Flirt is a word that I’ve been called. Fine, I’ll own it. I flirt. Who doesn’t?!
The problem is this is never an orchestrated, controlled behavior. In movies there’s often a target, then a sultry female walks over and—bam!—flirting time commences with glances and caresses.
When I like a boy or when I’m just being friendly I ooze flirtatious energy in a very subconscious way that’s unbeknownst to me. Later, someone will point this outas if identifying a landmark. “You were flirting with that guy at the barbecue.” What? Moi? Was I?
My flirting tactic of choice has always been a smidge of physical violence. By this I mean, playful tapping, a hearty smack to the arm, maybe a slight kick to the thigh or calf. Again, it’s not deliberate or plotted out. I just always find my hands and feet getting involved in the act, and I can’t help it.
At various points in my life I’ve been called out on this. During college a boyfriend took me aside. He was a half-a-foot taller than me and certainly heftier, a rower at that. Yet, my love taps were not striking his fancy. My assumption was he was joking. He was not and I had to very consciously keep my version of flirtatious energy in check.
Sometimes, my physical version of flirting has been described as cute and it’s well-received, at least during the short duration of our courtship. So, in hindsight, maybe it’s only tolerable for a limited time.
On the flipside my flirting radar could benefit from some improvement. Like my ability to spot a gay man a mile away, I can spot flirting happening to others at far distances and in their most subtle forms. As experiences have proven, though, I get it all wrong when it’s centered on me.
Recently, I thought a man was being plain rude by approaching me and asking my age. Others insisted he was trying to hit on me and tell me I looked young. Hell, if I knew that, I’ve certainly had the reverse too. Let’s just say sometimes asking where the strawberries are in the supermarket is just asking where the strawberries are.
I point all of this out because a recently-released study clued me in to how clueless we all are about the art of flirting. Thank God I’m not alone in my obliviousness.
The study, called “Accurately Detecting Flirting: Error Management Theory, the Traditional Sex Script, and Flirting Base Rate,” was published by the Communications Research Department of the University of Kansas in June.
Essentially the researchers observed 52 pairs of single, straight college students chit-chatting. After it was over they had the participants fill out surveys asking if they had flirted and whether their partner had flirted.
While 80 percent of the participants were able to detect when their partner was NOT flirting with them, they were horrible at knowing when a partner WAS flirting. Men in the study were correct 36 percent of the time. Women were even worse, getting it right just 18 percent of the time. Horrid.
Jeffrey Hall, an associate professor behind the study, explained that flirtatious behavior can be hard to spot for a few key reasons.
“People aren’t going to do it in obvious ways because they don’t want to be embarrassed, flirting looks a lot like being friendly, and we are not accustomed to having our flirting validated so we can get better at seeing it,” he explains.
True enough. Now we just have to figure out how to take this knowledge and become better flirting detectives and, in my case, flirt without the crutch of physical violence. Easier said than done.