Ah, flirting. One of the many things we’re just expected to figure out on our own, much like most of the unspoken social rules and conventions that come with getting older. And though a lot of the mechanics behind flirting seem to elude many of us, there’s actually been quite a bit of scientific interest in studying the psychology behind romantic attraction and courting behaviors such as flirting.
Generally characterized by specific gestures, body language, and direct or indirect social cues, sex educator and relationship coach Kelly Gonsalves defines flirting as “any method you use to signal to someone that you find them interesting and want to engage with them further.” Usually a fun and light-hearted activity between two people who find each other attractive, flirting should feel good for both parties involved and spark feelings of curiosity and excitement.
Now, does flirting actually work? Psychologists would say “very much so.” In fact, according to an article by self-help blogger and psychology writer Eric Barker, research has proven that flirting and signaling your availability to someone is a better predictor for romantic interest than attractiveness.
With that said, if you want to let someone know you’re interested in them but your fear of rejection is stopping you from saying it outright, don’t worry. Here are 7 subtle and psychology-backed ways to flirt:
1. Flirtatious Facial Expressions
Because it’s more socially acceptable for men to make the first move, women tend to flirt mainly through facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. Psychologist Jeremy Nicholson states that some of the most common examples of these include: turning your head to one side, tilting your chin down slightly, tossing your hair over your shoulder, and biting your lip while smiling. As for men…
2. Smile Slowly
While it’s not unheard of for men to follow a few of the same flirty facial expressions as women, according to psychologist and professor at California State University Dr. Pamela Regan, smiling is the single most effective and most universal method to convey romantic interest. To be more specific, when a man smiles slowly at a woman, it’s less likely to be mistaken as just a casual smile of friendliness.
3. Brief Glances
Similar to the last point, glancing briefly at someone only to look away is another subtle but well-known flirting technique often done by both genders. In Dr. Pamela Regan’s book “Close Relationships,” she writes that doing so indicates preferential attention and is a clear sign of positive romantic intentions. So if you want to flirt with someone but fear rejection, just steal a few glances at them from time to time until they notice.
4. Feather Light Touch
Still, self-help expert Eric Barker insists that the flirting technique that works better than anything else is simple touch. But don’t worry, you don’t have to invade someone’s personal space and worry about making them uncomfortable with your touch just to let them know you’re interested. There are some ways of flirting through subtle touch such as around their shoulder, waist, forearm, and hair.
5. Mind Your Appearance
Another great but subtle way of flirting with someone is to be more mindful of your appearance when you’re around them. And no, that doesn’t mean always checking the mirror while they’re talking to you — because that would actually make you seem vain and uninterested — but simply making a bit of extra effort to look nice for them. Think, a bit of makeup or some nice new clothes. Psychologist Jeremy Nicholson categorizes this as a physical way of flirting, along with practicing attractive body language and using touch to build attraction (like what we talked about earlier).
6. Tickle Their Funny Bone
Speaking of the different flirting styles, another one is the playful flirting style, wherein the goal is more about having fun than trying to start a relationship. In an article from Psychology Today, Dr. Nicholson stated that “playful flirts” know how to keep people interested by showing off their fun-spirited personality and great sense of humor. So if all else fails, you can always try your luck tickling the other person’s funny bone — always trying to make them laugh and finding ways to have fun with them — to let them know your true feelings.
7. Be More Yourself
Finally but perhaps most importantly, as cliche as it sounds, being your authentic self with someone you like is a great way to flirt with them. Why? Well, according to dating coach Clara Artschwager, “Thinking, ‘OK, how do I flirt better?’ I think is the very thing that kills our ability to have that kind of interaction.” Instead, she suggests that we approach flirting by being more ourselves and feeling more at ease with ourselves around the person we like. And with this will come a winning sense of confidence that can draw people in and make them more interested in you.
In summary, successful flirting starts with a friendly and inviting approach, engaging conversations/social interactions, and a mutual physical and emotional attraction towards one another. Still, psychologists and relationship experts such as Artschwager do maintain that because flirting is so personal, there is no single foolproof way that will work for everybody and on everybody.
So aside from following these empirically-based tips, it’s also important that you work on being more at ease with yourself and around the person you like. Have fun when you flirt, try to make some sparks fly, and see where it goes from there. Be sure to let us know in the comments below what are some of your own personal ways to subtly flirt with someone, too!
- Gonsalves, K. (2022 March). How To Flirt More Naturally, According To Dating Experts. MBG Relationships. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-to-flirt
- Barker, E. (2014 April). How to Flirt — Backed by Scientific Research. Time Magazine. Retrieved from https://time.com/59786/how-to-flirt-backed-by-scientific-research/
- Nicholson, J. (2017 June). 11 Key Flirting Techniques for Women. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-attraction-doctor/201706/11-key-flirting-techniques-women
- Nicholson, J. (2020 December). What Is Your Flirting Style? How Do You Flirt? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-attraction-doctor/202012/what-is-your-flirting-style-how-do-you-flirt
- Psychology Today. (2022 November). Flirting. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/flirting