We can all go ahead and kill the idea that appearing “too available” is bad for your dating life, because when it comes to getting dates, showing a potential love interest you’re available and interested through the fine and delicate art of flirting will actually get you more dates than your fierce good looks — as long as you know what you’re doing. That’s the good news. The bad news: Flirting is still an objectively terrifying thing, and it can be impossible to feel like you ever know what you’re doing. Which is why we pulled together 10 science-approved ways to up your flirting game:
1. MAKE EYE CONTACT
We know you know this is Flirting 101 stuff, but there are fewer flirting techniques more effective than simply making direct eye contact with the object of your affection for an extended period of time. A study in the Journal of Research in Personality found subjects who engaged in two minutes of mutual, unbroken eye contact each reported increased feelings of passionate love for the other. Prolonged eye contact has been thought to release phenylethylamine (PEA), a molecule responsible for accelerating attraction.
This is another universally accepted flirting tactic, but study after study shows it works — as long as you’re doing it right. Humans have two distinct types of smiles, and the one you’re going for is known as a Duchenne smile, which creates “crow’s feet” wrinkles around your eyes and appears genuine. But the effectiveness of your smile could have something to do with whether you’re male or female. In a 2011 study published in the journal Emotion, Canadian researchers at the University of British Columbia asked 1,084 heterosexual men and women to rate the attractiveness of people of the opposite s*x based on their photos. The study found men were most attracted to photos of smiling women, but women found happy-looking men less attractive than those who looked prideful or like they did something wrong and knew it.
3. INCORPORATE THE RIGHT KIND OF TOUCH
We separate types of touch into three distinct categories, according to a 2007 study in the journal Social Influence. The first category includes “friendly” touches like shoulder pushes, shoulder taps, and handshakes. The second,”plausible deniability,” heats up just a bit with a touch around the shoulder, waist, or forearm. The third, “Nuclear,” involves some face touch. You’re aiming for the oh-so-flirty sweet spot between “plausible deniability” and “nuclear,” with gestures like a “‘soft face touch” or a similarly gentle touch around the waist or on the forearm.
4. FLIRT WITH YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER, EVEN AFTER IT’S SERIOUS
University of Kentucky professor Brandi Frisby suggests flirting with your significant other or spouse can keep your relationship healthy even after you’ve committed to each other. Frisby’s research has found committed partners use flirting to minimize conflict and as a kind of private language between them, and were more satisfied and committed to each other as a result.
5. FLAUNT WHAT MAKES YOU UNIQUE
In a well-known 2011 study, the founders of online dating site OkCupid analyzed the number of messages received by 43,000 heterosexual female users on the site. They found the more the site’s men disagreed over any one woman’s looks, the more they liked her. So if, say, you have tattoos, you’ll have to assume not everyone will find tattoos attractive, but those who do are likely to be really, really into your ink. So don’t try to hide what makes you different!
6. IDENTIFY YOUR PERSONAL FLIRTING STYLE
In 2010, University of Kansas in Lawrence professor Jeffrey Hall conducted a survey of 4,500 men and women and identified five main flirting styles. Physical flirts are concerned with communicating s*xual interest; polite flirts will communicate interest in a much more cautious way, and will also exhibit good manners; playful flirts will use flirting to boost their own self-esteem rather than establish a meaningful connection with someone; sincere flirts will make an effort to express their genuine interest in someone; and traditional flirts are likeliest to let men lead while women take a more passive back seat. Since most people exhibit dominance in a particular flirting style, knowing which one you are will help you understand what works for you. (You can take Hall’s questionnaire here.)
7. SHELVE THE ONE-LINERS
Cutesy, cheesy pickup lines don’t work in movies, and they don’t work in real life, either. A study in the journal s*x Roles found women were most likely to prefer innocuous opening lines (“What do you think of this band?”), while men were most likely to favor a direct approach (“I saw you from across the bar and thought you were cute.”). Unsurprisingly, neither women nor men favored lines that were “cute-flippant” (“You must be a parking ticket ’cause you’ve got fine written all over you.”)
8. MIND YOUR SURROUNDINGS
It’s easy enough to tell when someone’s flirting with you when they’re paying you a compliment in a crowded bar on a Saturday night, but not all flirting opportunities can be so obvious. In more delicate situations — say, in the office, or at school — you’ll need to be a little more explicit if you want your message to get across. Pamela C. Regan, author of The Mating Game: A Primer on Love, s*x, and Marriage, discusses a study in which participants had to identify when they thought strangers were flirting with them or not. The study revealed 61 percent of participants thought they were being flirted with while at restaurant bar, as opposed to only 41 percent of participants feeling the same while in a school hallway.
9. STUDY THEIR FEET
At some point, you’re going to have to get a read on your love interest to see whether all those tricks and charms are working in your favor. One way to tell is by checking out his or her feet: Are they pointing toward you? Good. Are they pigeon-toed, with both feet pointed inward? That’s also good — it’s a subconscious attempt to come off as harmless and approachable.
10. BUST A MOVE
You don’t need to have a Shakespearean grasp on the English language to get your flirt on. When words can’t express how you feel, there’s always body language. Take a cue from researchers at Northumbria University, who identified these three dance moves as the only ones guys need to know to woo the ladies.