Dr. NerdLove says the difference between flirting failure and mastery isn’t about avoiding mistakes, but how you roll with them when they happen.
There’s an old saying I find appropriate when it comes to meeting women: “no plan survives contact with the enemy”.
That is: no matter how much you may have mentally rehearsed approaching that brunette with the librarian glasses at the party who seems to keep giving you the eye, or you’ve been thinking of how to talk to that ginger hotness in your Calculus class, reality stubbornly refuses to conform to the script. No matter how experienced you are – whether you’re an approach-anxiety afflicted apprentice or a master seducer – you will encounter moments where the unexpected happens or when things just refuse to go according to plan. You’ll be hit with inexplicable bouts of anxiety, there will be times when things suddenly and mysteriously go wrong or when you misread the situation entirely.
The key between utter failure and social mastery isn’t about avoiding mistakes in the first place but how you roll with them when they happen. Let’s look at some of the most common problems that crop up when it comes to approaching the women you’re attracted to.
Is She Actually Interested In Me?
One of the trickiest parts of flirting with somebody is figuring out whether they’re interested in you in the first place when you’re talking to them. Men frequently complain that women’s signals are misleading – what might be a sign of attraction could just as easily be a random gesture. Is she preening for you when she’s playing with her hair while she’s talking to you or is this just something she does when she thinks? Is she angling her body towards you because she’s interested, or because she’s more comfortable that way? Is she mirroring you or are you imagining it?
One of the quirks of male and female socialization is that women give off hundreds of signals to indicate their interest in somebody… but men aren’t taught to receive them. Women are socialized to be indirect when they communicate with others – especially when it comes to dealing with men – while men are taught to be more overt. Because of the way society continues to view female sexuality, a woman who shows too much direct interest is often seen as a slut or a whore. As a result, women are more prone to signal their interest via body language and non-verbal communication; it’s socially more acceptable. As a result: women have a multitude of signals of interest – well over 50 by some counts. Men, on the other hand, tend to have 10 to 12. By the time men have picked up on one, women have usually tossed out several.
The problem is that guys tend to look for signals in isolation. A foot angled at you could be a sign… or it could just be how she’s sitting. Rubbing her neck could be preening behavior… or she could have a hair that’s starting to slide down the back of her dress.
The key is to look for clusters of signs – several indicators of interest that occur nearly simultaneously. A smile accompanied by her opening her body language, a hair toss and angling her legs towards you – that’s a cluster of signs that yes, she is interested and you should proceed accordingly. When in doubt, follow what’s known as The Rule of Four: look for at least four simultaneous indicators of interest instead of picking one and trying to read the tea-leaves.
Is She Available?
Guys, especially socially inexperienced ones, will tie themselves in knots over whether or not to approach somebody; one of the most common causes of anxiety is trying to guess whether or not she’s with someone. It’s usually easy to spot the married women – that engagement ring/wedding ring combo’s a fairly good indicator after all – but not everybody with a significant other is going to be wearing a huge sign that says “attached”. That guy hanging out with her: is he her boyfriend, just a friend or somebody she’s just met? Is she at the party by herself or is her boyfriend off talking to somebody? Hell, just because she’s giving you “I’m interested” signals while you’re talking doesn’t mean that she’s not with somebody anyway. How the heck are you supposed to know?
One of the tricks about body language is that much of it is unconscious; when we see somebody who turns us on, we’ll frequently give “come-hither” signs without even noticing it, even if we’re quite happily paired off. Much as with checking for signs of interest, you want to look at the whole picture.
For example: single people who’re looking to meet someone awesome will position themselves so that they are at least half-turned towards the crowd; they’re angling themselves so as to be more open to the people around them. The happily partnered tend to point themselves inward towards their group or the person they’re talking to – a sign that they’re not interested in somebody coming up and talking to them. Single people tend to scan the crowd and look up more often when somebody new has entered the room – they’re actively looking for people who interest them, while the unavailable are more focused on their own world and tend not to pay quite as much attention to their surroundings.
