I like to flirt. For me, it is a playful way of getting to know people. It isn’t the eyelash batting, come hither, seductive kind of behavior most of the time….except when it is. Have you ever watched a baby attract attention by smiling and giggling, drawing willing participants into a game of peekaboo? Sometimes it’s like that. I enjoy connecting with people on every level imaginable and sometimes flirting is that knock on the door to see if someone is home.
Why Do People Flirt?
According to scientific research as well as observation, humans flirt as a means of getting to know others of our species as we dip toes into the water, without diving into the deep end of the pool. It is a dance; back and forth, checking out what the other person might be thinking. Questioning, “Is it safe to come closer? Will you step on my toes? Will I trip you up with lack of gracefullness?”
According to David Henningsen, a professor in the department of communication at Northern Illinois University, who has explored and teaches about flirting techniques, “The beauty of flirting, in this regard, is its ambiguity. If a flirting attempt goes awry, the ambiguity of flirting allows a person to credibly assert they hadn’t meant anything by it. In this way, information about the other person is gained without losing face.”
Other reasons include:
- Subtly seducing people to do things for us that we may not be comfortable asking directly for.
- Engaging a new friend.
- To raise our own level of self worth, if someone flirts back.
- To stretch comfort zones and experiment with communication.
- To use non-verbal means of sharing emotions.
- To have fun and be lighthearted.
- A facade of confidence that may mask insecurity.
What Are Common Flirting Behaviors?
Jeffrey Hall, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas (KU) conducted a study on the topic and identified 36 flirting behaviors including: making compliments, asking questions and revealing information — and nonverbal flirting behaviors –such as leg-crossing, palming, leaning forward, playing with objects, and nodding.
Dance Partner Flirting
An example I love to share is an interaction with a platonic male friend that occurred recently. He and I have known each other for a few years. Many of our conversations are deep and spritual; a meandering exploration of ‘life, the Universe and everything.’ Others are bantering and teasing. He is one of my favorite dance partners and on one occasion, while we were at a Zydeo dance party, he exclaimed in mock exasperation, “Will you just let me lead?” I sighed and surrendered. A month ago, we were with friends at a music festival and the music led us into another dance as we spun and swayed and at one point, grabbed each other’s tush. Our little six year old friend (the daughter of a mutual friend), observed rather disapprovingly, “He’s got a girlfriend, you know.” We both smiled and I said, “I know. It was a friendly grab.”
I have another long time ‘heart friendship’ with someone who has been a lover. After all these years, we still flirt and tease, even if it doesn’t go beyond verbal banter. Since we know each other so well, I see it as I do yoga…going to your edge and maybe a wee bit more.
A new female friend expressed, “If there is a good reaction, I feel good about myself and I like the way it makes other people feel good, even if there’s no romantic interest or attraction.”
She adds that touch is a means of playful connection; such as reaching out to put a hand on someone’s upper arm. I do it to create a bond as well, since touch is a powerful mode of cultivating relationship.
Social media is a wonderful venue for flirting. Consider the options. We get to decide the literal and symbolic face we put out there for all to see. What image do you want to portray? Businessness-like and professional? Sexy and sultry? Welcoming and approachable? Mysterious and alluring? I have a few friends who are quite visisble, literally as their pictures show them in Facebook approved poses, with strategic body parts covered, while the others are out there for the world to witness. I read, with interest, the comments they receive from both male and female viewers of their imagery. Most of the women are complimentary, as are many of the men. Some cross over into lewd and lascivious land and I wonder how these women feel when it does. Is that part of the reason they reveal so much of themselves physically, so they can simultaneously do so emotionally? Is flirting a component? What reaction are they desiring?
In conversation with a female friend who is a nudist and has no problems letting the world know, on and off social media, we were exploring that dynamic. I am about to out myself here as I told her that as much fun as it is to post photos of myself that I think are beautiful and have received that feedback from friends, I have been reluctant to post those that are edgier and more exposed. “Why?”, she asked. “Because it would seem I was doing it to get attention and sell myself.” She volleyed back, “Don’t we all do that? Isn’t that why we post photos anyway?” Who doesn’t want to feel as if they can draw positive attention?” Most humans want reinforcement about their appeal to others.
In yet another dialog with a male friend, who acknowleges that he enjoys flirting (and does it well, I might add), to engage with others and to offer encouragement and to express interest (romantic and otherwise), he suggested that I write about the topic. We also took a look at the dynamic of jealousy.
Do people flirt to make a partner, or potential partner jealous? Is that ethical or underhanded? I remember rolling my eyes with disdain at a gathering a few years ago where a woman said that very thing…that she wanted her partner to be jealous. Seems to me that if that is the intention, it behooves the people involved to have a deeper conversation about agreed upon boundaries. Can they trust each other enough so that it doesn’t go beyond? Another question is if it devalues the connection between them if one flirts with others to the disprespect of the other? I would say it does.
My father was a flirt. Not in any way diminishing the bond between my mother and himself. He knew how to work a room, so in a sense, he was flirting with everyone there. I’ve inherited that inclination. He had a finely honed sense of knowing what helped people feel good. He would call women, (with respect) “Doll baby.” When he was nearing the end of his life, at 84, he would ask the hospital and hospice nurses if they would kiss him on he cheek when they tucked him in. My mother would smile, because she knew all along, where his affections lie. His heart never strayed. He always came home to her.