Time to end the guessing game once and for all.
Few things are as convoluted and confusing as trying to figure out the intentions behind a stranger’s behavior in the moment, especially when it comes to flirting in person. At one point or another, we've all had to pause and ask ourselves something along the lines of, “Wait, is he flirting with me?” or, “Am I reading this wrong or did she just flirt?” Especially in situations of increased social interaction, such as in bars or at parties, it can be difficult to decipher whether or not someone is just being friendly and sociable or showing romantic interest in you.
Sometimes, I'm totally like “WTF is my life” after I was so sure a guy was into me, only to have him completely blindside me with a proclamation that he is uninterested. He may have even vanished without a trace, leaving me convinced something terrible must have happened. In my darkest hour, I have been known to send the venomous "Are you alive?" text and spend the rest of the day running over every detail of every interaction.
The big question is, can you ever truly tell if a girl or guy is flirting with you? “Flirting is not gender specific,” says Todd Baratz, a certified sex therapist and licensed couples psychotherapist. “It’s important to get out of the gender binary when thinking relationships and sex.” Guys flirt the same way that girls do, for the most part.
Just based on flirting styles alone, you can begin to figure out what type of person it is that you’re dealing with regardless of gender or identity. Baratz and dating expert and relationship writer Demetrius Figueroa spoke with Elite Daily to address some common flirting techniques and the deeper insights that can be gleaned from them.
1. Just Coming Right Out And Saying It
Anyone who's ever had a guy or girl spring their feelings onto them out of nowhere knows how flustering it can be. Whether it's a flirty compliment from a barista or someone who approaches you in the club, according to Figueroa, people who are explicit about what they want are being direct as a way to disarm you. This isn't a bad move, considering some of the more subtle seduction tactics can feel a bit contrived — putting the other person on the defense.
"When a guy tells you exactly what he wants, or how he feels, he's trying to prove that in some way, he's a bit more mature and well-rounded than his peers," says Figueroa. Having someone tell it to you straight can certainly be impressive and a surefire way to gauge their confidence level.
This doesn’t happen often. “I find that most people are uncomfortable with being explicitly flirtatious unless on a date,” Baratz says. “But if someone is direct, we can most likely assume that they are comfortable and confident.”
Figueroa also notes that when it comes to sussing out what a guy or girl is looking for, it is worth taking what people say at face value. "If he's upfront and tells you he only wants to hook up, believe him," he says.
2. Using Small Talk To Feel It Out
Some people find small talk to be one of the most anxiety-inducing flirting tactics out there. Others find it to be the most natural, because it begins in the same ways as most conversations they’ve ever had.
“Everyone is different in how they flirt,” Baratz says. “In terms of the meaning behind explicit or implicit flirts, it depends on the person.”
Figueroa suggests that people who try to feel out the situation by small talking with you may be a bit more guarded. That being said, you shouldn't necessarily assume that a take-it-slow approach means they’re not interested, but rather that they may be trying to protect themselves from being embarrassed or rejected, says Figueroa.
It's important to remember that openly flirting doesn't come easy to everyone. "He may have some discomfort with flirting or just a general tentativeness to put himself out there. Besides the tentativeness, though, you can assume he's interested if the small talk tends toward questions about your romantic status," notes Figueroa.
The idea of approaching someone you’re interested in with your intent on full blast understandably sounds stressful for some men and women. Easing into it might just be more relaxed and manageable.
3. Trying To Establish A Connection Using An Inside Joke
This is by far one of the most popular ways to be seduced. There's just something so satisfying about someone who can use their humor and wit as a way of showing interest. It's fun, it's relaxed, and it's free from the forced aloofness and overt cockiness that some people feel they need to embody when flirting. Most importantly, it builds a bond, Figueroa points out.
"Bonding builds connections, and connecting with them can help build attraction and show that you're attracted to them," suggests Figueroa.
Unless the inside joke feels forced, Figueroa also adds, there's a high chance that this person has good intentions. And it might be fair to assume this type of flirter is smart because they’re using a tactic with a built-in feedback mechanism. If there's chemistry, it's going to become apparent to both of you pretty quickly. If you're not vibing with the comedy routine, then it’s fair to cut your losses and move on.
4. Starting A Basic, Not-So-Flirty Conversation
This approach never fails to throw the receiver for a loop. With this type of come on, it's hard not to obsess over if the person is actually interested in you at all. According to Figueroa, this is kind of the point: "This is the behavior of a guy who is comfortable flirting, but doesn't feel the need to rely on typical flirty behavior to engage. It takes a certain amount of confidence to engage with someone, rather than flirt with them, to show your interest."
This might mean that individuals using this tactic are not only super confident, but are also making it clear to you that this isn't their first rodeo. Unfortunately, this not-so-obvious flirting style also makes it hard to pin down their true intentions. Figueroa agrees that this approach is "hard to read as genuine interest or just general skill at conversation."
