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Thursday, August 16, 2012

How Women Flirt: A Non-Verbal Guide For Men

"God created the flirt as soon
as he made the fool."
 -Victor Hugo

We men will never understand feminine mystique and all of the seemingly magical power possessed by women that allows them to transform us into devoted subjects of their affection. Consider non-verbal flirting, for example. Most women are masters of the subtle art of flirting -- making playful, romantic or sexual overtones with careful, measured, suggestive gestures. We need a guidebook to decipher this subtle art.

No doubt, we can and do often misread women's non-verbal signs. We easily misread something meant to be playful for something far more serious, and, of course, then we reciprocate in totally inappropriate or extremely embarrassing, cornball ways. We find ourselves playing the baited fool.

Consider men who grow up playing sports. We are taught to get non-verbal signals from our coaches, be certain of their meaning, and act immediately and directly to accomplish the tasks imparted by the signs. Simple and straightforward. If we miss the coaches' signals or misinterpret the signs, we immediately receive strict reprimand about our ineptitude to take action. In short, we have learned that to miss a signal can lead to total defeat. That “readiness” is why we often spring into action upon any flirtatious female gesture.

This response is part of the patent design of a man's simple, veracious brain. This is why we don't browse when shopping. Instead, when we see something advertised that matches our desires, we go directly to the store, straight down the appropriate aisle, and eagerly grab the product. We then purchases it and happily exit the store intent on getting back home and using the merchandise. To us, shopping is just like sports -- read the sign, make the commitment, and take the appropriate action.

However, when women flirt, they assume we can interpret their coy intentions, take our time choosing one of a million possible flirting responses, and proceed with extreme caution. Most of us just can't think along those indirect lines. In fact, sometimes women flirt just to enjoy counterfeiting their romantic notions; they love to affirm that they can attract us with absolutely no intent of entertaining any reciprocal provocative response. Women enjoy employing this saucy banter as they control our desires with their powerful feminine voodoo.

We men must beware. Women may enjoy flirting merely as fun. "People can flirt outrageously without intending anything," says independent sex researcher Timothy Perper, who has been researching flirting for 30 years. "Flirting captures the interest of the other person and says 'Would you like to play?'"

And one of the most exhilarating things about the game is that the normal rules of social interaction are rubberized. Clarity is not the point. "Flirting opens a window of potential. Not yes, not no," says Perper. "So we engage ourselves in this complex game of maybe." (Belinda Luscombe, "The Science of Romance: Why We Flirt," Time Magazine, January 17 2008)

I would hate to say how many cases of sexual harassment begin with playful flirting. Because when we hot-blooded, single-minded men believe a woman is flirting with us, we cannot resist turning into testosterone-fueled locomotives and rushing headlong toward what they interpret as merely seductive teasing.

This rush to judgment often leads to conflict. Face it --most males just do not have the cunning wile or the required patience to engage in the flirting game. Like hungry bass, we see the beautiful refection from the lure and swallow it hook, line, and sinker. Many of us will immediately jump right into the boat to accommodate the female fisherman.

Therefore, more often than not, we guys interpret even friendly cues, such as a subtle smile from a woman, as a sexual come-on. Why? Because when it comes to flirting, we are clueless. One common explanation for reports of us taking a friendly gesture as "she wants me," is based on our inherent interest in sex, which is thought to result from our biology as well as our upbringing. After all, one 2012 study in the Journal of Sex Research claims we think about sex 19 times a day vs. 10 times a day for women.

Following this idea, women and men may be aware of the same behavioral cues, but we have a lower threshold for what qualifies as sexual interest. In contrast, women would wait for compelling evidence before labeling a behavior as sexual interest. We, like other primate males, are born aggressors. Socialization, gender roles and gender stereotypes may also contribute to our "blurry vision" of non-verbal cues.

So, How Did This Flirting Thing Ever Begin?

