The Fine Art of Flirting

Flirting is a delicate dance which most have been subject to, whether you are the one doing the leg work, or being hit on. However, flirting is not exclusively a human activity. There are many similarities which may be drawn between the mating styles of humans and animals. Most of the flirting we do is done at the unconscious level, meaning that we are not logically thinking about what our next move should be. Regardless of whether you are aware of your flirtatious endeavours, there is a method to the madness!

Males and females tend to approach the art of flirting in different ways. There are specific techniques which each gender “performs” to emphasize certain parts of their body, or portray themselves in particular ways. For instance, females tend to emphasize their hips, to indicate their ability to bear a child. Women also flip their hair, purse their lips, and raise their eyebrows. Men typically find women with “hourglass” figures attractive, as it is seen as the most fertile body type. Conversely, males tend to puff out their chest, show of their muscles, and laugh loudly to show dominance and display their physical capacity. Women find males with symmetrical faces and strong jawlines attractive, as it indicates strong genetic fitness.

When two individuals engage in flirting, regardless of their own tendencies, there are universal dynamics which occur. When people are attracted to another, they “mirror” each other’s actions, which means that they match the behaviour of the other person, to project their mutual interest. For example, if you are sitting at a table while out for dinner and someone leans their body in, the other individual might do the same to reciprocate the intimacy. Eye contact is also a significant way for individuals to show their interest. This is a strong and confident form of communicating when flirting. It lets the other individual know that you are comfortable in their presence.

There are many reasons as to why someone may flirt. First, individuals flirt for relational purposes. Aristotle claimed that all communication is goal oriented, thus when we engage in flirting, it is with the purpose of a specific end. The motive might be to alter the relationship status you have with another person (i.e. from friends to dating), or change the previous status you currently have in a relationship, to something more serious. Flirting may also be driven by a desire to explore the interest of the other individual. In essence, you are testing the waters to gage how another person feels about you. For example, are they mirroring your actions? Are they reciprocating the same attentiveness towards you? Lastly, flirting can be used to boost our self-esteem. It can be used simply to make an individual feel good about themselves, give us confidence, etc. We do not always necessarily flirt with people we find attractive, but sometimes do it to reassure ourselves.

While flirting between humans does involve higher orders of thinking, such as humour or banter, there are many similarities between the mating styles of humans and animals. For example, Adelie penguins live in stone nests and are extremely good at finding rocks. They will pick out a special rock to give to their mate to solidify their bond. This may be compared to a proposal or gift-giving between humans. Elephants are very emotional beings and often hold their trunks together to show their fondness of another. Humans exhibit the same behaviour when they hold hands. The Blue Bird of Paradise, when courting a female, will contract feathers on its chest, arch its tail feathers and call to the female. This is similar to the behaviour of the human male when engaging in flirting, in that they are trying to emphasize their chest, make themselves look big and laugh loudly when trying to be noticed by another individual.

Although there is no absolute choreographed dance between two individuals when flirting, there do seem to be reoccurring themes between males and females. There also seem to be practices that we exhibit which are similar to that of animals. Becoming aware of these techniques the next time you are hitting on someone, or getting hit on, might even help you step up your game!