Relationship expert Jean Smith (pictured) on how to make that tricky first move – safely
At the theatre recently I was groped inappropriately by a complete stranger. My husband and I were squeezing along to our seats when a man grabbed me around the waist.
He joked he ‘wouldn’t let me fall’. My husband was appalled. But this man’s familiarity towards me seemed relatively harmless on the constant sliding scale of what we women regularly encounter.
Since the allegations of inappropriate behaviour by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein surfaced, along with claims made by women against MPs in Westminster, one thing is clear: touching someone without invitation will no longer be overlooked.
So how do we navigate this brave new world? Especially when some women, such as the French actress Catherine Deneuve, aren’t happy with the changing rules, suggesting that men should be ‘free to hit on’ women.
So, what does it mean for flirting, for both men and women?
I would suggest that modern-day flirting needs to recognise that other people are not objects, or something to be conquered or ticked off, but human beings to be treated with respect, empathy and consideration.
Since the allegations of inappropriate behaviour by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein surfaced, along with claims made by women against MPs in Westminster, one thing is clear: touching someone without invitation will no longer be overlooked
Ask a question, then assess the situation: is this person responsive? Do they look like they want to engage? Do I want to continue engaging with them? Ask another question, then assess again.
So what qualifies me to tell you about the do’s and don’t’s of flirting? Well, I’m a social and cultural anthropologist and, as one of Britain’s leading experts in flirting and human attraction, I’ve devoted the past 15 years to the subject.
Even so, you probably don’t need me to tell you that a good flirting encounter is one of the best things we can experience. It doesn’t need to be about sexual chemistry. It can just be fun. The two of you are relaxed and in the moment, while a hint of something exciting bubbles under the surface. It’s playful; it makes both you and the other person feel special.
Imagine you’re in the queue at a coffee shop but that captivating smell isn’t coming from the freshly baked muffins– it’s from the alluring man ahead of you. ‘You smell nice,’ you say. He’s pleased, and responds with a shy, ‘why, thank you’. Then there’s eye contact that lasts a second longer than usual. Suddenly, you’re flirting. Encounters like this make an average day more fun. Most likely, it will stay as just a shared moment between two people but who knows? It could lead to something more!
So step forward Flirtology, the name of my new book, and an aid to life whether you’re in a relationship or not. It asks us to improve every interaction that we have, ranging from those in our close friendships to those with the receptionist at work.
If it leads to a new romance, brilliant! Armed with these principles, everything from a networking event to a morning run is an opportunity to make life a little more positive.
I would suggest that modern-day flirting needs to recognise that other people are not objects, or something to be conquered or ticked off, but human beings to be treated with respect, empathy and consideration
First steps of flirting
Some people are natural flirts. For others, it’s at best awkward – at worst, like root-canal surgery. But you too can learn to find all this enjoyable. More than anything else, flirting should be fun.
First, take the expectation down a few notches. Start by asking a stranger for directions, or for the correct time. Your success or failure is not tied to their response: it’s about whether you have done it. It’s just about practising making contact. Then try giving a compliment. When a woman with a gorgeous outfit walks by, try saying, ‘I love your dress!’
Compliment the man in the ticket office with the mesmerisingly dulcet tones with, ‘You have a wonderful voice. I didn’t think ordering tickets could be this enjoyable.’ Make it as specific as possible. For example, don’t say ‘nice eyes’, say, ‘I don’t think I have ever seen eyes as sparkly as yours.’
The five don’ts of flirting
1 Don’t… get specific
Don’t compliment a specific body part, unless it’s innocuous like a right thumb. More general comments, such as ‘That dress looks amazing on you’ is far safer – and less sleazy – than ‘Nice ass’. You might be thinking ‘I could fry an egg on those abs’ but stick to ‘You look handsome tonight’. Avoid randomly throwing around pet names like ‘love’ or ‘darling’.
2 … Stare them out
By all means make eye contact, but no ‘lock down’ eyes permitted. Everyone needs to blink!
3 … Ignore the signs
Check body language – do they look as if they want to talk to you? If their arms are firmly folded, eyes looking around the room trying to find a way out, this isn’t flirting; it’s a hostage situation. Be aware, read the signs.
4 … Invade their space
Don’t stand so close you can identify their brand of laundry powder. That only happens once the encounter has been given the green light by both sides.
