Originally published on everup (February 2016)
Your body speaks its own language and may reveal more than you think.
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a conversation with someone and wondered, “Is he/she flirting with me?” Or better yet, “Am I flirting with him/her?” Oftentimes, we aren’t even aware that our body is sending steamy messages to our object of desire. Whether those sidelong glances are innocent or indecent is an issue upon which even experts disagree.
Sexual psychophysiologist Nicole Prause, Ph.D, thinks that flirting “is almost always a sign of sexual arousal.” On the other hand, Suzanna Matthews, The Date Maven, claims that platonic flirting provides social, not sexual, lubrication.Fran Greene, author of The Flirting Bible agrees: “Flirting is not seduction, [it’s] about practicing good social skills.” She admits, however, that even friendly flirting triggers the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in a host of body changes.
Though you can’t know how far things will go, here are some early physical signs flashing the message that you, or someone close by, have boarded the flirt train. If you’re trying to pick up what they’re putting down, these non-verbal cues can speak louder than words.
Things may start slowly, with a few tentative forays into body contact. “An example of non-sexual touch might be a hand behind a shoulder to indicate that the person should move first through a door, or a hand on the back sharing a laugh,” said Prause. From a simple touch, the body responds. “Touching increases the availability of oxytocin and vasopressin in the body, which are strongly associated with sexual response,” she explained.
Even more subtle, but very sexy, touching your face, lips, neck, quickly and softly is a flirt alert, according to Toni Coleman, psychotherapist, relationship coach and expert in nonverbal communication. For women, twirling a strand of hair around a finger, tossing hair from the shoulder to expose bare skin, and running a hand through their hair are all signs of interest.
While you’re trying to play it cool, your eyes may give you away by moving in a particular pattern. People often do it naturally and subtly without even being aware of it when they’re attracted to someone; it’s called “the triangulated gaze,” according to Matthews. “This is where your eyes move in a triangular fashion from left to right across someone’s eyes then down to his or her mouth and back up. So, looking from eye to eye to lips in a smooth, swift motion.”
If you want your triangulated gaze to burst with romantic firepower, “you should be wearing a warm, engaging expression on your face while doing it,” advised Matthews. And put your damn phone down. “These days, with so many of our heads buried in our [mobile devices], even [the most] basic eye contact could be considered flirting,” said radio personality Kevin Klein.
Eyes may offer a window on the soul, but ardent passion also shimmies to life, as Shakira sings in “Hips Don’t Lie.” According to Matthews, if a woman is talking to a few different people, her hips and pelvis will be oriented toward the guy she’s most interested in. Matthews adds that “a woman’s shoulders or face might be angled in one direction and her pelvis angled in another if she’s politely listening to someone on one side but trying to give cues that she’s actually attracted to someone else on the other side.”
The Chest and Stance
One of the ways a man will flirt, according to Greene, is by placing his feet about 18 inches apart to mark his territory when he’s on the make. Like other amorous animals, men do this to “mark their territory,” she said. Men, like peacocks, gorillas and codfish, will puff out their chest as well—another postural message found throughout the animal kingdom. They also preen; for instance, removing lint from a suit jacket, straightening a tie or pulling up socks.
Of course, a smile is hard to misinterpret, but perhaps the most sought-after signal by men is a woman biting or licking her lips. This is not just a subconscious gesture: women’s mouths become dry if they’re feeling excited or aroused, as our stress hormones trigger our evolutionary fear/flight response during the mating ritual. So ladies, remember to sip to keep the conversation flowing freely.
Not every physiological change is apparent to the naked eye. When the love fires start to burn, you may actually need to excuse yourself for a restroom visit more often. “Sexual interest and arousal increases the speed of urine production in the body,” said Prause. (Though perhaps those frequent restroom visits could also be from drinking more to relieve that dry mouth.)
Body language may be subtle, but it is powerful, sharing primal roots and similarities with other animals. So after interpreting the signs and feeling good, what do you do or say to keep the flirtatious fires burning? Take it easy, cautioned Prause.
“People love to slowly uncover things about you as they go on more dates,” agreed dating strategist Michelle A. Roberts In fact, this strategy holds true in the wild kingdom as well. According to psychology today, “Caution during courtship is also characteristic of spiders. The male wolf spider, for example, must enter a long, dark entrance of a female’s compound in order to court and copulate. This he does slowly. If he is overeager, she devours him.”