The thing to keep in mind is that even people with a partner or boyfriend may enjoy flirting with someone cute – after all, just because you’re not going to the party doesn’t mean it’s not nice to be invited. Sometimes it’s a naughty thrill; she likes the attention. Sometimes it’s just part of her personality – some folks are natural flirts and just enjoy flirting for its own sake rather than flirting with intent. Watch the eyes: if somebody’s showing signs of enjoying your company – leaning in while you talk, giving a genuine smile and taking active part in the conversation – but her eyes are clearly scanning the room, she’s probably watching for someone she knows, most likely her boyfriend. If you notice that her eyes are flicking around the room but she’s not otherwise giving the “trying to escape” signs, then it’s worth saying “Hey, you seem a little distracted. Are you waiting for someone?” If she’s got a boyfriend, she’ll tell you. Otherwise, she’ll either go back to giving you her full attention or find an excuse to talk to somebody else.
Of course, when in doubt, just ask. It’s better to say “Hey, I don’t want to step on any toes if you’re seeing someone, but I’d love to take you out sometime,” instead of spending the night flirting with somebody only to get the boyfriend objection when you try to get her number.
Is She Losing Interest, Or Am I Just Being Paranoid?
One thing that will happen as you get better socially is that you’ll find women who seem super into you at first but then seem to dial it back. It feels like maybe she’s not laughing as hard at your jokes or quite as willing to banter with you or that she’s smiling more at the guy who just came up and talked to you. She’s not leaving, but at the same time… it feels like maybe things are just off.
At times like these, it’s hard to know whether to trust your instincts or not. On the one hand, you’re feeling like something’s changed. On the other, it’s incredibly easy to read too much into otherwise minor changes. Are you just seeing things because you don’t believe this could possibly be going so well, or is she legitimately trying to shut you down? How do you get out of your head long enough to figure out what’s really going on?
When somebody has changed their mind about how they feel about you, then they’ll start to essentially flirt in reverse. They will be showing you that they are no longer interested by reversing their previous behavior. They will deliberately break eye-contact and actively avoid reengaging your gaze. Someone who’s into you will lean in when you talk; when she’s effectively de-courting, she’ll straighten up or lean back in order to establish greater distance between the two of you. She’ll be less responsive to your jokes – giving polite laughs, if that – and will show signs of being distracted.
Sometimes it will be a subtle change – she’ll simply be less responsive but still friendly. Other times, it will be much more obvious. If she actively turns her back on you – especially when she was previously making a point to face you and engage with you while in a group – then you’re done. She’s shutting you out of the interaction with her body. Time to make your excuses and leave.
You have to be willing to be logical about it and examine her behavior without aiming for the answer you want. It’s easy to assume that somebody is still into you just because she’s still talking to you; what you may not be noticing is the way her body language has changed. People lie with their mouths; their body language is usually a much more obvious indicator of their true feelings. If she’s closed off and angled away, then she’s not interested in you.
Oh Shit, She IS Losing Interest! Help!
If you’re finding that the person you’re flirting with is starting to show signs that she’s changed her mind, then you’re in damage control mode and you’ve only got a few moments to try to pull things back out of the fire.
The first thing you need to assess is just how uninterested she is – this will tell you whether the situation is fixable. For example: if she was more responsive before – touching you, preening or touching herself – but seems to have dialed back, then the likeliest cause is that you’ve sent the wrong message; she thought you were flirting before but now has decided that maybe she was mistaken and you were just being friendly and aren’t actually interested in her. The most common issue here is that you weren’t signaling your interest in her – you were trying to play it safe and avoid showing her that you were attracted to her. As a result: she’s started to consider you more as a friend than as a potential partner. This is how many guys end up in The Friend Zone: they don’t make it clear that they like the person they’re talking to. In all likelihood you weren’t touching her at all. Touch is a critical way of displaying interest or signaling that we want to get to know someone better… like, naked better.
