Flirting for Beginners

What is flirting anyway? Why do we do it? Where do girls get their ideas from about what guys will be attracted to? (In this article we are looking at flirting by girls, not guys.)

Flirty, playful, disdainful or what?

How would you describe what the girl in the picture is doing?

A. Flirting

B. Only acting the flirt

C. Having a bet each way

Let's go through these possibilities and see if we can make a bit more sense out of what she is doing.

A. Flirting

What's the first thing you notice? Yes, you're right, she's not exactly being subtle is she? Yet sometimes being obvious can work. If you've got the right kind of personality for it, you might be able to use an 'over the top' style and do it successfully. Generally though a bit more subtlety is required!

B. Only acting the flirt

Sometimes in a group of friends of both sexes, everyone is mucking around, kidding each other and that kind of thing. In this case a girl might be like an actress and act like a flirt without intending it seriously. For example, a girl might use this type of response to illustrate a point. Maybe a guy made fun of her, saying she'd never get a guy, that she's too this or too that, so she retorts by making an exaggerated pretense at flirting, as if to say - "Hey buddy, I know how to get a guy if I want to! Even you if I wanted to!" She turns it back on him. It is important to remember though that 'acting the flirt' requires exaggeration to make sure it is not mistaken for the real thing.

C. Having a bet each way

A girl might flirt in an exaggerated way, knowing it will be perceived as such, but in directing it towards a particular guy might actually be using it to see if she can provoke some kind of response, but with the 'cover' of only pretending. If she sees what she thinks is some kind of favourable response she might then go on later to find a more subtle way to let him know she is interested. So she has a 'bet each way', being able to act in a flirty way, to see if it works, but to laugh it off as a bit of fun if it doesn't.

Where does flirting come from?

One question we've skipped over so far is this: How come we all know that these exaggerated expressions are intended as flirting? I mean, poking your tongue out? Hiding part of your face? Yet we all know what these expressions mean. How?

Flirting is a form of playfulness, and we find the most obvious forms of playfulness in little children. Little kids don't do subtlety. They use a whole array of expressions uninhibitedly. They get roused on for poking out their tongues at someone, so they learn to get a reaction by doing it. Yet the manner of the reaction is not really serious. So they learn that poking your tongue out is a way of being playful and getting a reaction. As we get older, and want to appear more sophisticated, we let go of such things. But we keep them up our sleeves for those few occasions when we might be able to use them again.

Similarly with hiding your face. At a certain age a little child discovers that it's fun to hide your face. I suppose they get it from adults playing 'peep-oh' with them, and they see that the adults deem it to be playful. So kids learn that lesson, and as a girl you can file it away in the 'potential resources for flirting' category. In fact we see various behaviour of this kind from little girls that could be described as 'play flirting', especially with her dad. She might play dress-ups and flounce around in her mum's shoes, playing at being older, and getting a positive reaction from her father.

Since everyone knows these things they become possible ways of being flirty when you are older.

The picture above can help us clarify some things, but it doesn't convey the range of more subtle ways of showing interest. However, the kinds of signals pictured above can be made more subtle, most commonly involving glances and flounces. OK, 'flounce' doesn't sound subtle, but I mean things like tossing your head, or turning away in a 'meaningful' manner, pretending to be a bit offended, and verbal and facial expressions of mild disbelief or disdain. Somehow girls seem to know how to do these things, though some more so than others. Some are only willing to be quite subtle, and even look down on any of this kind of thing.

Flirting, or showing interest?

We can think of 'flirting' and 'showing interest' as two ends of a continuum, with flirting being more obvious and 'showing interest' being more subtle. Showing interest can be as simple as maintaining more eye contact, looking interested in what a guy is saying, laughing at his jokes, standing closer, or lightly touching his arm.

Subtlety is usually the best option for two reasons:

  1. If you are too obvious you don't leave yourself room for a graceful exit if the feeling isn't mutual. Others will see that you have made a move and that it didn't work out. It is awkward for both of you.
  2. Guys are sensitive to girls being too 'forward' because guys are expected to take the lead. If you take the lead he is left feeling he didn't get a chance to show who he is as a man. This might not be clear in his mind but it is likely to be clear in his feelings.

If you learn how to show interest in a fairly subtle way you avoid both these problems. In the first case you have 'plausible deniability'. In the second case you let him know you're interested, but you still leave the space open for him to take the lead.

Do guys want girls to show some interest?

You might have heard that, since guys are supposed to take the lead, that you should just wait. Someone might say that you shouldn't show interest, as if that would take away a guy's prerogative, and be perceived unfavourably. Or that if he is man enough he'll get over his hesitation and just do it.  But there is one really important thing to know about guys:

Guys are definitely looking for signs of interest from girls.

It's true that they don't want you throwing yourself at them, or obviously pursuing them. But they are definitely trying to detect any signs they can to give them some sense of their chances.

Put yourself in a guy's shoes. He is the one who has to stick his neck out and ask a girl out, or otherwise show that he has some special interest in her. Guys are very sensitive to the possibility of failure in the romantic arena, especially genuine guys. Guys who are not looking for their latest 'conquest', but truly putting their heart out there, are looking for any clue they can get that if they make a move it will get a positive response.

If guys can't detect any signs of interest in advance, many of them won't make a move.

This doesn't mean that suddenly the onus is all on you as to whether guys will show some interest or ask you out. Not at all. It is a subtle kind of 'dance' that depends on both guys and girls playing their parts. We've been talking here about flirting for girls, but guys need to flirt and show some interest too. The hope is that both can take a little risk and move some way towards each other, but each having a somewhat different role.

Where to now?

No, you don't have to flirt like the girl in the picture above. That kind of flirting has its place, but most of the time it will be something more subtle, showing some vibrancy of presence, giving a guy the impression that you enjoy his company, and that you hope for more. But usually not in so many words.

You might also like to read "What's the deal with flirting?".