Flirting should be as intuitive as a call of nature. Both are driven by basic urges, and both can bring some of the greatest satisfaction known to man. But while our bathroom technique grows ever more comfortable (aloe vera paper, come to papa), flirting can feel like that moment you discover the roll is bare and not even Alexa can help you.
So, what’s changed? For starters, our wingman. Back in ancient times – so, around 15 years ago – your wingman was an actual man, whose bar chat set a benchmark to beat. Today, the third party connecting you to potential dates is a software company, which increases findability and speed but decreases the social cues, like facial expressions and body language, that let you know if someone is really into you.
“When messages and apps reduce this feedback, our brain fills in the gaps. If our brain is horny, this can create confusing and inappropriate situations,” explains Dr Bernie Hogan, who researches personal social networks at the Oxford Internet Institute. “We’ve gone from the romantic subtleties of touching someone’s leg during a movie on a third date to thinking, ‘Do they want sex or not? I’ll send them a dick pic to find out’.”
Making your intentions clear, without overdoing it, is now more complex than how much Dior Sauvage to apply with your date night outfit. “Post-#MeToo, some men feel reticent to make a move at all,” comments dating coach, Hayley Quinn. While an instantly-at-your-palm porn culture breeds frustration when real-life encounters fail to match the zero-to-bedroom-hero theatrics of the laptop screen.
“We now have more single people who’ve never had sex than in the history of sex studies,” confirms Dr Hogan. “People oscillate between dating’s fear of rejection and the easy self-gratification of porn. But there is a middle ground, where a little seduction will go a long way.”
Smart flirting is your GPS there. The good news is that you already have all the tools you need, and none of them come from your crotch. There’s a reason why that area is nicknamed your junk.
How To Flirt: A Modern Manual
Do Take Flirtation Offline
In-person flirting might feel like the landline of the dating world, but it’s the only effective signal-reading test. Dr Hogan encourages people to go IRL with date ideas, ASAP.
“Whether it’s a coffee, a walk in a park or dinner, you get a shared context to talk about as opposed to ‘we’re on a dating app, we share images of each other’.” Stay digital and your inner sleuth (AKA your inner crazy) will search the internet to fill in what you don’t know about the other person.
“You think it’s harmless, but you’re building up a picture which may not be what they want to share with you. This creates distance, not closeness.”
Don’t Bombard Their Social Channels
Proof that we’re the luckiest and laziest generation in history: you don’t even need to join a dating site to find millions of images of potential singles. But are social platforms like Instagram, or even LinkedIn, fair game?
Dr Hogan’s research found that acceptability varies by culture. More gregarious countries – Brazil, Spain, Italy – were much more likely to use social networks than ‘quieter’ cultures, such as Nordic countries, which preferred very structured dating apps. “The problem is when you cross a context that someone doesn’t expect,” he heeds. Take LinkedIn.
“Contact someone solely because you find them attractive and it’s very easy to push too hard, making them feel disempowered instead of respected and autonomous.” On image-heavy platforms like Instagram, it’s even easier to decontextualise someone to the point where you’ve liked 170 pictures, doused them comments like you were throwing salt on your chips, and you haven’t just slid into their DMs, you’ve vomited all over their inbox.
“This intensity can come across as obsessive. It’s not just unsuccessful, it can be threatening.”
Do Pay Attention To Feedback
It’s the most important F-word at work (even if a shorter, ruder one sometimes springs to mind), and feedback is equally pivotal in dating. Why? “Because there is no chat-up line in the world that is so wonderful that it can persuade someone of something they don’t feel, or aren’t open to,” says Quinn.
“Interactions are co-created, and if the other person seems disinterested or uncomfortable, take the feedback and leave it. If you send a DM and don’t get a response, move on.” It’s not a case of rejection, it’s about prioritising and investing your time in people who want to reciprocate.
Don’t Get Graphic With Compliments
Used subtly, compliments are a natural in. Speak from the pants, not the heart, however, and you’ve fast-tracked yourself to sleaze. Firstly, implied beats explicit, urges Quinn. ‘I just had to come and talk to you…’, which implies attraction, is less invasive than a comment about their legs.
Next, keep it simple. ‘You have a great smile/accent’ is less creepy than gushing, ‘I really like how you’re so XXX, that’s just so amazing,’ which feels too intense. Thirdly, focus on personality. “It’s a lot more meaningful when someone validates who you are versus what you look like,” she adds.
Do Use Touch…
…but look for reciprocation. Quinn has a great way of viewing physical contact: “Touch is a conversation between two people,” she explains. “It should never be a man repeatedly touching a woman to try to turn her on.” Start with a light, brief touch to someone’s arm.
If reciprocated, move a little closer or hold the touch longer. It’s also fine to ask, ‘Can I give you a hug? I didn’t want to overstep the mark’, which is far better than assuming and lunging. Done right – and reciprocally – touch aces connection and trust.
Don’t Say ‘Hey’
According to Alex Durrant, CEO of dating app, Jigtalk, ‘hey’ is the most common opening line on apps – but also gets the least responses. You get out what you put in, and a one-worder – or, worse, one waving emoji – will not cut it.
For the first contact, personalise your message towards something on the person’s bio – say, ‘I bet you’re into cooler music/films/sports than me’, which invites a response. Once the ice is broken, have some get-to-know-you questions on hand to kindle the chemistry.
Madeleine Mason Roantree, a dating psychologist at London matchmaking agency The Vida Consultancy, directs clients to 36 Questions In Love – a ready-made list of conversation prompts, such as: Would you like to be famous? What is your most treasured memory? What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
Do React To Social Media Stories
“People use Instagram Stories and Snapchat to pour out their emotions. React or reply to these – which tend to be more personal than curated Posts – and you have a higher chance of building up a meaningful connection on these channels,” suggests Celia Schweyer, a dating expert at DatingScout.co.uk.
Keep contact casual and focused on things you have in common – ‘I really like this too’ (about a favourite food, say) or ‘I didn’t know you were into this! Same!’
Don’t Get Naked
Not, like, ever. But all of our experts agree that a nude photoshoot is best confined to a relationship, “where both parties are mutually interested and comfortable receiving images,” says Mason Roantree. Memes (clothed ones) and emojis express interest without offending the other person or being too explicit. In short: don’t be a dick, or send one.