I need help with flirting!
November 30, 2010 7:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm a straight 29-year old male, who for various reasons has never dated and now is trying to get started. The problem is that I never learned how to flirt, and I'm totally clueless about how to either generate interest or recognize interest in others. What's worse, the standard "Martian's guides to dating" are almost useless to me because my primary social activities are forms of partner dancing, in which the norms of physical contact are different enough that I can't use the standard signals to judge someone's interest. So, what can I do to attract the ladies or notice when they're attracted to me?

In case it's relevant: my dating history is non-existent because I was a dork in high school, really busy with extracurriculars in college, and then just busy period in grad school. So, while my peers were learning and practicing the norms of flirting and dating, I was…not.

Despite that, I have a great sense of witty, intelligent humor, I'm extremely loyal and caring, and I have an interesting, albeit low-key and introverted, personality. I'm also reasonably attractive, I'm a good dancer, and I'm not socially awkward (with the exception of my cluelessness about dating). My friends agree that I'm eminently date-able, and I've had some of them working to set me up on dates, although those haven't panned out for different reasons unrelated to my dating cluelessness.

In short, I don't think I need to fix or change me. I just need to know what on earth to look for, and how to behave, so that I can improve my odds of getting into a relationship. I'm looking for something more on the serious side than the one-night stand side.

The dance communities I hang around are primarily west coast swing dancers, with occasional forays into the ballroom world.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Why not try something like OKCupid?
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:30 PM on November 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

While I won't deny you that it would be helpful to learn how to flirt and recognize other's flirting, I can say for certain there is a way to bypass that to start with: online dating. The great thing about online dating is the people on online dating websites (for the most part) are looking to date. Everyone on the site knows that you are looking to date and you can be assured that the women on the site are looking for the same. The more interactions you have with women in date contexts will help you understand how people react in these situations. In time you'll be able to notice those same qualities in your dance groups or what not.
posted by mmascolino at 7:31 PM on November 30, 2010


It's especially nice, because it's skewed toward the nerdy (and otherwise weird), so there's a good chance you'll find somebody actually into the same things you are. (I only assume you're nerdy, 'cause you were dorky in school and then went to grad school. If you aren't, I apologize.)
posted by Netzapper at 7:33 PM on November 30, 2010

So, what can I do to attract the ladies or notice when they're attracted to me?

I think you'd better take the other end of the stick: what matters is not who's attracted to you, but who you're attracted to. Talk to those women. Don't freak out. You sound like a thoughtful person; follow your conversational inclinations. Be curious. At worst: you're having an interesting conversation.
posted by YamwotIam at 7:40 PM on November 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

In terms of flirting and dancing, I can offer two anecdotes. I was in a few swing dance circles last year, and was in a relationship with two women I met there.

One began when we were trying blues dancing for an evening. She was very helpful (I was just a beginner at this stage) and was paying more attention to me than seemed otherwise warranted, and would dance a little closer than other follows did. She also seemed excited to dance with me, even though I know I wasn’t half as good as many others.

I met the other woman at a social dance weekend thing, with lots of late nights and lazy afternoons, so I noticed something developing there through more straightforward signs of attraction – eye contact, inside jokes, fairly ‘exclusive’ conversations between the two of us even when within a larger group, and so forth. In terms of dancing, she would regularly ask me to dance, and I noticed that she’d be watching me when I was dancing and she was having a break – again, it’s unlikely that she was admiring any talent at dancing, as I had very little.

In short, most of the ‘guide to dating’ rules apply for dancing as well. If there’s more contact than usual, it’s still a sign of flirtation – normally this may mean a friendly pat on the shoulder or pull on the arm or what have you, whereas in dancing this may mean she dances more closely than normal, or holds your hand when people may normally let go, or something along those lines.

One more thing – you sound quite well-meaning and gentle, so I’m sure being a little more forward in your speech and actions would be beneficial – it doesn’t sound like you’ll come across as a sleaze.
posted by twirlypen at 8:11 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just a note about the dancing specifically, since you mention it. (And sorry in advance if you already know all this.)

If you are just starting out working on your flirting skills, I'd recommend starting away from the dance floor. As you point out, the social norms about eye contact, physical contact, and so on are really different. As a woman-who-dances, I am aware of the fact that if I'm dancing with someone who hasn't figured out about these differences yet, they may be reading my signals very differently than I intend. So, it can be scary to be flirted with at a dance by someone I don't know very well, because I can't tell if they are reading neon green "go ahead!" lights from me that I'm not trying to send.

