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How to Flirt—Without Frightening Others Away

Sending signals of social, not sexual, availability is the key.

 Olya Adamovich/Pixabay
Source: Olya Adamovich/Pixabay

People eager for a relationship often work themselves into an all-or-nothing frame of mind. Forever poised to score or seduce, they would do better learning the art of flirtation.

Flirting costs nothing and ranks close to Prozac as a tonic for mental health. By definition, flirtation leads nowhere—and that’s the beauty of it. It plays at courtship without needing to have serious intentions behind it. When you have no expectations of scoring a hit, you free yourself from win-or-lose anxiety.

Full-on romance and courtship are like the lottery: You can’t win if you don’t play. But flirting is its own end and can be a wholesome means of pleasure for both your target as well as yourself. It is free from the mental exertion and emotional investment that actual romance demands. A great benefit is that knowing how to flirt expands your imaginative possibilities.

Let me explain.

A well-targeted flirtation is like a smart tap on the shoulder. You can’t control how the other responds. You might get attitude or a nod and a smile in return, anything all the way to full closure. The latter means something concrete such as the exchange of phone numbers or plans for a coffee date. What is often misunderstood is that flirting announces you as socially approachable, not sexually available. The latter is rude and presumptuous (even if true).

If you complain that you can’t meet anyone to flirt with, you are confused. You are not supposed to be trying to meet anyone; you are only flirting. “How to meet people” is a separate skill and demands a different frame of mind. The answer to when to flirt is “right now.” Let taste and restraint guide what to say with the understanding that flirting is conducted in ordinary circumstances, the more traditional the better.

Remarking, “What a firm handshake you have! It makes me wonder what your hugs are like” pushes the edge of being too direct, whereas a sidelong glance or saucy smile are more subtle. Delivery should be forthright and confident, never tentative. Any sharp person should be able to read your signal and respond in a jiffy if they are interested. What you signal is the desire to make the other’s acquaintance and your openness to possibilities. Risk is minimal because the ambiguity inherent in flirtation allows you to deny your intentions completely if things fail to turn out as hoped.

Should you have the good fortune to be on the receiving end of a flirt, you must not act as if you are so socially desirable that admiration is your due. Whether someone is your type or not is beside the point. You are wise to act graciously to everyone, especially those who flatter you tastefully. “Thank you” or a slight nod is all that is required. Anything more, especially a too-surprised look on hearing a compliment, only encourages elaboration. Be prepared.

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