Table for One?
It’s May. The trees are budding, the flowers are blooming, the 2014 bride and groom magazines are lined up on the rack, and here you are—gal or guy, gay or straight—still single and facing another summer of self-motivated beach trips and/or tagging along with your married friends to concerts in the park. And yeah, that’s every bit as bad as it sounds. So maybe it’s time to start dating.
Whether you are looking for someone you can partner with for a lifetime or just a summer fling, the hardest part is usually breaking the ice and getting to (and through) the first date. Happily, there are some easily implemented social skills that can help you in this “meet and greet and maybe feel the heat” process. As you may have guessed, I’m talking about flirting—and anyone, no matter how shy or out of practice, can do it effectively.
Perhaps you’re out of practice because you’ve been buried in your laptop and/or smartphone for the last three years, advancing your career while socializing only on digital forums. If that’s the case, you can use your finely-honed tech savviness to meet and interact with potential romantic partners—dating sites, hookup apps, snappy comments on Facebook, and the like. But at some point you’ll probably want/need to do some in-person mingling, and that may feel awkward, even if you’re not a tech-centric recluse. If so, the following tips may help.
Sometimes we forget that our faces are the most expressive part of our bodies. They are also the most effective tool in flirting. So if you’re at a party or a coffee shop or even your nephew’s baseball game and you see someone you like, regardless of whether you’ve met previously, make eye contact, allowing your glance to linger long enough to establish your interest. (But don’t stare. Staring can make you look like a creepy stalker.) One really good trick is to catch someone’s eye, quickly look away, and then look back, holding their gaze for a moment while smiling and offering some form of physical acknowledgement, like a nod or an eyebrow raise. Sure, nods and raised eyebrows sound a bit cliché, but they’re extremely effective ways to convey interest.
If you’re feeling bold, stroll past your target and catch his or her eye as you go past. Then do it again on your way back. This is especially effective at bars, cocktail parties, and other venues where there’s reason to move around. You can also do a look-back immediately after you’ve passed someone, as if you can’t resist just one more glance. If he or she is still looking at you, this is a great time to smile (and maybe offer that nod or raised eyebrow).
If you’re seated at a social event and want to flirt, sideways glances and peekaboo looks over menus can be used in similar fashion. Just don’t forget to smile or otherwise acknowledge a returned glance. If you’re female, you can show a little neck, which exposes your vulnerable side, apply some lipstick, which draws attention to your oh-so-kissable lips, or gently brush your hair back from your face to give your target a better view of you sneaking peeks at him (or her). If you’re male, you can make eye contact, then look down at her (or his) lips, and then re-establish eye contact, hinting at your desire for a kiss.
A lot of the time, small talk feels incredibly uncomfortable, especially if you’re trying to flirt with someone you’ve just met. But it’s actually not so difficult. Start by saying hello and introducing yourself. Make sure you face the other person directly, which lets him or her know that he or she has your undivided attention. If you’re unsure how to proceed after introducing yourself, start by saying something nice about the other person—it doesn’t matter what, as long as it’s sincere and in good taste. This “quick compliment” approach accomplishes three things:
- It tells the other person that you’ve taken a bit of time to notice and appreciate something about him/her.
- It puts the other person in a good mood (everybody likes a compliment).
- It’s a clear signal that you’re interested in getting to know that individual.
As your conversation progresses, don’t be afraid to be playful and goofy—make a silly joke, tease, and laugh. You don’t need to sound like a super successful rocket scientist when you flirt; you just need to be fun. If you find yourself struggling a bit because you’re out of practice with small talk, try asking the other person some basic questions about who they are, what they do for a living, and what they do for recreation. It will show that you’re definitely interested, and it allows the other person to take the lead. Just make sure you LISTEN when the other person is answering. If he or she hits upon something you genuinely have an interest in, especially if it’s a recreational activity (dancing, hiking, hang-gliding, or whatever), that’s a great opportunity to say: “Hey, I love that too. Maybe we could get together and do that sometime.” Just don’t feign interest in something that bores you.
Body language can be every bit as expressive as facial language, especially after you’ve broken the ice with eye contact and progressed into small talk or, better yet, a first date. At this point you should not be afraid to make brief (nonsexual) physical contact. Touching someone’s hand or arm shows interest in something more intimate without being overtly pushy. If you’re clever, you can act as if you’re merely touching their hand/arm to emphasize a conversation point. Nevertheless, your subtext will be clear. If you’re seated next to or across from someone, you can touch them on the knee, bump knees, or even play footsie. A touch that lingers is an obvious indication of physical attraction. Just don’t get grabby or clingy. (See: “staring” and “creepy stalker,” discussed above). If things are going well, touching the other person on the back, either between the shoulder blades or in the small of the back, signals a definite interest in putting your arms all the way around them in either a hug or a more intimate embrace.
Another great body language tip is to subtly mimic what the other person is doing. If he or she leans in, you should too. If he or she tilts his or her head, you should too. This is a refined yet clear signal that the two of you are making a connection. You can also see if the other person mimics you. For instance, if music is playing and you like to dance, move in time to it. If the other person responds in kind, you should definitely suggest a dance.
Like it or not, we live in an increasingly digital world. Don’t be afraid to use that to your advantage, especially if you’re already comfortable interacting online and via text. For instance, if you’ve gotten someone’s phone number but you’re not sure if you should call, you can send a text letting him or her know how much fun you had when you met. If you’re sharp about this, you can recall some funny thing that he or she said and mention that you’re still giggling about it. Sending your target a funny or semi-sexy selfie is also a great way to flirt. Just make sure your clothes are on. (Yes, sexting can be a serious turn-on, but save it for later in your relationship, after you’ve gotten to know each other better.) If you’re both on social media, you can flirt there, too, but keep in mind the fact that social media is a public forum.
A great advantage of tech-flirting is that it can be done on-the-go without intruding on your or the other person’s busy schedule. Just remember that most successful long-term relationships ultimately rely on in-person interactions as the foundation, so if you’re looking for something that could last, it’s best to not become overly reliant on tech. At the same time, don’t be afraid to use it, especially if one or both of you travels for work. For instance, creative webcam dates can be a lot of fun, helping you to build a meaningful connection even when you’re thousands of miles apart.
Remember that flirting is supposed to be fun for both you and the other person. If it’s not, then you may not be right for each other. If that’s the case, be willing to move on without feeling rejected or inadequate. Just find someone else you want to flirt with and try it again. After all, flirting isn’t a marriage proposal, it’s just an indication of interest that may or may not be reciprocated. The best case scenario is that you’ll meet someone that you think is really great who thinks that you are really great, too. The worst case scenario is that you don’t, and you look for someone else.
I also suggest that if someone is flirting with you and you don’t feel an immediate spark, stick it out for a few minutes or even a date or two. Some people are not at their best right off the bat due to nerves and/or lack of practice. This doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile; it just means they stumbled out of the gate. However, if you’ve been chatting with someone for half an hour and he or she has done all of the talking without even pausing to take a breath and you’re so bored that your head is starting to hurt, by all means politely excuse yourself. A dud is a dud.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t wait for others to flirt with you. If you see someone that interests you, take the lead. Make eye contact to let that person know you’re intrigued. Smile. Say hello. Far too many people are paralyzed by the fear of rejection, and only God knows how many potentially great relationships never get off the ground because of it. So if you want to meet someone, check your ego at the door and dive in. You just might enjoy it, and the other person might, too.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. An author and subject expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, Mr. Weiss has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others. He is the author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships.