A few months ago I was having a conversation with someone, both reminiscing about the past, and we happened to touch on a mutual friend.
“You know he was always flirting with you, right?”
I was shocked. This person just laughed and began to list all the ways that she perceived as this friend flirting with me. After they listed everything, I still wasn’t convinced.
But this discussion made me think: what the heck is flirting? How do you know when someone is flirting with you? Was there some secret handshake I didn’t know about?
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines flirting, or to flirt, as “to behave amorously without serious intent” (with amorous being defined as strongly moved by love). This does seem to match the culture and media we see around us. People flirt playfully, testing the waters before diving into that serious relationship. But this definition doesn’t really explain what it is.
If you lean into the scientific aspect, flirting stems from attraction and attraction is one of the parts of the three categories of love. Science has proved that the rush you get when you look at someone attractive is dopamine, produced by the hypothalamus. This is why you feel butterflies or almost lightheaded when seeing or talking to someone you like.
When you actively flirt or at least talk to that person you are attracted to, the dopamine is higher which makes you giddy. This rapid-fire in the pathways would explain why you might accidentally say something that’s not like you or sounds a bit odd.
But when someone starts flirting with you, you’ll probably not be going over all the scientific reasons on what was happening with their brain. Instead, you’ll just be asking yourself “Is that flirting?”
I bet, if you asked a range of people what they viewed as flirting, they would all give different answers. And I did. I asked a range of women and non-binary students and adults, around 15 people total, what they perceived as flirting and these are some responses I got:
- Playful banter
- Touching someone on the shoulder or arm
- Asking to hang out more
- Ask to borrow stuff
All very different. Funny enough, there was one overlap between the majority of answers though, which was that it was just too confusing.
Okay, but what if someone is doing one of these things and you just don’t notice until later? Well, this might be due to something called inattentional blindness.
Coined in 1998 by Arien Mack and Irvin Rock, inattentional blindness is a phenomenon when you’re so focused on one thing, your brain doesn’t expect the unexpected. For example, the experiment conducted had people watch a basketball game and keep track of the baskets made. Almost none of the participants noticed a woman in a gorilla suit walking across the court.
Similarly, if you’re already friends with someone, you may not notice them flirting with you since that’s not in your expectation of what friendship is. Remember though, there is no one answer. Everyone flirts differently and everyone perceives it differently. You can easily see what you want to see. If you want a definite answer, it’s best to just bite the bullet and ask the person you’re interested in.
Most importantly be yourself. It’s a cheesy and generic suggestion, but there’s no reason to change how you talk or act around someone you like because someone on the internet gave general tips and tricks.
So go into the world with this new knowledge and flirt to your heart’s content.