No-Fail Flirting

Maybe you're content with your usual Friday night routine of watching Behind the Music over a dinner of Cap'n Crunch. But if you've been thinking that it's time to get out and meet new people, it pays to brush up on the art of flirtation.

Flirting, also known as "interacting amorously with others without serious intent," in the words of New York City-based therapist and flirting guru Susan Rabin, M.A., used to mean that you were a tease. Not anymore. Flirting has become a necessity. The reason? Longer work hours and communication technologies like E-mail are isolating us and depriving us of social interactions, says Rabin, author of 101 Ways to Flirt (Plume, 1997).

Contrary to popular belief, the point of flirting isn't necessarily to find your soul mate, or even a one-night stand. Flirting with strangers, from the mailman to the hottie who works at the video store, is a low-pressure way to boost your self-confidence and get over that ever-present fear of rejection. If the Starbucks cashier smiles back at you, you feel attractive; if he or she doesn't, so what? He or she wasn't the man or woman of your dreams anyway.

Getting good at flirting pays off in two ways. It makes you more comfortable approaching others, and makes you more approachable to others. Bottom line: The more people you flirt with, the better your chances of meeting someone with whom you click.

Flirting 101 Flirting is a skill anyone can learn, and practice makes perfect. What follows are Rabin's tips for meeting new people.

Tips for Women

  • Next time you're at a party, don't stand in a group of friends. There may be safety in numbers, but it's intimidating enough for a guy to face one woman, much less three or four. You're more approachable if you're standing solo. Just let your girlfriends know where you are so they can look out for you.

  • Smile, smile, smile. This one simple action makes you more approachable and more attractive.

  • Send short, repetitive glances in a guy's direction. They let the guy know that you're interested. Timing is key here. Too short a glance, and you look nervous. But long, searching looks can be more scary than seductive.

  • If you're already talking to the guy, a lingering look is appropriate. Holding his gaze lets him know you're interested in what he's sayingand in him.

  • Flip your hair and lick your lips. It may sound cheesy, but these are probably the best-known moves of female flirting, and for good reason: they work.

  • Lean in close or whisper. This tells the guy that you're inviting him into your personal space, and it forces him to get physically closer to you.

Tips for Men

  • The smile, the glance, and the lean work for guys as well as for women. But consider these caveats. First, any smile that's too leering or suggestive will turn a woman off. Think friendly. Lean too close or touch too soon, and you can seem more lecherous than likeable. Finally, don't make eye contact with any body part other than, well, the eyes. (And believe us, we notice.) It not only makes a woman feel objectified, but flirtation is about opening the lines of communication, not the promise of sex later on.

  • Lose the canned pickup lines. Flirtation isn't about forcing someone to notice you; it's about subtle flattery.

  • Touching your tie, hair, or collar is the male version of the aforementioned "lip lick." It signals preening behavior, meaning that you want to make a good impression.

  • The eyebrow raise is a sure sign that you're paying attention to a woman. Relaxed brows signal that you're not really listening to what she's saying. But arched brows mean you're picking up on her cues.

  • Guiding a woman across a room or shielding her from a crowd using a barely perceptible touch of your arm signals that you're protective, chivalrous, and polite.

Most importantly, remember that flirting begins before you go to a party or bar (or a laundromat or a bookstore). It begins with confidence, with realizing that the more people you connect with, the better your chances of finding the person who will become your soul mate.

While flirting can be fun, it can lead to sticky situations if you have second thoughts about the person whom you've invited into your personal space, for example. Know your personal comfort zone and always keep your safety in mind. Remember, good communication is the best way to avoid a potentially unpleasant misunderstanding.