The origin of the word flirt is pretty obscure. The Oxford English Dictionary associates it with such onomatopoeic words as flit and flick, emphasizing a lack of seriousness or moving in quick flights; on the other hand, it has been attributed to the Old French conter fleurette, which means "to (try to) seduce" by the dropping of flower petals, that is, "to speak sweet nothings" diminutive of fleur "flower" and metaphoric of bees skimming from flower to flower.

But soon, the natural honey bee image referred to the conduct of flitting ladies. Flirt (noun) came to mean "a pert young hussey" by the 1560s, and Shakespeare defined a flirt-gill as "a woman of light or loose behavior," while flirtgig was a 17th century Yorkshire dialect word for "a giddy, flighty girl."

All or any of these word histories could have fed into the main modern verbal sense of "play at courtship" (1777).

In Victorian times, overt signs of interest were generally considered unacceptable on the part of both men and women. Yet, even though they had not been properly introduced and courted, Victorian women would show interest in men through very subtle cues. One way was through floriography, or the language of flowers. Different flowers represented different feelings, and they could be very complicated. Dictionaries were published so that everyone could easily understand the meanings.

Here are a few "flower" basics:

Blue violet = faithfulness
Sunflower = lofty thoughts
White Lily = purity
Honeysuckle = devotion
Dahlia = elegance
Lavender = mistrust
Forget-me-not = true love
Ivy = dependence
Red and white roses = unity
Daffodil = unrequited love

Ages ago women also used fans as tools in the art of non-verbal flirting. Since women then didn’t want to be too obvious about their flirting, they started using flirting “props” such as hand fans to send messages of interest…or disinterest. Ladies carried fans wherever they went, so the use of the fan as a communication tool became very popular in the 18th century and carried over into Victorian times.

Here is some Victorian Flirtatious Fan language:

Presenting the fan shut: “Do you love me?”
Putting the fan handle to the lips: “Kiss me”
Placing the fan near the heart: You have won my love.
Hiding the eyes behind an open fan: I love you
Covering the left ear with an open fan: “Do not betray our secret”
Opening a fan wide: “Wait for me”
Opening and closing the fan several times: You are cruel.
Twirling the fan in the left hand: You are being watched.
Twirling the fan I the right hand: “I love another”
Fanning quickly: “I am engaged”
Fanning slowly: I am married.
Half-opened fan pressed to the lips: You may kiss me.
A closed fan touching the right eye: “When may I be allowed to see you?
Drawing the fan across the eyes: “I am sorry”

These elaborate props would have required men to devote quite a bit of studying to reading a woman's true intentions. For most suitors, observing and understanding “fan language" would have taxed their powers of keen observation and would have demanded an aid of an interpretative cheat sheet. And, what if a lady was "fanning" for another man in the same setting. I bet some nasty fights resulted due to this airy communication.

Flirting Today

What about the way women prefer to flirt now? When it comes to flirting today, women are not waiting around for us to make the first move. They are taking the initiative more than ever before. Scientists call all these little acts "contact-readiness" cues because they indicate, non verbally, that women are prepared for physical engagement.

Research has revealed that body language constitutes over fifty percent of communication and the things that people say only represent roughly seven percent. The remainder is represented by intonation (the sound of the voice). Which means that the things that women say actually aren't as meaningful as just how they say it along with the things that their body language is saying. (Mike Francis, “Flirting With Body Language,” sooperarticles, August 9 2012)

Unfortunately, non-verbal flirting is as complicated as ever. Although most of the time women send physical cues to let us know whether they are interested or not, we of little patience refuse to pay attention to all the small details. While any one of these signs may not give us the “green light,” a combination of flirtatious clues may be a direct invitation to advance. We face a tremendous challenge if we want to become masters of reading these promising flirtations. And, we must understand that perfection may be impossible.

