People flirt to bond or to express sexual interest. Flirting is a universal and essential form of human interaction.
Flirting is a series of nonverbal and verbal actions we do when expressing our interest in or attraction to another person. It is playful, nonthreatening, and sometimes subconscious. It’s about displaying and reading body language.
In the 1550s, the verb “flirt” initially meant “to turn up one’s nose, sneer at” and then “to rap or flick, as with fingers.” In the 1560s, the noun “flirt” had come to mean “a pert young hussy” or a “woman of loose behavior.”
Etymologists theorize that the verb “flirt” may have been imitative, similar to the verb “flip” and “flit,” as in the sense of “to move in short, quick flights.” Others suggest that it was influenced by the Old French fleureter, which means “talk sweet nonsense” or to touch a thing in passing, and which is diminutive of fleur, “flower.” Metaphorically, fleureter gestured toward the image of bees skimming from flower to flower.
Researchers have identified five general styles of flirting: 1) physical, 2) traditional (men should make the first move), 3) polite (both less likely to approach a potential partner), 4) sincere, and 5) playful (flirting for fun). Those with physical, sincere, and playful styles have more dating success, though each is effective depending on what the goal of flirting is
Researchers suggest women wear red-hued lipstick while flirting. A Manchester University study tracked the eye movements of men and found that they looked at red lips for 7.3 seconds and pink for 6.7 seconds.
Within general styles of flirting are over 52 specific “flirting signals.” For women, the most common is the hair flip.
Common flirting pitfalls include 1) picking the wrong person to flirt with, 2) not knowing how to approach, 3) worrying that something awful will happen, and 4) not accurately reading the signals from the other person.
The most attractive people are not necessarily the ones who receive the most attention. Instead, people who are the most effective flirters usually attract the most attention.
According to scientists Judy Dutton, women who get the most attention from men send out 35 flirtatious signals per hour. While that seems to be a lot, signals can range from tilting the head to one side to stroking the arm.
Flirting is against the law in some cities. An outdated law in New York City states that a man could be fined $25 for gazing suggestively at a woman.
A smile is the most deceptive facial expression, and there are over 18 different ways to smile. The most attractive smile is the genuine smile, which is the smile that creates lines, or “crow’s feet,” around the eyes.
Studies show that women initiate flirting 90% of the time. Although men seem to do most of the pursuing, they actually do so because they perceive that women invited their advances through flirting.
Men have 10–20 times more testosterone than women and, consequently, are more likely to view interactions in terms of sex. Men, therefore, more than women tend to misread flirting signals and mistake friendly behavior for flirting.
Research suggests that to be a brilliant flirt, a person needs to approach it as though they can’t fail. Flirting is about attitude.
A study at the University of Newcastle in Australia found that men find women most alluring when women angle their heads forward and look upwards slightly. This head position makes women look more “feminine” and more flirtatious. In contrast, men look more masculine if they tilt their head back and look slightly down their nose.
While some body language specifics differ across cultures (e.g., how close to stand, eye contact), many signs of flirting seem to be transcultural: women around the world flirt by smiling, arching their eyebrows, and averting their gaze.
During the Victorian era, when young women were particularly being groomed for marriage, flirting was a large part of a young woman’s life. To be an effective flirt, she was taught to use fashion accessories such as fans, gloves, handkerchiefs, and parasols to communicate all types of messages.
Pizza Express boasts that they have been trained by former actor Karl James to teach people to have “fantastic conversations.” Their official line says that their company incorporates “flirting and unique conversation techniques.”
Technology has made flirting more complicated than ever before. For example, texting or emailing doesn’t let a person hear a tone in the voice or see body language, which can lead to misunderstandings.
According to Baboo.com, the most effective pick up line is complimenting a woman on her lips.
On average, men spend 0.95 seconds looking at a woman’s hair, 0.85 admiring the eyes, and 7.0 looking at a woman’s lips.
Flirting is dependent on smells. Top scents that turn men on are fake tan, baby lotion, and fried food. Sweeter smells are also effective, including the smell of lipstick and lavender. The most common mistake people make while flirting according to the Social Issues Research Centre is maintaining too much eye contact. A nonromantic glance lasts only 1.18 seconds and a flirtatious gaze lasts 2–3 seconds. Anything longer is uncomfortable.
On average, it takes about three glances at someone before he or she will take the hint that the other person is interested in them.
In studies where men and women who didn’t know each other were asked to stare into each other eyes for 3 minutes, many confessed to feelings of “passionate love” for one another. Eye contact activates the area of the brain called the ventral striatum—otherwise known as the reward center—and, consequently, it is a major factor in effective flirting.
While often overlooked, feet play a major role in flirting. Feet generally point in the direction they want to go. If someone’s feet are pointed toward you, they are interested. Additionally, feet pointing toward each other, in a “pigeon toes” stance, is also a sign that the other person is approachable and interested.
Flirting is most socially acceptable at parties, celebrations, and social organizations because most parties, carnivals, and festivals are governed by a special code of behavior, or “cultural remission.”
People tend to mimic the actions of the person they are attracted to. Mimicking is a way to subconsciously try to get in sync with someone.
A recent study showed that 57% of people believed it was not acceptable to flirt at work, while 43% believed it was acceptable.
Humans are not the only species that flirt. Birds, lizards, and even bugs have their own ways to attract attention.
Studies show that flirtatious people have higher white blood cell counts, which improves health and immunity.
Flirting is governed by a complex set of unwritten laws of etiquette that determine when, how, with whom, and where we flirt. We usually become aware of these laws only when someone breaks them.
Flirting at bars or other drinking places usually has more restrictions than flirting at a party. For example, the area around the bar counter is understood to be the “public zone,” where talking to strangers is acceptable. On the other hand, tables furthest from the bar counter are seen as more “private” zones.
The more food orientated a drinking establishment is, the less flirting is tolerated, while bars dedicated to drinking or dancing offer more socially sanctioned flirting opportunities.
When people first meet, 55% of their initial impression is based on appearance and body language, 38% on speaking style, and only 7% on what is actually said.
A study in the journal Social Influence found that ladies were more likely to give out their phone numbers to guys who flirted with them on sunny days as opposed to cloudy days. Researchers say people may be in a better mood on sunny days or men may be better flirters in good weather.
Relationship experts suggest that people can turn flirting fails into comedy. If a person inadvertently does something silly or embarrassing, he or she can turn it into something fun and playful.
Flirting may be considered cheating when 1) it’s secretive, 2) it has a sexual agenda, 3) it includes rationalization, 4) a spouse/partner doesn’t like it, or 5) the intentions are duplicitous.