When I was single I was much less receptive to flirting at dances than in other circumstances because of this uncertainty, even if it was someone I might like. I've had conversations about this with other women who agree, though on the other hand dance couples are numerous. But even if you have a good understanding of what's cool within your community, be aware that the flirting part can be dicey territory. I'm not saying you should never flirt at dances, and clearly people do, but it's even harder than normal beginner-level flirting in my experience.

On preview, twirlypen, I'm not trying to violently disagree with you here. If everyone is on the same page about what constitutes extra attention (for instance, if you're with someone you already know fairly well and you're both familiar with the dance community) then yes, the normal "what is flirting" rules can apply. Especially if you have the chance to interact away from the dance floor itself. But when everyone's not on the same page- or when it's not clear - it's tricky.
posted by heyforfour at 8:24 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

er...by dance couples I meant couples who met at a dance.

(also, YamwotIam has some great advice!)
posted by heyforfour at 8:33 PM on November 30, 2010

Look for a ring.*
Make eye contact while you are talking to her.
Be funny.

Soon you will have a feeling if she is into you. She'll be doing the same things back. If things go well, make a judgement call on whether or not you'll ask her out then or at a later time. Have at least two ideas about what you would like to do. If she doesn't want to do that, ask what she would like to do and see if you can come up with something together. Be polite if she declines. She may not be direct about saying no, but instead she may say that she's busy and not offer another time when she's free. Say okay and don't ask if she's available some other time. Be aware that your actions exist in a context of sexual violence against women (see this thread). There are places where it is socially acceptable to flirt with women. Don't approach women at the gym, on the street, public transportation, or anywhere else where people are hurriedly getting from point A to point B.

As for the actual date part, it helps to not think of The Dating as an obstacle course that you navigate. Dating is getting to know a new person. Practice dating by meeting new people (men too). This will make the first date feel natural as you gather experience introducing yourself to someone, and you won't come off as a clunky list of facts about your life.

Be patient. Either things will naturally progress, or you two are incompatible and you won't see each other anymore. Trying to push anything too soon will spoil things. There is no standard dating timetable.

Sometimes you will come off as smarmy. You will get rude responses. You will feel bad. But you will learn how to flirt and date your own way. Good luck!

* You can have a pleasant conversation with a married woman just as easily as an unmarried woman. You just don't ask her out. It's not fair to not have a conversation with someone just because they are married. You could end up meeting someone very interesting!
posted by chinesefood at 8:34 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

The term you are looking for is indicators of interest (IOI). That list comes from a Pick Up Artist (PUA) forum, and while those guys tend to be sketchy as all get-out, much of what they have to say actually does have some pretty direct bearing on dating in the "real world." I'm familiar with only bits and pieces of the PUA philosophy, but I found the IOI stuff at least to be pretty much dead-on, from my own lay experience.

Basically a good guideline is that you're looking for at least three indicators. So if a girl you're chatting up in any way mentions your girlfriend (whether you have one or not), touches you in just about any way, and then plays with her hair, you are pretty much golden. After a while you'll be able to pick up on these (and many more) without even thinking about it, but that list is a good place to start.

To quote Dazed and Confused: Sounds stupid, right? It works.
posted by ChasFile at 8:44 PM on November 30, 2010

Flirting is like dancing. You're the man, you have to lead. You present a turn, and she follows. You present a topic of conversation, she follows. If she doesn't follow, you present another topic. You'll know if she's worth dancing (or continuing the conversation) with by how well the interaction goes. If you do well, great! If not, go find somone else to talk to.

Lastly, dancing like flirting is done in good form. Be sure your attire is appropriate, and your posture strong.
posted by zenm at 10:14 PM on November 30, 2010

I came here to reiterate what heyforfour says about not approaching ladies you partner dance with on a regular basis unless you have reason to believe they're interested in you. One good thing to take note of is if she's seeking you out for conversation when you're not dancing. That being said, many male swing dancers are kind of notoriously bad at reading signs of interest (well, more importantly disinterest) from female swing dancers (although my experience is mostly with decidedly nerdier lindy hoppers. Westies might all be great at it). I tend to be more guarded about flirtation at swing events because there is so much potential for miscommunication when the way you're communicating is explicitly with your body. A great dance can be a great dance without any sort of real romantic spark. Even something as overtly sexy as blues :-) And it's sad to ruin great dance chemistry when things are misread and one partner has different expectations than the other.