Reading Non-Verbal Flirtations


A recent study by scientists at Manchester University in the UK has shown that our eyes are drawn to a woman's lips within the first 10 seconds of meeting her. Red lips and perceived attractiveness are still inextricably linked, with red lipstick the most powerful attractor, and one that significantly increases our visual fixation. (“Lips Are a Woman's Most Attractive Feature, Study Finds,” Queensland Daily Mail, November 26 2010)

When women have lipstick on, we gaze at their lips for an average of 7 seconds, just 0.95 seconds are spent on looking at eyes and only 0.85 seconds are spent watching their hair.

When women are without makeup, then men only look at their lips for 2.2 seconds and instead 2.77 seconds are spent admiring their nose and 2.97 seconds spent appreciating the beautiful eyes.

Lead researcher, Dr Geoff Beattie, said that this study confirms that lips are the most sensual part of female body and play a major role in sexual attraction. Full lips with red lipstick combined with a pout are the most potent weapon in a woman’s repertoire. Regardless of lip type, a woman can secure greater levels of attraction by just applying lipstick.

When women touch their lips and apply gloss and lipstick, they know we are watching. Lips are flirting tools that are both potent and effective. A flirt may also sensuously employ her lips by using the straw in her cocktail instead of just sipping from the glass. A tremendous amount of flirtatious energy is tied up in a woman’s lips.

Some experts claim there is nothing like the Lower Lip Nibble to subconsciously give us an injection of pure of testosterone. In the nibble, the woman will gently grip her lower lip with her teeth and with sensual slowness, allow it to slip away. Done well and without awareness this can drive us to our knees.
A flirt may also wet her lips frequently, or she might try to plump her lips, giving them that "pouty" look to create a more sexy appeal, another positive sign that she's interested in us.

MRI scans of the brain have shown that eye contact activates an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, otherwise known as the reward center. Essentially, that means we’re wired to interpret someone gazing into our eyes as the ultimate treat.

So, naturally, the eyes are considered the most important flirting mechanism. For instance, a woman who is interested will often give us a few lingering glances – ones that last longer than usual, about two to three seconds. (That may not sound like long, but it will seem like an eternity; non romantic glances last only 1.18 seconds on average.) Some say the duration of her eye contact is proportional to her level of initial interest. She will then break the eye contact and look down. We may interpret this as a submissive sign. Frequent downward glances suggests demureness which many of us find evocatively appealing.

Some women may use a technique known as the the triangular formation of vision. They may shift their vision from one of our eyes to the other, and to the bridge of the nose. As a woman becomes more interested in us, this triangular formation extends downward. Some say that it’s rude to look at a stranger’s body, but people really can’t help it when they feel attracted.

The strong combination of meeting our gaze, and then looking away, really screams “I want you.” In fact, this flirting behavior is known as the “copulatory gaze.”

Arched eyebrows are one of the top body language signs of flirting. The raised eyebrow in American culture breaks the taboo of sustained eye contact and is used in everyday flirting to signal interest. An inviting eyebrow flash is usually very fast and accompanied with a smile.

Or, a flirt may narrow her eyes slightly just like those sultry femme fatales in the movies. Her pupils will often dilate when she’s interested. Basic biology tells us that when people like something (or someone) their pupils expand (dilate). When they don't like something, they contract. If her pupils are big, it may be a sign that she likes us. On the other hand, if her pupils are small and pointed, it may be a bad sign.

Even a demure sideways glance from a woman who avoids direct eye contact can be a strong sign of flirting. This could be an invitation for us to take initiative and introduce ourselves.