5 … Refuse to accept failure
When it comes to unwanted advances, no means no. Always look carefully, you can see it in the body language if not the words.
The H.O.T. A.P.E. signals
My handy acronym H.O.T. A.P.E. identifies a flirt, and gives you the tools to successfully flirt yourself.
Let’s break it down.
H is for humour. Yes, they might have great hair and share your passion for ping-pong, but if you have to say, ‘only joking’ after each wry comment, can you imagine doing it for the next 20 years?
O is for open body language. If they’re squared up, facing you, with their feet pointed in your direction, it’s all looking good. If their feet are angled away, simulating a quick exit, or their arms are folded, forget it.
T is for touch. Once you touch, you’re definitely flirting. It should be used only as an addition to an interaction that is already sizzling. Best stick to a light touch on the arm and then gauge their reaction.
A is for attention. Are they paying you more attention than anyone else? Which moves us to…
P is for proximity. If they’re moving in closer, it’s a good sign that they are getting ready to flirt.
E is for eye contact – the most powerful giveaway. Three or more seconds is into flirty territory.
Location, Location, Location
Look around, make sure your body language is open, keep your head up, smile and engage with people.
Change your perspective and see where that leads you – that’s what I did. I was my husband’s Pilates teacher for a year. Every Thursday, there he was, back left-hand corner. He seemed like a nice guy and would always say something witty as he put his mat away. Then we started bumping into each other, at the swimming pool, the supermarket and the street, until we said, almost in unison, ‘We should meet up for a coffee sometime.’
Ditch the dating apps
The internet, with all its means of communication, is a tool, nothing more, and never a substitute for real-world interaction. We sit glued to our smartphones as opportunities pass us by – 15 million people in the UK are signed up to dating apps.
Top tip: Just stay in the here and now. Don’t pile on the pressure by thinking about how cute your kids will be. Simply link your conversation topic to a chance to meet again
We’ve begun choosing people as we’d choose a takeaway pizza. Dating sites offer filters, so you can choose someone tall or short, the perfect age and with the ‘right’ interests.
But tick boxes risk eliminating those who might be brilliant for you. What one really needs to know about another person – whether they are kind, curious, have a good sense of humour or sparkling eyes – cannot be jammed into a box.
How to make a graceful exit
A woman was looking forward to her office work party – a prime flirting opportunity. Sitting on the sofa with a divorced colleague, he’d got out his phone to show her every single snap of his kids.
Five minutes into the conversation, she had figured out she wasn’t interested in him, or the 400 photos of his daughter’s ballet performance. So, how to disengage? An all-purpose ‘it was nice to meet you, I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening,’ should suffice. If they show no signs of letting you go, vary it: ‘I’m going to go and mingle for a bit.’
On a date that’s going nowhere? End the night on a friendly but non-committal note, but be honest. ‘Thanks for your time, but I don’t think it’s going to work out.’
Above all, don’t say you ‘didn’t feel any chemistry’. We have half of the single population walking around thinking they have as much sexual appeal as a wet mop because of this ‘nice’ send- off.
Don’t try it with someone you don’t know well. Once you’ve established a connection, you may try touching a hand, arm or shoulder. A light tap should suffice. Then assess their reaction – did you get a positive response? If not, stop. Immediately
The green light
You chatted at the bar; you both love Rioja, have done half-marathons and enjoy rainy days with a good book. All the H.O.T. A.P.E. flirting signs seem to be there …suddenly it’s going too well.
The nerves are starting to kick in. How do you move it on without blowing it? Just stay in the here and now. Don’t pile on the pressure by thinking about how cute your kids will be. Simply link your conversation topic to a chance to meet again.
Touching – the golden rules
- Don’t try it with someone you don’t know well.
- Once you’ve established a connection, you may try touching a hand, arm or shoulder. A light tap should suffice.
- Then assess their reaction – did you get a positive response? If not, stop. Immediately.
- The flirtier the interaction – the lower the touch points on the body. Touching legs and knees? Only OK if you’re sure you’re picking up the right signals.
- Kissing is fun when both parties are a-go! Body language, eyes, and vibe will give you the signal.
Flirtology, by Jean Smith, is published by Bantam Press on February 8, priced £12.99. Offer price £10.39 (20 per cent discount) until January 21. Pre-order at mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640; p&p free on orders over £15.