Since the dawn of man the “Dance of Intimacy” known as flirting has existed, helping boy meet girl to satisfy the need for personal closeness and our deeper instincts for survival as a species. But our basic urges have evolved, beyond mere survival, into a seemingly complicated array of behaviours and protocols that would make even Casanova’s head hurt.
It’s not supposed to be this way. “Flirting is universal,” says relationships expert Laura Schaefer, author of Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor: The Best and Worst Personal Ads of All Time. Whether you live in Brampton or Bolivia, Schaefer says people all have the same moves when it comes to attracting attention, “Smiling, arching their eyebrows, then averting their gaze.”
Flirting is an essential skill that enhances one’s happiness and sense of connection. Even in the stately Victorian era, flirting had a place. Why do you think women dropped handkerchiefs, or waved those accordion fans? Those fans were the ultimate handheld device, the killer app of courtly love.
According to Schaefer, a fan placed near the heart was a silent, subtle signal that said, “You have won my love.” Opening a fan wide meant, “Wait for me.” A half-opened fan pressed to the lips suggested, “You may kiss me.” If the man didn’t follow the protocol, the lady might open and close the fan several times quickly, an arch reprimand that warned, “Watch it. You are behaving cruelly.”
Despite evolution, the universal signals of flirting are less structured than in Victorian times. Today, the ‘rules of engagement’ are more varied and less codified than they have been in the past, which may explain why so many people have difficulty in feeling like they have mastered its techniques.
Some people flirt just for the fun of it, enjoying saucy conversations and meeting new people. It may be a married couple trying to revive the fun and romance. For others, flirting is the means to an end – to find the love of their life, or at least for the rest of the month.
Today we flirt in clubs, restaurants and arenas, in book stores and supermarkets, and even while driving in heavy traffic. Spotting who’s available and interested from across the room and mustering the courage to speak to them can be more stressful than in past times.
Beyond a smile and the arched eyebrow, we don’t know the common signals that allow us to interpret others’ intentions. Flirting may be instinctual, but it’s a complex ritual that only a few people master. And the opportunity for error is huge.
For example, let’s consider the single adult female in a familiar nocturnal environment – at a party or club with other single friends – to exemplify this flirting conundrum. The ladies chat amiable, usually in a tight circle or “impenetrable fortress.” After all, it’s noisy in this jungle, and you have to stand close and speak loudly to hear each other.
At the edge of the clearing, two males of the species scan the horizon for likely mates. Their gaze falls upon the females above. They like the looks of the individual females, but notice how the group stands very close together, presumably for mutual protection.
The males consider joining the conversation, but see no way through the stronghold-like wall of female backs. If they approach, they fear looking foolish or being rejected.
Instead, they scan the room for solitary individuals who are less fortified. They move on silently, undetected by the group of females who are still busy talking in their circle. This is a common irony in the dating scene today, when the rules are less defined. These women were likely there to meet men. Yet they didn’t realize that their body language and group dynamics were actively blocking the very people they wanted to meet.
This is why awareness of flirting is so important. Not only does it make it easier for you to approach other people, but you also realize that you have to make it easier for them to approach you. Flirting is not as much about ‘hunting in the wild’ as it is showing that you are open to being approached, and having the confidence to take a few chances.
The fear of rejection can be overwhelming and may stop some people dead in their tracks, robbing them of opportunities to make a wanted connection. Often our intentions are not clearly conveyed, making it difficult for a potential suitor to know whether or not to approach.
Overcoming the fear of rejection is one of the hardest flirting skills for both men and women to master. Most are wary of flirting because they feel that they don’t know what to say. They worry that they’ll be considered too forward, or even pushy. Flirting may breed other fears as well – the fear of saying the wrong thing, attracting the wrong people, or making oneself open to be approached yet attracting no one at all.
Ironically, when you think about a great flirting experience you’ve had – one where you felt completely at ease, were in the moment with light playfulness, and were being your authentic self – it all happened because someone took the risk to make the first move; someone took the first step in the Dance of Intimacy. This bold move was what opened the door for the possibility of what could be.
Once you understand the art of flirting, things become much simpler. When you know how to catch a person’s eye, read body language and start a conversation, then flirting isn’t forward, it’s just socializing. At its best, flirting becomes empowering and increases your self-confidence and self-esteem as you interact with new people. Regardless of the eventual outcome, it’s always flattering when someone you find attractive shows interest in you.
These are a few glimpses at flirting in the 21st century. It’s not just for biological reasons that flirting has emerged as one of the most important skills developed by the human race. Flirting techniques can ignite new relationships or enhance established ones. They can boost confidence, win new friends and introduce you to new experiences.
Whether we are club hoppers or introverts, waving fans or overcoming fears to make a bold move, we are all social beings. We all seek connections with others. Learning to flirt can be truly empowering and life-changing. Flirting is not a cure for being single. It’s oxygen for a healthier, happier life.