A woman's smile is said to be the sexiest curve on her body. Her smile, with eye contact, is seen by us as an immediate invitation for much more closeness. That is a signal programmed into our old brain limbic system, and we just can't ignore it. Whether we want to or not, our brain will change our body chemicals to start getting ready for action.
How do we know when a woman's smile is not just a courtesy? A sincere smile is normally slow and not nervous or forced. The Researchers say that in a true smile, the outer corners of the eyes crinkle into "crow's-feet.” These small lines are made by muscles that cannot be consciously controlled; therefore, a fake smile does not have these lines at the eyes.
This true smile is called a "Duchenne smile" and involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle to raise the corners of the mouth and the orbicularis oculi muscle to raise the cheeks and form the "crow's feet" at the eyes' outer edges. A non-Duchenne smile uses only the zygomatic major muscle at the mouth.
A true smile lasts a short limited time (up to only 5 seconds) then the face changes to more relaxed. A fake smile is done with different muscles and can stay on the face all day long. A true smile is also symmetrical. The muscles on both sides of the face operate equally in a really true emotional smile. A fake smile is often greatly more evident on only one side of the face.
If a flirt smiles after giving us several glances, it’s a very good sign. It means that she wants us to talk to her. Of course, we must return her smile. One dating expert advises: “Guys, if you lock eyes and smiles with a woman three or more times in an evening, you have received a clear signal that she's interested. Make your move, head on over and start up a conversation. If you don't, somebody else will."

Ambiguous Gestures

Some women bat their eyelashes or run their fingers through their hair. They often flirt like this to test our intentions, using ambiguous gestures. The Social Institute Research Centre has coined a term for these ambiguous flirting gestures, like hair touching. They're protean signals, named for the Greek shape-shifting god Proteus.

Of course, if a woman uses these gestures and learns that we aren't interested, then she can always play them off as not being flirtatious. Make no mistake, we men must know that a woman is in control of the flirting game.

Twirling or flicking hair is a favorite feminine flirting gesture. Why this has such an effect on men is a hotly debated subject. The Definitive Book of Body Language (Allan and Barbara) allegedly claims that it allows a woman to expose her armpit and thus "waft" pheromones to the man. Or, she may be doing this to casually expose her neck.

It is believed that exposure of the neck is one of the most winning flirting techniques a woman can use. This can be done with the classic hair flip, with a head tilt to one side, or the over-the-shoulder glance - the asymmetrical position attracts attention, exposes her neck, and gives her the opportunity to lock eyes.

While flirting, a woman may play with her accessories such as her earrings or her necklace. Or, she may twist her pinky ring. These fidgety behaviors likely mean she is nervously flirting if she combines them with making eye contact.

The position of a woman's hands can also tell a lot about her opinion of us. If she has faced both hands palms up, she is probably interested. Moreover, is she has rested the elbow of one hand into the palm of the other, which is cocked up and facing palm out, she is sending a signal that she is engaged in our conversation.
And how about the shoes? The Show Dangle is a strong but subtle message to us. Translated it says: “By half slipping off my shoe I'm indicating that I am relaxed, comfortable and may be willing to undress further." Also, for many of us (even those that won't admit it), the female foot is strangely attractive. Women worldwide spend Billions of Dollars on footwear and pedicures and they do it for a reason.
Preening tends to be an important part of how women flirt. Most women will focus on their physical appearance as soon as we catch their eye. A woman may straighten her skirt, fix her coat or check the buttons on her blouse.

A flirt may also toss her hair around, stroke it or comb it slowly. This is her way of trying to make the best first impression she can. Long, flowing hair has always been a sign of feminine health and thus sexuality and child bearing ability. By tossing her hair a woman is essentially saying: “Look at me and my suitability. I am happy, confident and very healthy!”

Feet and Posture

Feet typically point in the direction they want to go, so if someone’s feet are pointed toward us, that’s good. If they’re pointed away from us, that’s bad. If someone’s feet are pointed in toward each other, that “pigeon toes” stance is actually a good sign, since it’s a subconscious attempt to shrink in size and appear harmless, approachable ... which may very well mean someone likes us, a lot.
If a woman is trying to maintain an erect posture it's likely she's trying to make a good impression. Women who tend to slouch have either lower self-esteem about their bodies, and/or, aren't comfortable with the current situation. If her legs are open or crossed and pointed in our direction she is sending us positive signals. If she has crossed her legs and they are down and away from us, perhaps she is not interested in beginning a conversation.
Another positive sign with an open posture would be leaning forward. This is a sign of attentiveness and interest or liking. Also, experiments have shown that females are more likely to tilt their heads to one side when they are interested in us while we are conversing.

