A Foolproof Guide to Flirting, According to Science

Ah, flirting—one of life's greatest mysteries! Right up there with Jimmy Hoffa's bones and "Does grandpa have e-mail in heaven?" and "What is a Kellan Lutz?" and "Why doesn't Barty Crouch Jr. just PORTKEY HARRY TO VOLDEMORT'S HOUSE ON DAY FUCKING ONE OF TERM instead of orchestrating a pointlessly elaborate long-con that involves blast-ended skrewts, the entire International Department of Magical Cooperation, and no guarantee whatsoever that Harry will even win the fucking trophy!?!?! Like, how about, 'Hey, Harry, could you hold this quill for a second?' BOOM, portkeyed." When it comes to flirting—like all of these existential enigmas—the scientific community has remained woefully stumped. Until now!!!

New research out of Webster University in St. Louis has not only proven that "flirting works," it also isolated the most and least effective flirting techniques—from "touching" to "not touching." Huzzah for us all! Loneliness is abolished!

But, JK. What does it really mean to say that "flirting works"? Sure, flirting works when you're good at flirting and you're flirting with someone who wants to be flirted with. But can you "learn" to flirt? I've been pretty vocal about the fact that I think dating coaches and PUA tactics and "game" are cynical, coercive shams designed to bleed insecure men of their money and guilt/nag/intimidate women into unwanted sexual encounters.

In my experience (if you don't mind taking flirting advice from people who have all-caps feelings about portkeys), they're aiming at the wrong target entirely—you don't need to "learn" to flirt, you need to "learn" to be the person you are. Or, for those of you enamored with economic metaphors, you can't effectively "sell" yourself to potential partners if you don't actually believe in your "product." Nothing sets off women's alarm bells like shaky confidence and transparent posturing and the implication that the person hitting on you thinks they deserve your body instead of like your whole package.

That said, I empathize with the chronically lonely and frustrated. I didn't learn until my mid-20s that an amplified, no-fucks-given version of my genuine weirdo self was infinitely more attractive than the shy, stilted, Franken-hot-girl I kept trying to cram into ill-fitting Delia*s polos. Nobody was interested in miserable, starving Lindy who was too embarrassed to talk about dragons. Lots of people liked loud, fat Lindy who wasn't afraid to read Lioness Rampant on the bus. Weird, I know.

So, for those people—for the people who have put in the self-acceptance elbow grease and still feel invisible and rejected—could science's "flirting tips" be helpful? A little bit? Well, maybe.

I took a look at all of the advice that The Week managed to cull from the study, and, honestly, a lot of it sounds great, provided you already have a mutually consensual rapport with a person. If you don't, it's exactly the kind of presumptuous, invasive, predatory behavior that makes women want to find a hollow log or overturned bathtub and hermit-crab 4 life.

If you're not a natural, flirting can be a tightrope walk. So let's take a look at each piece of "successful" flirting behavior and break down the pros and cons.


Eye Contact

How it can go right: If you just look at a person in the eyes. This tells the person, "Hello, I acknowledge your humanity."

How it can go very, very wrong: If you just NEVER STOP looking at a person in the eyes. This tells the person, "Hello, you are my food."

A Foolproof Guide to Flirting, According to Science


Smiling

How it can go right: Being smiled at is the best! The smile is the heart of the face.

How it can go very, very wrong: Again, moderation is key. At a certain point, NO. YOU LOOK LIKE A MONSTER.

A Foolproof Guide to Flirting, According to Science


Arm-Touching

How it can go right: It's super hot and exciting to be touched by a person you're into—especially if that physical barrier hasn't been breached yet! That said, READ THE ROOM, BRO. If you don't know how to read the room, it's best to pretend the people around you don't even have arms.

How it can go very, very wrong: Women already deal with our personal space being treated like a public commodity every hour of every day. Don't make that worse. When in doubt, don't touch anyone ever. And for that matter, male-attracted people, men's bodies aren't free-for-all grope carnivals just because patriarchy taught you that dudes are 24/7 horn-monsters. Men get to say no too.

A Foolproof Guide to Flirting, According to Science


Face-Touching

How it can go right: If we are literally having sex or about to have sex and you've just heard the words, "We are definitely having sex or about to have sex." Or if there is a spider, scorpion, and/or bomb on my face.

How it can go very, very wrong: OH MY GOD DON'T FUCKING TOUCH MY FACE.

A Foolproof Guide to Flirting, According to Science


"Hugging" Behavior

How it can go right: If the person wants you to hug them.

How it can go very, very wrong: If the person doesn't want you to hug them.

A Foolproof Guide to Flirting, According to Science


Lip-Licking

How it can go right: If you are L.L. Cool J and/or if your date is a turkey leg.

How it can go very, very wrong: Almost always. Come on. What is this.

A Foolproof Guide to Flirting, According to Science


Signaling Interest

How it can go right: It's good to let people know where you stand! Like, ONCE! Then shut up about it! Also, only do this in appropriate settings, such as "the bar" or "the online dating website," and not "the mortgage consultation" or "office hours"! And don't be weird afterwards! And don't be mad if they don't feel the same! Ta-dah!!! You did it!

How it can go very, very wrong: If a person is not interested in you, hearing about the engorgement level of your genitals is never, ever going to make it better. In fact, it is fucking gross. Remember that flirting is as much about the other person as it is about you. Your interest, in itself, is not a justification for anything. Seriously, if you can't read people's signals, you should probably go the forging-genuine-friendships-based-on-common-interests-and-then-letting-one-of-those-friendships-blossom-into-a-beautiful-love route instead of the flirting route.

A Foolproof Guide to Flirting, According to Science


Acting Like James Bond

How it can go right: I mean, I guess if you are literally Daniel-Craig-walking-out-of-the-ocean, we could maybe work with that.

How it can go very, very wrong: James Bond is a terrifying misogynistic psychopath and if he was real he'd be in like 100 prisons right now. So. Good luck with that.

A Foolproof Guide to Flirting, According to Science