend are now married. True story.

Contrary to popular belief, flirtation is not reserved for bimbos and the desperate. Flirting with a man is nothing more than dropping the hint that you are interested—or at least not horrifyingly intimidating to talk to. Many women, including myself, have a deep desire to be pursued, and that is all well and good. But too often our plan of action for meeting men is to perch atop a lonely tower (or barstool) and wait for a brave gentleman to entice us to come down. Sure, we will kindly allow men to converse with us, should they find the courage to approach, but we make them work for it—or rather, flounder—so as not to give our cards away too soon.

The trouble is, what we hope comes across as a challenge too often translates to “disinterested” or “boring.” Flirting isn’t about being disingenuous or manipulative, it’s about setting the other person at ease and making him feel confident. Letting him know that you enjoy talking to him and maybe even think he is attractive won’t kill the thrill of the chase. On the contrary, a little flirtation is the green light most men need to go ahead and pursue you. 

And it’s not just men who say so. Research shows that, when it comes to getting the attention of the opposite sex, signaling availability and interest trumps physical attractiveness. Dr. Monica Moore, a psychologist who has conducted extensive research on flirting techniques, says, “It’s not the most physically appealing people who get approached but the ones who signal their availability and confidence through basic flirting techniques like eye contact and smiles.”

The best part about flirting is that it’s fun! It injects life into conversation with the opposite sex and inspires laughter, smiles, blushes, and—more often than not—dates. It’s time we revive the lost art of flirtation with these basic principles.

Make eye contact.

The classic mistake made by women who want to be pursued is to believe that ignoring a man will make him notice you. But this confusing message typically lures men who think “no” means “yes”—and that’s not a great quality in a stranger. Eye contact is the best way to let someone know that he has your attention. Whether the guy is across the room or standing right in front of you, look him in the eyes, and say hello. You don’t have to whip out your best come-hither look; this is simply about acknowledging someone’s presence. If he is across the room, give him a confident look and smile (the intricacy of across-the-room eye contact is explained well here). When you are in a conversation with a man, do your best to stay engaged by making frequent eye contact and turning your body toward him. Nothing says “disinterested” like roving eyes and feet pointed toward the exit.

Smile.

I get it. Sometimes you’re nervous or not feeling it, or it has just been one of those days where it’s hard to crack a smile. But if your aim is to put the guy you are talking to at ease and boost his confidence, it’s important to muster a smile. Flirtation, at its best, isn’t really about you. It’s about making the other person feel good. Trust me, he is likely just as nervous as you, so do him a favor, and lighten the mood by flashing your pearly whites—and go ahead and let your eyes crinkle a little while you’re at it. Don’t forget, the object of your attention won’t be the only man to notice your smile. If a man sees how friendly and open to conversation you are with other lucky guys, he is more likely to look for an opportunity to introduce himself next.

Lean in.

Check your body language: Are your shoulders hunched? Arms crossed? Are you leaning as far back in your chair as possible? This is not flirtatious behavior, this is disinterested behavior. Uncross your arms, and scoot to the edge of your chair if you are seated. Leaning toward another person is a great nonverbal way to indicate interest. Whether standing or sitting, facing a guy you are speaking to and leaning in ever so slightly keeps you engaged in the conversation and draws him in as well. Leaning in flirtatiously is all about the shoulders. If you’re interested, allow your shoulders to relax and curve in toward the man you are speaking to. This gesture sets a confidential tone and gives that “we are in our own little world” ambiance that makes a person feel special. 

Compliment.

Dropping the compliment bomb is the most difficult aspect of flirtation, but compliments don’t have to be a big deal. If you let your guard down, complimenting the guy you’re talking to can be an easy and natural part of the conversation. Who doesn’t like to be admired? If you are impressed by something he says, tell him so. If you admire his work ethic or the way he dealt with a difficult situation, tell him that, too. Don’t worry so much about yourself, and instead focus on making him feel good; the conversation will flow, and you’ll both have fun talking to one another. 

More than anything, flirting shouldn’t feel forced. At first it may take a conscious effort to be aware of your body language and to relax, but flirting is about being natural and giving yourself—and the man you are talking to—permission to have a good time. Give flirtation a try the next time you’re talking to a single man. He may not be your future husband, but you will have a lot more fun getting to know him!