If you're interested in dating within the dance scene, I'd be very careful about how you do it. Don't approach girls significantly younger than you - that'll get you labeled as creepy. And I'd advise against approaching girls new to your scene, especially if they're new to dancing, just for overall dance scene health. You don't want to give people the impression that dancers are there primarily to hook up.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:07 AM on December 1, 2010

Flirting is underrated and not seen and heard enough. There are ways to start flirting a little without coming across as a letch.

Flirt for fun and practise. Flirt out of politeness and in safe settings. Benignly flirt with people you have no designs on. I'm talking shopassistants, servers, call centre people, delivery folks, someone old enough to be your mother, whoever. Be clear about this, I don't mean serious, 'I'm trying to get somewhere' flirting, I mean those fun and lighthearted interactions designed to put smiles on faces and make otherwise mundane interactions fun.

If you can practise paying a sincere compliment, or standing and delivering confidently, it will help you when you go to flirt 'for reals.'
posted by Trivia Newton John at 4:32 AM on December 1, 2010

Try online dating for sure. Put something in your profile like: "For a date, I'll take you dancing. I've been dancing ___ for x years." Then sit back and the ladies will supply themselves.

But, seriously, if you go the online dating route then you'll have the first obstacle (are the interested?) cleared by the time you meet them face-to-face. After many spectacular disses from misreading a man's interest, I turned to online dating because if they were there, they were obviously looking for a date, and if they were talking to me, they were at least a teeny bit interested in me.

From there, it's trial and error in figuring out if you have a certain chemistry in person. Relax, be yourself, have fun and for real take some ladies dancing!
posted by motsque at 6:59 AM on December 1, 2010

I haven't read this the whole way through but you may get some use out of the Social Issues Research Center's Guide to Flirting.
posted by talkingmuffin at 8:00 AM on December 1, 2010

I met the future Mrs. chrisinseoul at a swing dance - in Seoul, South Korea of all places. While far from a stud on or off the dance floor, simply be engaged with them for those 3-4 minutes, then take it from there. Off the dance floor, be engaged with them - it's the same thing.

How to behave during a date? The 'rules' I always heard involve listening and talking at a 1:1 ratio and balancing too personal vs. too bland. The biggest 'rule' is simply to let go and relax. Just as you don't have a choreographed pattern for dancing, you won't have a choreographed pattern for dating. You more-or-less fly by the palms of your head.

Since you're looking for something more serious, the online dating thing would be a good move. I would be listing 'must like dance or be willing to learn' as a pre-req. I'd also try some other styles of dance - taking classes is always a fun way to meet people.
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:02 AM on December 1, 2010

I was exactly in your shoes a few years ago. My parents divorced when I was young, and I was pretty much raised by my mom + sisters. Growing up, I didn't develop a strong sense of how to flirt / play the male role in a relationship with women. I was the nice guy; lots of friends that were girls, but not so many girlfriends.

So yeah, a few years ago I listened to an audiobook called 'cocky comedy'. It opened up a whole new world to me. It taught me how to be confident around women, and how to flirt.

(Yes, this guy is labeled as a "pick-up artist" [PUA]. Don't be put off by the label. Be intelligent, use discretion; take the good and leave the bad. Some PUA folks go to extremes, but IMHO this specific guy is a good speaker and [seems like] a good guy. No, I'm not a paid endorser. Yes, I'm now happily married. No, I don't objectify women. I'm 33-years-old.)

Best of luck. Feel free to mail me if you want to talk more.
posted by blahtsk at 4:49 PM on December 1, 2010

So, I don't have too much to add in terms of advice. Really I just want to say, as a 29 year old woman in a similar position (minus the dancing) . . . good luck and go for it! I wouldn't be surprised if you have, over the course of your life, attracted a lot of ladies who would've responded if you made a move. I know people are all about the online thing here and a lot of people have had success with it, but I hope you don't give up on the old fashioned in-person route.
posted by ihavepromisestokeep at 5:32 PM on December 1, 2010

Just a point - if you're based in Britain, OKCupid tends to skew towards the socially inept (in a bad way, not the entirely charming way), the pervy and the PUAs. I'm guessing from your argot though that you're US based, and it may be entirely different over there...
posted by mippy at 6:27 AM on December 2, 2010

SIRC guide to flirting
posted by Tom-B at 6:29 AM on December 3, 2010

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