Why Do People Flirt?
Flirting is a fundamental fixture in the sexual behavior repertoire, a time-honored way of signaling interest and attraction, to say nothing of mutual awareness. It is a kind of silent language spoken by men and women around the world.
The ways people communicate interest are so deeply rooted in human nature that the signals are automatically understood by all. All humans come equipped with the language of flirtation, from ways of glancing to movements such as licking one's lips, to meet nature's most basic command—find a good mate and multiply.
Flirting is not a trivial activity; it requires many skills: intellect, body language, creativity, empathy. At its best, flirting can be high art, whether the flirter is vying for a soul mate, manipulating a potential customer, or just being playful.
The process of flirting allows the signaling of interest to another in small increments, which is especially appealing to a partner and enables both parties to gauge the interest level of the other. Flirting is driven by emotions and instinct rather than logical thought. Yet there is profound information transmitted in flirting—the gestures and movements used in flirting provide reliable clues to a person's biological and psychological health.
The Roots of Flirting
Flirting is not restricted to humans; it has many parallels in the animal world, seen in the behavioral displays many animals engage in to signal not only their availability but their suitability. Animal courtship varies tremendously between species, ranging from subtle movements to lavish displays. For example, penguins search for small pebbles to deliver to their partner of interest. Seahorses lock their tails together for a romantic swim. Bower birds use leaves, grass, and twigs to construct elaborate nests.
Across the animal kingdom, such actions are closely tied to seasonal reproductive readiness and signal reproductive fitness by one creature to another. Among humans, who are not held as tightly in hormonal thrall, the repertoire of flirting behaviors can be deployed at will and the exact meaning of any gesture is usually a matter of interpretation. That very ambiguity feeds the excitement of flirting.