Should we reach out to touch a woman who flirts? Many authorities say we should probably wait for her to touch us. Women are much less open to touching and may take any physical contact as threatening.
But when a woman initiates touching, even if done casually and briefly, it is most often a serious sign of flirting. The slight differences in a “flirty” touch vs. a “friendly” touch are discreet, yet touch connects with a man’s primal instincts almost instantly. After a flirt touches us, we should reciprocate.

If a woman does touch us, she may place her hand on our shoulder or leg or playfully pat us on the back. She may“accidentally” touch our hand when she’s passing us something. If she leaves her hand for more than a few seconds, we should take this as a sign she’s flirting.
Social researchers say that the knee is, perhaps, the most suggestive place a woman may touch us. If a flirt touches our knee just once it could be a fluke. But twice? That probably is an offer to let us touch her knee and well... let's just say that the contact is very suggestive.
A woman may also flirt by touching a part of her own body. For example, she might cross and uncross her legs while slowly stroking her thigh. Or she might slowly stroke an object such as her glass. Subtle or obvious touching -- women are very aware of the way that this subconsciously affects us, and they will do it deliberately. Where it is subconscious it is a truly reliable indicator of a woman's feelings.

Many dating experts feel if a woman touches or rubs her arm, it’s a good sign. And, generally, if she touches any other part of her body, it’s a great sign. Essentially touching means: "I'm stroking and touching myself because I'd really like to be stroked and touched by you.”Also, by touching herself in this way, a woman draws our attention to erogenous zones that she thinks are her best assets and will appeal to us.

When women touch their necks, they are probably feeling sexy. The neck is one of a woman's most sensitive erogenous zones, and we are attracted to soft, smooth female skin. Exposing the neck is socially acceptable, and touching it stimulates a gentle soothing and loving sensation.

While we aren’t usually aware of it, we tend to mirror the actions of people we’re attracted to. So if we want to gauge whether someone’s attracted to us, we could check our watch –then see if she checks hers. Or scratch our arm, then see if she scratches hers. In other words, watch for a flirt to follow our behaviors.
In mirroring, a woman tunes in to our movements and imitates them in some manner. Generally, the mirror actions are done in a natural manner after 10-20 seconds. In effect, the mirror is a subconscious reaction of interest.
If a woman who is flirting within a pack of friends, she may stray from them after making flirtatious contact with us. A woman knows that the most difficult defense for us to penetrate is her wall of friends and well-wishers. Moving away from them signals that she is lowering her defense barriers to let us into her private space.
How would we approach a woman if we decide she is flirting? Most scientists recommend keeping a space of about four feet between us and the woman as we approach her. Researchers at the Social Issues Research Center report that about four feet is an acceptable social distance to maintain. When the woman crosses that threshold and closes the space between us, then we can be assured that she is flirting with us. If she has no interest in us, she will likely back away and increase the distance.
Most of us men are just easygoing and simple. This is not to say we don't appreciate the complex art of flirting and the women who practice it so well. I think it's safe to say a woman who exhibits a certain playful attitude is more attractive than a stick-in the-mud beauty. Let's just say I believe a woman who knows how to accentuate her positive features attracts my attention. Even if I don't understand exactly what a woman means when she works her magic, I enjoy the show. Just have a little mercy on us, girls because our one-track mind can get us into dumb, embarrassing situations.

Now, let me end this writing by saying that my days of interpreting flirtations are over. I'm married and much too old to reciprocate any advances. I thought this post might help some poor young fellows who are participants in the strange world of decoding feminine follies. Besides, it was fun to research some of the often used signals employed in the game. I do have fond memories of times when my mind went haywire because I thought “she” was flirting with “me.” And no, I never had to read the “fan language” or engage in floriography. I'm a little younger than those flirty Victorians. But, some of that stuff does sound kind of fun.
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