The Science of Flirting

04 May 2021 | 5 mins

Flirting can be difficult and feel like a challenge to some. Luckily, science is on hand to set you right and give you a few useful technique

The night is young, you’re feeling right—then a single cute hottie walks right into sight.

You look over once, twice—three times. They’re looking out over the crowd—and your gaze meets theirs. It’s electric; and as the patrons part like the Red Sea for Moses, your heart beats to the pulsating bass—and you’re right there beside them.

You play it cool. Order a drink, look the other way. Then look back at an amazing sight: They’re smiling expectantly—they’re smiling at you.

You offer up a simple “Hey.” Can’t go wrong. They say it back. This is going perfectly. But then… silence. (Except the pounding 60-decibel kick drum echoing through the bar.) You swallow, blink, open your mouth like a stranded carp. Their eyes slide to the side. They gesture in a vague direction: “I’ve just gotta…”

“Yeah—okay see you… later.” But they’ve already gone. Your words fall flat on the sticky dance floor.

Flirting is tough. It’s a mystery—or at least, it feels that way most of the time. But if you’re constantly struggling to connect with attractive strangers, you’re either going for the wrong type— or the problem lies with your technique. Luckily, science is on hand to set you right. Because flirting can be learned—as long as you’ve got some basic understanding down.

Why does flirting make us anxious?

Humans are ultra-social creatures. If we see someone we like, we can’t snap our fingers and wake up with a spouse, two kids, and a mortgage. We’ve got to signal our interest to this beautiful newcomer to our life. Flirting is the intricate tapestry of behaviors threaded between you as you dance a dance that’s old as time. But if it’s so fundamental to our existence, what makes flirting so damn terrifying?

The answer’s simple: Evolutionarily, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Flirtatious behaviors are tied inextricably to the limbic system, one of the most ancient superstructures in the brain, and the driver of survival instincts—including the urge to reproduce. Attraction and arousal kick in regardless of where your mind’s at—and in the presence of an eligible partner, your impulses can take your faculties hostage. You become tongue-tied and lose any semblance of composure.

But while we can’t go rewiring our primal kill switches, we can study what makes them tick, and use that knowledge to enhance our flirting skills with specific adjustments, confident that science has got our back. After all, much of flirting is innate. Now you just need to cut the bad habits and focus on the behaviors your ancestors were employing 10,000 years ago to ignite that crucial first spark. Let’s explore five of the best.

  1. Eye contact

Holding someone’s gaze boosts feelings of affection and interest. To avoid overdoing it, Jodi Schulz of Michigan State University endorses the 50/70 rule: Maintain eye contact for 50% of the time you’re speaking, and 70% of the time you’re listening. (When I said specific tips, I meant it!) By Schulz’s estimation, this approach is the optimal balance of exuding intense interest without unintentionally gawking at them across the candlelit table.

  1. Touch

If things are going well, introducing some subtle tactility can get that chemistry seriously bubbling. The most intoxicating touch is a gentle one. A fleeting brush of fingers as you enter the restaurant—a brief, almost imperceptible squeeze of the hand when you laugh. The electrifying lightness of skin on skin has the power to convey a thousand words.

  1. Body language

Adopt an open posture when you’re putting the moves on. Don’t cross your arms, and keep your shoulders—and especially your feet—facing them. All of these small changes to the way you hold yourself make you appear more welcoming, friendly, and interested. If you’re hunched, clutching your bag, or have your body positioned away from your date, you submit a subconscious signal that you’re not present. Be conscious of how a simple head tilt can be a potent indicator of fascination. And if they start mimicking your movements—touching their hair when you touch yours, moving their shoulders forward as you lean in to express engagement—you may be on to a winner.

  1. Smiling

Want to relax on the date and truly enjoy yourself? Show off those pearly whites. Self-perception theory states that acting like you’re experiencing emotion can actualize that emotion within you. And smiling is emotionally contagious: Happy people (or at least people who appear happy) are perceived as more attractive and approachable.

  1. Wear red

This one’s a little out there—but bear with me. I’ve got the studies to back me up! (Wields a sheaf of papers in defiance.)

Research from the University of Rochester has demonstrated that wearing red increases perceived attractiveness—and interestingly, this holds true for men and women alike. So if you’re going nuclear—if this is to be the date to end all dates—consider donning that scarlet shirt or ruby ruffle top before heading out the door.

Stay cool—you’ve got this

According to a paper co-authored by Jeffrey Hall, author of The Five Flirting Styles: Use the Science of Flirting to Attract the Love You Really Wanteveryone has their own idiosyncratic way of flirting. The implications of that are pretty big: On the one hand, it can be hard to tell if someone’s flirting with you, or to make it clear that you’re trying it on with them; but on the other hand, you don’t have to change who you are, as long as you’re flexible with your flirting, and adapt organically to the other person’s behaviors.

The most confident flirt isn’t always the most attractive person in the room. It’s about signaling your availability, but more importantly, showing that you’re at ease with yourself. After all, why would your new romantic interest value your time and attention if you don’t act like you value yourself?

So harness the tips we’ve laid out today, but don’t get too hung up on the details, either—this is meant to be fun! Every romantic tête-à-tête is unique, and if you’re looking for a textbook example—there ain’t one. Shape your behaviors around these guidelines—and you’ll be scheduling date #2 before you know it.

If you’re looking for a little extra advice for your dating life—or want to meet some of the country’s most exceptional singletons—we can help. Maclynn International is an elite, multi-award-winning New York-based matchmaking consultancy. We’re experts at bringing together highly compatible singles—so the sparks fly from the moment you meet. Get in touch today, and prepare to enjoy the best flirting of your life!


About the Author

Gina Yannotta

Gina Yannotta is Head Matchmaker & Chief Operating Officer at Maclynn International's New York office. Gina’s unyielding passion for the field, in combination with her extensive experience in matchmaking, has allowed her to orchestrate successful and everlasting relationships amongst her clients. Tasked with running the Manhattan office, Gina utilizes her interpersonal skills and relationship expertise to make a splash in the matchmaking pool, personally connecting her clients with their ultimate match while simultaneously taking advantage of the endless possibilities that NYC offers to its client-base.

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