Four Flirting Fun Facts--With Research to Back Them Up!

My pal Judy Dutton just wrote an excellent new book: How We Do It: How the Science of Sex Can Make You a Better Lover. She's chatted with me about the psychological studies that show how best to flirt; what kind of pick-up lines work best; and what you're really saying with your body language.


Back in the day, I worked at a different women's magazine, which shall remain nameless--and one of my editors there was Harvard-educated Judy Dutton, who wore her thick Elvis Costello black glasses every day, along with tall black boots, and a full outfit of chic-chi black clothes. In other words, she was totally groovy--on her own terms. Even better, she was a great, supportive, encouraging colleague who was always trying to get me new opportunities to write. Lucky me to have known her, right?

But today: Lucky you! Because Judy has written a fantastic, diligently researched new book How We Do It: How the Science of Sex Can Make You a Better Lover--which hits stores today! And she got on the horn with me the other afternoon to give me the dirt on the science behind flirting, so I could share it with you.

(look! it's me on the book cover!**)


ME: So, who gets the most attention out at bars: the best-looking people, right?

JUDY: Actually, no! People who rack up the most attention aren't the best looking, but the best flirts. On average, someone sending out 35 flirtatious signals per hour will be approached by four romantic prospects during that time period. Now, 35 signals per hour might seem like a lot, but whether she knows it or not, a good flirt sends out signals almost constantly--from something as simple as tilting her head to the side, stroking her arm, or leaning slightly toward the person she likes. One study tallied a total of 52 flirtatious gestures--all of which are listed in my book.


Q: On my blog, I've talked a lot about the power of eye contact, after one expert told me that it took an average of _13_ glances before a stranger will get the hint that you're into him.

JUDY: According to my research, you'll have to look at someone three times before they'll take the hint that you're into them. Maybe some people wait until thirteen glances so they can be 100% sure, but three should be enough to give you a good hunch! One trick to get someone looking at you more often than they might otherwise is to hold their gaze for two to three seconds. (That may not sound like long, but if you time it, it will seem like an eternity; nonromantic glances last only 1.18 seconds on average.) As for why eye contact is so powerful,

In studies where men and women who didn't know each other were asked to stare into each others' eyes for three minutes, many confessed to feelings of "passionate love" for one another. Rumor has it that two of these study subjects ended up getting married.

ME: Why is it so powerful?

JUDY: MRI scans of the brain have shown that eye contact activates an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, otherwise known as the reward center. Essentially, that means we're wired to interpret someone gazing into our eyes as the ultimate treat.


ME: What are some unexpected or unusual signs that a stranger—at a bar, restaurant, on the subway, etc.—might be flirting with you?

JUDY: One surprising giveaway is their feet. Feet typically point in the direction they want to go, so if someone's feet are pointed toward you, that's good. If they're pointed away from you, that's bad. If someone's feet are pointed in toward each other, that "pigeon toes" stance is actually a good sign, since it's a subconscious attempt to shrink in size and appear harmless, approachable ... which may very well mean someone likes you, a lot.

ME: And how do you know that stranger is flirting with YOU, and not, say, your friend, or someone behind you?

JUDY: While we aren't usually aware of it, we tend to mimic the actions of people we're attracted to. So if you want to gauge whether someone's attracted to you, check your watch—then see if they check theirs. Or scratch your arm, then see if they scratch theirs. Or cross your legs, and see if they cross theirs. This means they're subconsciously trying to get in synch with you, which is a good sign.

ME: Trying that out sounds fun! ... So, okay, I was having lunch a few weeks ago with a guy I barely know, who lives out of town and was here visiting. I couldn't tell if he wanted to be friends, or something more. He touched my knee a couple times while we were talking. Is he into me?

JUDY: I'd say odds are good! Most people, if they're just being friendly, might touch your forearm or the back of your hand. But the knee is a much more suggestive place to touch. If he touched your knee just once it could be a fluke. But twice? Maybe it's time to book a trip to his town, touch his knee, and see what happens!

ME: What are some other signs that a new "friend" might actually be interested in you, romantically?

JUDY: Friends may act friendly, but flirters will flaunt their assets. That's why women will fiddle with or flip their hair, or find an excuse to "parade" in front of someone by strutting toward the bathroom, or lick their lips. Meanwhile, men may stretch, or stuff their hands in their pockets, which conveniently broadens their chest. If a guy's pocketed hands are situated so that the thumbs are visible and pointing inward, that's called a "crotch display" which serves to draw your eyes toward his package. He's essentially saying, "Check this out!" It might not seem very romantic, but it is.


ME: Ha! All right, one last thing for today: There was an interesting section in your book about smiles. Can you tell us what's the best kind of smile to get from someone?

JUDY: Humans have eighteen types of smiles, believe it or not! The very best smile is one where you spot squinting or crow's feet in the corners of the eyes. That's because the facial muscles that cause this reaction, the orbicularis oculi muscles, are linked to our autonomic nervous system and aren't under our conscious control. That means they'll only contract when we're genuinely happy. If someone's smiling at you and you don't see crow's feet, that means someone's forcing a "fake smile" and would rather not be talking to you. Smiles with crow's feet are the best to see, and to give—and a good reason to not get Botox to eliminate crow's feet!


All right, my lovelies. That's all for today, but stay tuned: I'll have two more dispatches from Judy in the next week or so--one will go into more detail about body language, and the other will cover what research has discovered about the best pick-up lines; and also about body language.



*As a dating blogger, I read a lot of books like this, and I can tell you, Judy's stands out from the crowd in that it's backed up with serious studies, done by actual scientists and psychology scholars.

**Ha! I wish.


Also, dear commenters: hello!

and Nikki, welcome! i'm glad you've been following along with my escapades ... and really, i ASSURE you, i almost entirely lack flirtatious confidence! but yes, keeping in mind my goal--of one flirt a week, at the very least--really does help! in fact, the other night, when i flirted in the elevator, it was largely because i was just so exasperated with myself for letting a whole night of great flirting opportunities pass me by. so ... try it out! let me know how it goes!