What Makes a Good Flirt?
The seductive power of flirting.
Posted March 23, 2021 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
”I flirt all the time. I like men! I don't think we can do without them.”—Nina Simone
What makes a good flirt? Though one might argue flirting is merely an enjoyable and playful romantic game, in actuality, it encompasses many contradictory aspects, which an ambitious flirt must master in order to be successful.
When flirting well, one mixes honesty with a drop of innocence, as well as a mild level of deception (expressed in flattery). A good flirt cares for others —by listening to and showing interest in them—while simultaneously not taking their partner too seriously yet always appearing confident. In other words, successful flirting requires high emotional intelligence.
The Nature of Successful Flirting
“I hate arrogance so I am disgusted by men telling me how rich and successful they are the first time I meet them.”—Grace
“Flirting is more than ‘Hi, ya wanna?’ It’s teasing, playing, innuendos—it’s about making someone feel special, it’s about being attentive, it’s about walking on the edge of danger and getting caught. Flirting is nibbling on the forbidden fruit. It’s not blunt, straight-to-the-point comments. It’s playing cat and mouse with each other, and enjoying it.”—Deborah Levine
Although there is no formula for successful flirting, there are characteristics that increase its chances of ending well. Menelaos Apostolou and Christoforos Christoforou (2020) indicate nine groups of characteristics underlying effective flirting, according to this order of importance (see also Didonato, 2021):
- Nonverbal behavior including the right amount of eye contact, smelling good, and smiling;
- Intelligence expressed in humor, wit, level of education, and interesting conversation;
- A gentle approach including respectful, mature, and polite behavior;
- Cheerfulness relating to companionship and fun;
- Romantic intent associated with sweetness and tenderness;
- Courage and determination accompanied by confidence and persistence;
- Commonalities of values and fields of interest, enabling smooth dialogue;
- Good looks generating an initial attraction;
- A mysterious allure encouraging a continuation of the bond.
The characteristics generating effective flirting mainly refer to a mode of behavior. There are no techniques that one must learn by heart, but rather it is best to adopt a candid and gentle approach. The need to present oneself positively is understandable, but to praise, glorify and exalt oneself is wrong; actual behavior is more important and consequently, humility is much more attractive. It would certainly be unwise to talk about how many partners you have slept with or how good you are in bed when flirting with someone new. These features are best discovered as a relationship develops.
There are gender differences in successful flirting. Women perceive a respectful and gentle approach as one of the three most important factors in flirting (alongside good nonverbal behavior and intelligence). Men rate good looks as one of the three most important factors in flirting (alongside kindness and intelligence). For men, flirting has a more sexual character. When women flirt, they use a richer variety of nonverbal behavior including smiling, eye contact, touching their partner, and other kinds of body language.
The seductive power of words
“Flirting over texting is fun and as smooth as verbal ping-pong. The words are injected into my brain and heart with no filters. Verbal fluency and subtle double meaning (careful of too much wisecracking) are very attractive to me.”—Anat
“The best cybersex, obviously, is with someone literate enough to ‘paint a picture' describing activities or thoughts. I suppose that in face-to-face activities, someone stupid could still be extraordinarily sexy. But stupid doesn’t work online, at least not for me.”—Brenda
The communication revolution has increased the importance of verbal capacities in many fields, but the value of personal face-to-face conversation has decreased, as we hardly find time to have meaningful conversations with those close to us. Much of personal conversation today is done through texting, as it is often the best method for intimate communication.
Today, when many relationships begin on dating sites, where messaging and texting are used as the initial communication, intelligence is required to continue flirting. On dating sites, we are mainly impressed by pictures, linguistic fluency, and the quality of messaging.
Words have a significant romantic value, as they stir the heart while indicating intelligence. However, as the wonderful French song, Paroles, says: your tender words are like sweets—they are good for the mouth but harmful for the heart. Indeed, fluent seducers may sound like a repetitive cover song and not the original.
Should flirting be mysterious and vague?
“I do not say what I wish on a first date. I want him to sweat a little bit. That’s why I will not allow him to touch me on a first date. However, if I like him, I will put my hand on his knees on a second date.”—Shulamit
“When a man flirts with me, I want him to be sincere and open. When I flirt, I am more careful and keep my cards to my chest.”—Iris
In characterizing the perfect seducer, Robert Greene (2001) emphasizes the mysterious and incomplete nature of the romantic interaction, which includes increasing ambiguity, sending mixed signals, mastering the art of insinuation, confusing desire and reality, mixing pleasure and pain, stirring desire and confusion, toning down the sexual element without getting rid of it, refusing to conform to any standard and being able to delay satisfaction without offering total satisfaction.
Mystery is indeed effective in flirting. We should, however, distinguish between flirting for the purpose of having casual sex and flirting aiming to form a romantic bond. Change and novelty, which are significant in mystery, are important in generating sexual desire. However, flirting aiming at a romantic relationship should reveal a commitment to invest time and effort for nurturing the relationship—creating a feeling of uncertainty in the other is not necessarily advisable.
Flirting is indeed attractive, but relationships that begin with insincerity can be harmful: when the messages are too vague, potential partners can misinterpret them; and when messages are too blunt, they are damaging. The line between innocent flirting and blunt sexual demands is often unclear, and its violation is frequent.
When people are asked about the way they flirt, most of them describe vague and mysterious behavior that does not reveal much about them. However, when the same people are asked about their preferences of others flirting with them, they prefer sincere and open behavior.
Seduction, courting, and marketing in flirting
“The first date isn’t a marketing event, but a game intended to increase the desire to meet again.”—Diana
“Sales agents barge through the door, but the flirt wants to settle in your heart.”—Julia
“If you don't flirt, you're probably dead inside.”—Katharine Towne
“I love to flirt, and I've never met a man I didn't like.”—Dolly Parton
Flirting involves both intrinsic enjoyment and the goal of establishing a relationship. The seducer’s goal is sex and an efficient manner of getting it is behaving in a vague and nonconventional manner. When flirting is part of courting, at its root is the wish to establish a friendship (in addition to sex) and so sincerity and mutual self-exposure are essential. People who are courting have no urgent goals to achieve and are ready to patiently wait while investing time and resources for nurturing the relationship (Ben-Ze'ev, 2019).
Flirting adds spice to our life and supports positive attitudes toward other people. It may involve flattery, but it is subtle and enjoyable flattery that is closer to praise than to a lie. Flirting creates a relaxing, calm, and enjoyable atmosphere. It involves curiosity, humor, imagination, and empathy. Flirting is subtle: It is typically not an explicit sexual activity, but rather an enjoyable, gentle prelude or substitute for it. Flirting has elements of intellectual teasing flavored by emotional play. During flirting, each partner’s soul is stirred, thereby enabling the two souls to respond to each other.
People can, of course, improve their flirting technique, but more important is maintaining gentle and respectable behavior. A big smile and open heart would suffice for a good beginning.
Facebook image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock
Apostolou, M., & Christoforou, C. (2020). The art of flirting: What are the traits that make it effective? Personality and Individual Differences, 158, 109866
Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2019). The arc of love: How our romantic lives change over time. University of Chicago Press.
Didonato, T. E. (2021). Do you have the 9 traits of an effective flirt? Psychology Today, Feb 12, 2021.
Greene, R. (2001). The art of seduction. Penguin.