To some people—the mightiest daters among us—flirting comes as naturally as breathing. These god-like individuals see someone they like, waltz over to speak with them, and before they know it, they’ve got their number. However, the rest of us mere mortals are not on the same level, and so it’s going to take work.
Luckily, learning how to flirt is easy and experts like T. Joel Wade, James Laidler, and Mac Stanley Cazeau are on the case, delving into how you can get this art form right. And, they told us everything they know.
Meet the Expert
- T. Joel Wade is a presidential professor of psychology at Bucknell University.
- James Laidler coaches gay men on intimacy and living authentic lives and is the founder of Pointerway.
- Mac Stanley Cazeau is a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in couples’ therapy via the Gottman Institute.
Science Behind Flirting
New research led by Wade revealed which methods of competitive flirting are the most effective at gaining one's attention. The study showed that so-called "tie-signs" were the best nonverbal way of attracting a new special someone. “Tie-signs are actions that suggest to a perceiver that there is a bond between the individuals,” Wade explains. Put simply, actions that let others know you have your eye on a person are likely to be effective. He adds, “These work because most individuals do not want to be labeled mate poachers, i.e. people who steal other people’s mates.”
While the research looked at heterosexual relationships (specifically how women can attract men) its findings may also apply to same-sex relationships. “The behaviors in this research show broad similarity to those between people of the same sex and for people who are gender non-conforming, But they only happen when the setting is safe for those people. That is typically private events with other LGBTQ+ people or queer spaces, like gay bars, for example,” says Laidler.
Nonverbal Flirting Techniques
Ready to flex your flirtatious muscles and get out there? Whether you’re looking for someone to take you down the aisle or something more casual, the first step is letting them know that you’re into them. Based on Wade’s research, let's take a look at some of the best nonverbal flirting techniques and why they might just work.
Use appropriate touch.
When you’re chatting to that special someone, gently touching their arm could let them know that you’re interested. “Touching them can be effective because it signifies to others that a bond is being, or has been, formed,” explains Wade.
Cazeau adds, “Touch also releases the hormone oxytocin that helps you feel bonded with one another. The more touch that takes place, the closer you feel to one another. Most importantly, ensure to keep consent in mind when touching other people.”
Make and hold eye contact.
If someone catches your eye when you’re out, there’s no harm in letting them see that. “Eye contact serves as an acknowledgment that I am checking you out, and would love to approach you for a conversation,” explains Cazeau. “When someone is flirting, eye contact also tends to be more intense and more frequent.”
If you’re looking to turn up the figurative heat between you and the other person, holding eye contact for longer than usual could be the way to go. “Sustained eye contact can lead to feelings of love and sustaining eye contact with the target person draws their attention away from the others,” says Wade.
Give them a hug.
If the timing is right and they’re open to it, lean in for a hug. This is a quick way to make a connection with someone new, and it’s all thanks to a little thing called science. “Hugging releases oxytocin, which bonds individuals,” explains Wade. “So, the target person’s attention is drawn away from the competitors.”
Get between them and the rival.
So, the person you’ve got your eye on is talking to someone else, what do you do? In this scenario, you have two options: You can let the pair continue their chatter and stand on the sidelines or you can jump right in and insert yourself into the conversation.
“Prior research shows that drawing the attention away from the competitor is a vital part of mate manipulation, a strategy for intrasexual mating competition,” explains Wade. “Mate manipulation includes isolating the mate to remove them from being considered by rivals.”
However, expert opinions differ on whether this rather pushy tactic is the way to go. While the research suggests that it could be an effective nonverbal flirting technique, Cazeau explains that it could give off the wrong vibe entirely. “Butting in is not effective as it can come across as aggressive and unwelcomed,” he says.
React to their jokes.
Picture the scene: You’re chatting with someone you’re into and they keep cracking jokes. Don’t play coy. Laugh out loud and let them know you find them hilarious. “Giggling at their jokes can be effective because laughter indicates liking which could also draw the attention away from the competitor,” says Wade.
“Humor is one of the most desirable traits when seeking a mate,” adds Cazeau. This simple sign shows a potential partner what you’re thinking. “Giggling at one’s joke states that you find them funny, interested, and they feel heard and validated. Furthermore, having a shared sense of humor speaks to compatibility.”
Joel Wade T, Fisher M, Clark E. I saw him first: Competitive nonverbal flirting among women, the tactics used and their perceived effectiveness. Pers Individ Dif. 2021;179:110898. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2021.110898