The Grown-Up Guide to Flirting

When it comes to partying, there’s a fine line between charming and alarming. Relationship expert Jenni Trent Hughes explains how to flirt nicely

Every January my inbox is flooded with frantic letters from people scared to return to work because of something that went slightly wrong at a Christmas party. They run the gamut from ‘How was I to know she was the boss’s wife?’ to ‘I only asked him in for coffee. Where was the harm in that?’ We can blame fancy frocks and lethal cocktails but it’s usually the result of mixed signals and crossed wires. We spend the year with our heads down, not talking to strangers, then comes December and a year’s worth of flirtatious chatter comes pouring out in a mad rush.

As a society we seem to feel that flirting is unacceptable. Centuries ago Dr Johnson defined a flirt as ‘a pert hussy’ and since then we’ve decried flirting as a most despicable act.

‘She is such a flirt!’ is usually said with the venom reserved for the person who has just snapped up the last pair of market-down Jimmy Choos in your size. In countries such as Italy flirting is considered an artform. In the US accomplished flirts are often referred to as charismatic. The Irish are among the most accomplished in the world, yet cross that pool of water and a virtue becomes a vice. Here, flirting hints at lying, deception and trying to obtain under false pretences. Someone is saying something they probably don’t mean because they’re after something. You don’t want to give this ‘something’ of your own free will but these despicable folk are going to flirt it out of you.

Let’s be clear, there are two types of flirting: with innocence and with intent. One is perfectly permissible and has nothing to do with sex. The other is sometimes inappropriate and has much to do with sex.

Flirting with innocence is showing someone what you appreciate and like about them. Nothing more, nothing less. Stick to this definition and you can see that flirting of this sort can be done with everyone from your best friend’s 70-year-old auntie to the 10-year-old boy across the street. Innocent flirting crosses gender boundaries, age groups and has no sexual connotations. Everyone has at least one thing about him or her of interest. A true flirt knows how to identify this and reflect it to that person, which then leaves the flirtee feeling better about themselves for having connected with you. It used to be referred to as being charming.

Flirting with intent is the art of showing someone what you appreciate and like about them while introducing the possibility of a sexual element to the relationship.

One of the best things you can learn is how to spot who is being friendly and who is flirting with intent. Then decide if you’re amenable to their intent. If you are, then all systems go; if not, remove yourself from the situation. If you know there is intent behind the flirting and you don’t immediately state a lack of interest, then you are playing a game that is no better than theirs.

Now that you know the differences in flirting it’s easy to determine the where and when. If you’re single, you have a much wider choice: flirt with whomever you like, wherever you like, whenever you like – within reason, of course. The boss’s husband at the Christmas party is a bit of a no-no.

If you’re in a relationship, then your behaviour should be more circumspect. And be honest with yourself that you aren’t pretending to be innocent when there is lightly veiled intent. There’s nothing more repulsive than someone slobbering in your ear, murmuring: ‘If only I weren’t married…’ Naughty, naughty. If you are in a relationship, there should be no flirting with intent. Ever. Yes, you and your partner might have agreed that it’s OK, but proceed at your own risk. I have dealt with many a couple who have fallen foul of this sort of behaviour. Set boundaries if you like but be very careful with this, too. Other people’s feelings are involved. I have come across couples who feel that touching and kissing others is a form of innocent flirting and totally OK. But what about the poor person who feels you are genuinely interested in them? How do they feel when, at the end of the party, you say, ‘Right, I’ll find my wife now, we should go before the babysitter gets tired’?

In a perfect world couples would be equally adept at flirting, have the same outlook and the same boundaries. These couples tend to be referred to as ‘those charming Widdly-Smythes’. However, often one is flirting wildly while the other sits patiently in the corner waiting for midnight to strike. By the time you’ve reached the stage of committed relationship, you know what sort of a flirt your partner is. You will also know if you can deal with it. Please, please don’t tell yourself: ‘He flirts now but I’m sure he’ll stop once we’re married.’ Famous last words. You need to take the person as you find them. Talk about it. Discuss whether it makes you uncomfortable, see if you can reach a compromise. Be wary of anyone who says ‘that’s just me’ or ‘it doesn’t mean anything’; this could spell trouble further down the road.

When do you stop flirting? You need to be quite clear in your head of your intentions. Do you want to spend a bit of a time indulging in pleasurable conversation with someone, anyone – or are you interested in a personal relationship with this person? It’s important that you know this before you start. It’s easier to start friendly then lead into intent, but a lot trickier to do the opposite. Be very clear about the signals you’re sending out – especially if you’re a woman.

You also need to be aware of how your attentions are being received. If the person is smiling, laughing and thanking you, then you’re on the right track. Is the person leaning in towards you, are they smiling, is there eye contact? Good signs. If the person is leaning away from you or squirming then that means your attentions are either too full on or not welcome, so stop and return the conversation to more neutral ground.

If you’ve been knocking back the booze, just go home and spare everyone the hassle of having to deal with you, and yourself the embarrassment of going to the job centre.

Flirting can be a great deal of fun, but like any other spice it should be used carefully and with a light hand.

Good flirting
1. Find something to compliment. Avoid comments with sexual overtones. ‘You have such a lovely smile’ is preferable to ‘That top fits you really well’.
2. Listen to what the person is saying and ask questions. This lets them know that you are interested in their views and in them as a person rather than a faceless commodity.
3. Nod while listening and smile. This makes people feel comfortable and that you are in sync.
4. Find out the person’s status early in the conversation. ‘Are you here with a partner?’ or something similar. This way you aren’t making advances to the husband of Miriam in human resources.
5. If it seems the person is interested, introduce the idea of a future meeting. This will abolish the notion that you’re just hitting on them for a night of fun. The response you get will also help gauge if there is any interest.

Baaad flirting
1. Under no circumstances touch the person. Some people suggest this as a good way to let people know your intentions. I most certainly do not agree.
2. Do not invade their personal space. Arm’s length is fine; a smidgen closer if the venue is noisy. Many a possible friendship has ended before it’s begun after leaning in on someone you’ve only just met.
3. Do not lie. ‘Oh no, I’m single’, then two minutes later Bob from accounting saunters over and says: ‘I thought your wife was coming tonight…’ Could earn you a slap.
4. Watch your language. For some reason many people feel that sexual innuendo, racy stories or ‘dirty’ talk is the way to someone’s heart or bed. Usually not so. Subtlety is the key.
5. Don’t advertise something that you have no intention of delivering.

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1 Response to “The Grown-Up Guide to Flirting”


  1. 1 the mind secrets exposed review April 24, 2013 at 12:11 pm

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