The art of flirting: how to get the best results, and things you should not do
It takes wit, body language, smarts and more to woo a potential love interest, but a playful and light attitude can go a long way. Luisa Tam has some tips on ways to flirt
Most people flirt, albeit in different ways and in various degrees, and some even do it unintentionally. Flirting is like an unspoken language that can be understood by men and women all over the world.
It is in our nature to flirt because we occasionally need attention to lift our self-esteem, and flirting seems to be an effortless way to boost self-confidence. Besides, it is also fun and enjoyable and can provide much-needed validation, especially for people in relationships that have gone stale.
Relationship experts will tell you that playful and gentle flirting with someone outside of a romantic commitment is harmless and can be healthy, provided that it is done with proper boundaries set down.
Sex educator and coach Sara Tang, who is also founder of Sarasense, a relationship consultancy, explains why flirting is good for our physical and emotional well-being.
“It’s a form of social communication and, when it’s done well, it helps to form positive connections with the people around you. It can be a form of pleasure, humour, and delight,” Tang says.
“It’s often validating for both the giver and the recipient, because the best form of flirting is when someone expresses a genuine interest in you, which can boost one’s self-esteem and deliver that feel-good factor.”
To get the positive outcomes, it is essential to set the parameters at the outset to make sure your flirting stays clean and healthy, and that you do not go over the top by investing too much time and energy in flirting, rather than nurturing your own committed relationship.
Moreover, you also need to understand various social contexts and be able to read cues for when flirting is acceptable; that means the recipient has to be a willing party.
And given the context of the #MeToo movement, flirting within a professional setting should be done with great caution, Tang warns. “When there is an unequal power dynamic, it can be easily misunderstood and can create an awkward workplace environment, or in the worst-case scenario, give rise to a sexual harassment allegation.”
There’s also the question of what makes someone a natural flirt. Tang says natural flirts are simply people who are confident and great communicators.
“These people find it easy to start a conversation with anyone and are usually very observant. This means they are able to figure out what to say to make others around them feel good. At the same time, they don’t take anything too personally, so if the flirting doesn’t go well, they will just move on and don’t take it to heart.”
To be a good flirt, the prerequisite is to enjoy the interaction and go into it with the mindset of having fun and not taking it too seriously, she advises.
“I don’t really believe that people necessarily have to learn how to flirt per se, but they can learn how to be more confident and comfortable in their own skin. And that will inevitably make them better flirts. You’ll be amazed at how doing small things like holding eye contact and smiling more get big results.”
Tang points out that because flirting is a form of communication and a flow of energy that helps connect two people, if both are willing participants, this interaction can ultimately lead to them falling in love and entering a relationship.
We also have to be understanding that there are people who don’t flirt or may be reluctant to do it due to personal experience or history.
“Of course, the decision to flirt or not is a personal one. I think it’s important to ask what’s driving that decision. Some people say ‘I don’t flirt’ because it’s driven by fear. Ultimately, flirting can be very intimidating for some people, as it puts us in a situation where we are not in control of the outcome and that can stop us from making a move in the first place.”
Furthermore, Tang reminds people in long-term partnerships that flirting is a powerful weapon in the love arsenal to fire up a relationship to keep it hot and fun.
“Ultimately, you want to use flirting in a relationship to recapture the magic and playfulness at the initial courtship phase. A few ideas could be to compliment your partner in front of other people, get dressed up for each other, engage in a little PDA [public displays of affection], or surprise your partner with a special gift for no reason except to make them smile,” says Tang.
And if you should decide to venture outside your relationship to flirt with other people, tread carefully so as not to hurt the existing partner. Tang advises that one of the best ways to do it is to be an “equal opportunity flirt”, which means to flirt with everyone from your neighbour to your acquaintances and friends, and just keep it warm, friendly and non-sexual.
This flirting style is safe, she says, because you “do not direct your flirting exclusively to a specific target as that may raise questions and create misunderstanding with your partner”.
Not all flirting is done with the aim of establishing a romantic or sexual connection. But some still view flirting as the first step to cheating on a partner, because it shows someone has an intent or interest in other people. Tang has this to say on the matter.
“I don’t believe this is always the case, but it really depends on the intention behind the flirting. If you’re flirting because there’s an intention to have an intimate relationship with another person, hide something, or deliberately harm your partner (i.e. make them jealous), then that’s when cheating and betrayal can occur,” she explains.
“But if the intention for flirting is to have some playful banter and harmless fun, then it’s totally fine!”
That being said, I am always mindful of a cautionary saying by renowned Czech novelist and poet Milan Kundera: “Flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee.”
So my philosophy is to never get yourself into a situation which you cannot handle or get out of.
Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post