Flirting: turning fear into fun
How to identify flirting … The fear behind flirting … Flirting as play … ‘Hey! You’re kind of cute!’ … These news flashes and more in this week’s Sex in the Press.
Humans are crap at knowing when they’re actually flirting
‘Flirting is the promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee,’ according to Czech novelist Milan Kundera.
You also have no guarantee in knowing if someone is actually flirting with you, ‘Science explains how to know if someone is flirting with you’.
But now researchers have developed a system that identifies whether people are flirting better than the flirters themselves.
‘The system could tell with 71.5 per cent accuracy if the women were flirting with men, the men were only correct 56.2 per cent of the time. Women were closer to the course – they were 62.2 per cent accurate, while the system was 69 per cent accurate.’
Flirting men ask more questions, speak faster in a higher pitch but in a lower tone and ‘use more sexual, anger, and negative emotional words.’ Meanwhile flirting women often oscillate between using a higher and lower voice throughout the conversation. They also tend to smile more, toss their hair and expose their neck.
If truly flirting, both sexes tend to laugh more.
‘Flirting has been identified as a unique form of play; it’s a temporary state where both people need to let go and have fun if the game is going to work. If you’re coming at someone with some hot chat and they don’t banter back – it’s bad play. Talking doesn’t mean flirting, but playing usually does.’
We flirt out of fear
‘Like most animals, humans have mating rituals. The male bowerbird builds a neat little nest, complete with shiny shells and buttons, to attract females, while the male human wears a snappy suit. The female chimp shows off her swollen buttocks, while the female human shows off her hip-to-waist ratio in a mini-dress. And both male and female humans engage in a complex ritual called flirting,’ according to the excellent overview ‘This is your brain on flirting’.
‘One reason flirting can be so challenging – even terrifying – is that, as humans, we are inherently afraid of strangers. This fear is a leftover survival instinct from our days as hunters and gatherers. Thanks, evolution!’
‘That’s where flirting comes in. Its role is not just to help you pass time on the grocery line but to temper some of the effects of this fear – to show that we come in peace.’
I’m harmless. I’m not trying to kill you or steal your food. I just want to hang out some more.
‘In other words, humans flirt, in part, to convey: ‘I’m harmless. I’m not trying to kill you or steal your food. I just want to hang out some more.’ But this is why flirting can be tricky – at its core, it’s a fragile negotiation. Don’t show enough interest, you may not get noticed. Show too much interest, the other human remains fearful.’
‘And once humans go from ‘who the hell are you’ fear to ‘hey, you’re kind of cute’ flirting, the body becomes a vehicle for getting its point across.’
We begin staring into each other’s eyes and mirroring each other’s movements – ‘because safe is same and same is safe.’
‘With all these nonverbal cues flying around, it can be easy to misinterpret the signals, especially since flirting is not always used for sex. Humans also flirt for attention, money (think of a waitress flirting for tips), to persuade someone to do something for us – or just for fun.’
So when it comes to flirting, shouldn’t we just make fun the only promise?