The flirter might also just be looking for reciprocity from your side of things. They might be wondering if you can simply hang and be invested in a normal conversation about something non-flirty. “The best way to approach flirting is to take it slow and to do a bit of a dance,” Baratz says. “Receive a flirt and return the flirt.”
5. Doing Something Wild To Get Your Attention
If you've ever found yourself hanging out in a dive bar, minding your own business, and out of nowhere you see a guy tap dancing on the bar, he's probably trying to impress someone. It's pretty easy to spot these types of people a mile away. And while not taking yourself too seriously can definitely be a turn on, more often than not, these people take it a bit far.
Those who rely on doing something over-the-top to get your attention are probably not short on confidence. However, Figueroa suggests "[taking] this sort of flirting with a grain of salt," mostly because it's hard to differentiate between genuine interest on their part or a deep-seated need to be the center of attention.
However, if you both have a flair for the wild and attention-grabbing — looking at you, Lizzo and Harry Styles — then maybe this style of flirting is well-suited.
6. Using Specific Body Language
Nonverbal cues can be one of the most telling ways of how a girl or guy flirts. Just through body language alone, you can usually tell if someone’s intention is flirting over friendliness, according to Traci Brown, a body language expert.
Brown previously told Elite Daily that some clues are more obvious, such as “moving closer, direct eye contact, and ‘accidentally’ touching." More subtle movements are obviously harder to see but can definitely give you just as much of the lowdown. Brown recommended being on high alert for when a guy or girl is crossing their legs or leaning in toward you. That might be a signal for you to make a move, too.
7. Using Physical Contact
It should be said that anyone who's touching you without your consent should definitely be avoided. However, if you're into it and not put off by non-invasive physical gestures, it's definitely a sign that someone is attracted to you. "Not every guy who flirts by getting more physical only wants to hook up, but you can be certain that the guys who are looking to hook up will flirt this way," says Figueroa.
But when someone relies solely on physical contact, it is likely they are just looking for a one-and-done situation. That being said, when combined with another more sincere flirting tactic, touch can be a great way to gauge if physical chemistry is there.
8. Showing It On Their Face
Even though it has been long been believed that someone’s face, alone, can reveal how they really feel, a study conducted by researchers from the University of Kansas and published in the Journal of Sex Research concluded that specific facial expressions definitely indicate that someone is interested in you.
“For the first time, not only were we able to isolate and identify the expressions that represent flirting, but we were also able to reveal their function: to activate associations related with relationships and sex,” Omri Gillath, Ph.D., professor of psychology at KU and co-author of the study, told Cosmopolitan.
Using a facial coding system, the researchers found that if someone moves their head to one side and tilts down slightly, gives a slight and soft smile, and turns their eyes forward toward a single person, it’s a good indication that they are full-on flirting. It sure is subtle, but, hey, it’s backed by science.
9. Giving You Compliments
Women and nonbinary people, in particular, know all too well what it’s like to be subjected to unwanted, invasive compliments. However when it is welcomed, seems sincere, and comes from one person’s mouth on more than a few occasions, this can be a definite flirting technique. Relatedly, if someone is jokingly giving you backhanded compliments, it may be a sign that they are also flirting in a playful manner, life coach Jaya Jaya Myra told Bustle.
“Backhanded compliments allow someone to test the waters and see if you respond in a favorable manner," Myra says. "While not the not most straightforward way to flirt, it's extremely common for people who don't want to make their intentions obvious."
The issue with compliments, though, is that the intentions behind them aren’t always clear, so really trust your gut. “When someone offers a compliment it can be confusing as to what is motivating it,” Baratz says.
10. Offering To Buy You A Drink
This classic and timeless move still holds up, according to the experts. Who doesn't love a free drink? The only major downside to this move is once you've got your free drink, you could very well wind up stuck talking to someone whom you realize isn't a good fit after 30 seconds of chatting.
More importantly, though, it’s not the drink that’s the big thing to focus on here. Baratz emphasizes that it’s not so much about what is being offered — after all, not everyone drinks alcohol — but rather the meaning behind the action itself. “‘Can I buy you a drink?’ can be a statement that conveys interest,” Baratz says. “The actual activity can change.”
According to Figueroa, because this is such a common way for men to show interest, it can be a bit tricky to decipher if this person is looking for a relationship or simply a hookup. But rest assured, Figueroa says there is some hope: "Fear of rejection is a big thing for guys, so putting yourself in a position to be publicly rejected takes a lot of confidence, and can be taken as a sign of genuine interest."
Remember, flirting can only get you so far, so it's also important to consider someone’s actions and not just their words and compliments. If you're still not sure, getting your friends to weigh in can be one of the most helpful things you can do. It's so much easier to pick up on shadiness from the outside looking in.
Todd Baratz, certified sex therapist and licensed couples psychotherapist
Demetrius Figueroa, dating expert and relationship writer
Traci Brown, body language expert
Omri Gillath, Ph.D., professor of psychology at University of Kansas
Jaya Jaya Myra, life coach
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