Flirting Without Fear: Your Guide to Getting It On

download (1)There’s one workshop at BiCon that’s always completely packed: Flirting. We did a little flirting of our own and got Kate Harrad who runs the workshop to let us in on a few of her secrets…

Why do people flirt? There’s often a perception that flirting is a bit dishonest, a bit like beating around the bush; if you fancy someone you should just tell them so. But flirting is a vital tool in the pursuit of romantic/sexual connection. It’s not for everyone, but it is incredibly useful, because the fact is, many – many –  people are not confident enough to walk up to someone and say ‘I fancy you, please date me.’

And the truth is, many people aren’t comfortable with being told that, either. It can put you on the spot, and if you’re not good at saying no, you might find yourself going out with someone just because you can’t bring yourself to reject them.

There is, of course, a place for a bit of beating around the bush, a bit of space to decide: do I really fancy them after all? Is there a spark? Is there a connection? Have they turned out to be a bore or a UKIP voter or a fan of eating live kittens? And if you do decide you’re not interested, flirting gives you a way to back out gracefully with no hurt feelings. Whereas if you’ve already committed yourself, you’re looking at an evening with a dull live-kitten-eating UKIPPer, which is just going to be awkward for all concerned.

So how can flirting be managed? There are very few definite rules, because the line that sounds charming from one person will sound creepy coming from the next – which is why most chat up lines don’t work. Here’s one definite rule: no touching. Yes, many mainstream dating websites will tell you to touch the object of your flirtatiousness, to tap their shoulder and build up the contact from there. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

Here’s another rule, or rather the principle that underpins all the other rules: if flirting is a game, it’s a game where you’re both on the same team. The prize for winning isn’t getting sex or getting a date, it’s both parties having a good time during the flirting experience. That’s all. Your mission is to flirt in such a way that the person you’re flirting with enjoys themselves and so do you. Think of it as a dance you’re performing together. The only object is the dance itself.

So how can this mission go wrong? Well, you can treat the other person as an object whose function is to respond correctly to your painstakingly crafted conversation, perhaps by approaching someone who just doesn’t want to be flirted with by anyone, or failing to read the cues that are telling you that.

(Failing to read cues isn’t necessarily a failing on your part – cues are hard. But unfortunately, people will not always tell you in words that they don’t want to talk to you, because confrontation is also hard. One way round this is to say something like ‘if you don’t want to talk right now that’s fine – just say yes or nod if you do, and if you say anything else I’ll wander away’. Keep it light and without pressure.)

If the the person you’re directing your attention to is open to flirting, things can still go wrong. You can come across as heavy-handed – too confident, too needy or too prepared. It’s a wry but accurate stereotype that if you’re British it’s better to be endearingly awkward than smoothly polished. Talking about flirting can be a good opener – discuss how difficult it is, ask about their worst flirting experiences, and tell them yours.

Marilyn_Monroe_and_Cary_Grant_in_Monkey_Business_trailer_3Or you can be obvious. A lot of people just say the first thing that comes into their heads, especially when they’re nervous. But often that means you’re saying someone the other person has heard a thousand times already, especially, if you’re commenting on a personal attribute of theirs (which you generally shouldn’t be doing anyway). If they’re visibly disabled, or belong to an obvious ethnic group, or are noticeably short or tall or fat or thin or bald or ginger or have a third eye growing out of their forehead, they’ve probably heard absolutely everything anyone could say on the subject already. Think you have a hilarious and witty joke about that extra eye? You probably don’t. And if you do, save it till at least the third date.

Instead try discussing movies, books, TV, music, museums, art or sport. Maybe mention interesting blog posts you’ve read recently and ask their opinion. Talk about places you or they have been or might like to go. Ask questions and answer them, but don’t get personal, don’t talk about sex and definitely don’t complain about your exes (unless, because every rule deserves to be broken, it’s really amusing).

Flirting while bisexual adds a couple of extra levels of difficulty. For one thing, you might have to work out whether they’re interested in your gender at all. For another, you might be operating with very little social support or cultural context.

Picture a straight man flirting with a straight woman. Do you get some instant images and conversations occurring to you? Now picture two bi women flirting. Do you have any images of that? Have you ever seen it in a film or on TV, or read it in a book? Is it the same as two lesbians flirting, and what does that look like? And what does two bi men flirting look like?

The upside of this lack of context is that you can make up your own rules. Chat up lines, approaching strangers in a bar – it’s not the only way. Make friends and then flirt. Seek out bi-friendly spaces together. Join a meetup group for married bisexual women or bisexual geeks who wear glasses and like pottery. Organise a party with someone you fancy. Go on a march together. Don’t assume sex would ruin your friendship. Don’t assume you can’t sleep with someone you’ve been platonic friends with for five years. Maybe you can (or maybe you can’t).
And finally: keep the power balanced. Don’t try to take all the power by treating the other person like a prize to be won, but don’t put them on a pedestal either.

Quick-and-dirty tips for flirting without fear.

  • Don’t touch anyone without their consent, regardless of gender (and regardless of what  mainstream dating sites tell you).
  • It’ss ok to flirt badly – in fact, some people find it charming.
  • Don’t forget that you’re both on the same side – flirting is not a competition.
  • There are some topics best avoided when you’re first chatting to someone: sex, money, things or people that annoy you and negative comments on anyone’s appearance/lifestyle/intelligence (including your own).
  • If you feel like someone is becoming uncomfortable: change topic, ask if they’d rather be alone, offer to get them a drink. Don’t panic, and try not to overcompensate.
  • Remember that everyone you’re talking to is a person with whom you can potentially make a connection of some kind – don’t assume you’ll be rejected or that they’ll hate you.
  • Don’t objectify. Everyone you’re talking to is a person with opinions, value, history, things that upset them, quirks, etc. – not a prize to be won or a jigsaw piece to fit into your life.
  • If you are rejected, be graceful about it. If you reject someone else, ditto.
  • Don’t pressure people – sometimes that includes not asking for things directly if that makes them uncomfortable.
  • Similarly, it’s OK to ask for things directly providing you’re not making anyone uncomfortable.
  • Finally, read captainawkward.com for excellent, brilliantly written advice.

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Katy Harrad

Katy is a writer, parent and bi activist. She has two children, coeliac disease, an annoyingly optimistic outlook, a penchant for bright colours, and a tendency to talk too fast. Katy is the editor of Purple Prose: BIsexuality in the Britain, available from September.
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