The best time to touch her is during an emotional high-point: when she makes you laugh or says something that surprises you, when she tells you something personal or during a particularly emotional part of a story you’re telling. Keep it to safe areas – the forearm, the upper arm or her shoulder – and use a light touch of the fingertips; a brush, not a press.
If it’s a more immediate response – she’s reversing her previously flirty behavior – then there are two possibilities. Either she changed her mind or something you did triggered an unpleasant reaction in her. Some common causes of lost interest usually involve either being incongruent with who you appear to be or coming across as overly needy or nervous. You may have been shifting your weight or you froze up like a deer in the headlights. You may have been fidgeting with your hands or pushing a little too hard and ended up driving her off. Unfortunately, in times like these, there’s not much you can do in the moment; it’s better to fix these issues before you’re talking to someone. If it’s a recurring problem, then you may want to get an outside female friend to weigh in on how you’re presenting yourself.
If it’s something you’ve said, the change will likely be much quicker; you may have accidentally shoved your foot in your mouth or stepped on an emotional landmine you didn’t realize was there. If the cause was immediately obvious – you made a joke that failed miserably or said something you didn’t realize was offensive – then apologize sincerely. Not a “sorry if you’re offended (but you shouldn’t be)” non-apology, a genuine “I upset/offended you and I’m sorry for that”. The quicker you’re able to show that you realize you fucked up, the better the odds that you can recover. Never underestimate the power of a sincere apology.
If you don’t know what triggered this sudden change then the best thing to do is ask. A simple “Hey, are you ok? You got a little distant there. Did I say something wrong?” lets them know that you at least care enough to recognize that you may have made a mistake and want to correct it. They may say what you did. They may not. If they don’t… well, just let it go. All that’s going to happen if you keep pushing is that you’re going to make it worse.
I Can’t Tell If She’s Flirting With Me Or Not
Just as it can be hard to tell if she’s losing interest, sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether or not she’s actually flirting with intent, whether she’s just enjoying the time and attention, or if you’re mistaking niceness for actual flirting.
When you’re trying to gauge actual interest, then much like scanning for a loss of interest, you need to look at the whole picture. Just as you want to follow the Rule of Four when trying to determine whether she likes you, you don’t want to focus on any one sign but on several occurring at once.
To start: is she touching you? Are they brushes of the finger-tips or are they longer, more lingering touches? If you touch her and pull away – say, your foot touches theirs or your arm presses up against hers – does she find a reason to touch you back? Is she getting playful and pushing at you or punching you in the shoulder? These little teases are signs that she’s hitting on you… literally.
Watch her proximity. Someone who’s flirting with you is going to be making a point to get closer: she’s showing that she’s more comfortable with sharing personal space with you. She may lean in when talking to you or stand close to you – close enough to whisper – even though there’s sufficient room that she doesn’t need to be so close.
Is she using a prop or a gesture to draw attention to another part of her body, such as her mouth? Taking off her glasses and tapping the arms against her lips or running a straw over them is a classic flirting move; it’s calculated to make you think about kissing her. She may also tilt her head to the side and expose her neck – an erogenous zone for most women. Running her fingers up and down the stem of a wine-glass or other cylindrical object is also another sign – a very good one actually. It’s often an unconscious gesture and yes, it means exactly what you think it does.
If you’ve gotten several signs you feel indicate she’s definitely interested, take things up a notch. A more lingering touch in a more intimate area – the hand or the small of the back, leaning in close to say something in a more intimate setting and letting your breath tickle her skin or adding a little sexualized teasing will make it obvious that you’re interested in her… now you sit back and wait. If she’s interested, she’ll be much more likely to mirror your increasing intensity. If she’s not… well, she’ll draw back, either a little (she’s not flirting with intent) or a lot (you misread things… sorry) and you’ll have your answer.
But with a little practice and some careful observation, you’ll find that you’re having more success – and more fun – going out and flirting with the sexy women you’ve always wanted to meet.
Originally appeared at Paging Dr. NerdLove
Photo: Flickr/Don DeBold