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Fox on Sex: The Art of Flirting

She looks at you and then looks away. He touches your arm lightly as he tells a story. She threads her fingers through her hair. She smiles in a way that somehow says more than hello. He looks in your eyes as you tell a story, never breaking his gaze. All weapons in the arsenal of the well-equipped flirter. Flirting is about what your words and your body say. And when it comes to the art of the flirt, every syllable and gesture counts.

Flirting is an age-old art with two distinct purposes. First, to get your heart’s desire. And second, to keep him or her. The funny thing about flirting is that it’s as easy as it is difficult. All you have to do is get someone’s attention and keep it, letting them know that you’re the girl or guy for them. Easy, right? Wrong. Most people find it terribly difficult to do it and to recognize it.

Here are some quick tips for getting your flirt on:

1. Eyes on the prize.

Eye contact is incredibly important whether you are trying to land a date or seal a business deal. Looking someone in the eye says, “I’m listening to you and I like what I’m hearing.” Steer clear of the scary stare. Blinking isn’t just allowed. It’s required. But pay attention with your eyes and the person you’re engaging with will sense your interest. Add a friendly and/or shy smile to the mix and you’re sure to get your message across.

2. Reach out and touch someone.

I’m not talking groping or grabbing. I’m talking about a brief touch of the arm when telling a story. Or a momentary hand on a shoulder as you say hello. Appropriate touching says, “I like what I see.” Of course, too much touching can make the touchee feel threatened or creeped out. So read the person’s response carefully. If she jerks away, stay away. But if she leans in, you’re still in the game.

3. Follow through.

If you meet someone’s eyes across the room two or three times, go over and say hello. There’s little point in flirting if you’re not going to try to actually meet the person. And don’t ask for a number if you’re not really interested. In the end, you’re not protecting anyone’s feelings by prolonging the agony. And if you do get a number, use it. Game playing is no way to start a relationship.

4. Keep it light.

Now’s not the time for telling her about that time you forgot to bring your lunch to your school picnic when you were in the fourth grade. Exchange short stories and quips and listen to what she has to say. Flirting is about establishing a connection. It’s about leaving one another wanting more rather than boring someone to death with details.

5. Forget the end game.

Don’t think about whether he’s marriage material before you’ve even shared a drink, let alone a meal or an evening. Flirting should be fun for both parties. So leave the interrogation light and line of questioning at home. Who cares if this doesn’t go anywhere? It’s always nice to connect with people and it feels good when people are interested in you. So bask in the glow and don’t worry about anything more than reflecting that light back to your partner in flirt.

Technology has certainly changed the game when it comes to flirting. You can flirt via text if it’s someone you have already exchanged numbers or e-mails with. But don’t go too far over the edge when it comes to “sexting.” Remember, once you text, it can be saved or forwarded. And, if things don’t go as planned, you don’t want your naughty messages making the rounds. Same goes for e-mail. Electronic communication never dies.

Of course, when it comes to flirting, the real trick is…whatever works.

A friend told me once, “It's ok to use a cheesy pickup line or clichéd flirt as long as you recognize it’s cheesy and overused, and immediately follow it up with a joke to that effect. And if you can work a compliment into it as well, all the better.”

E-mail from her to him, "Hey, get out of my head. I'm trying to work." E-mail response from him to her. "I was trying to find the way out, but I got lost in your eyes." It’s cheesy. But the two are now happily married. Go figure.

There also are a few twists on the old game out there. A company called Cheek’d has come up with an interesting marriage of old school flirting and newfangled technology. Founder Lori Cheek has created a set of subtle, black, business-sized cards that say things like, “i dare you,” “i can break ice with this little card,” “you never know” and “my dog likes your dog.”

They also include a web address and a code. All you do is sign up and give out the cards at will. Users set up profiles and recipients of the cards can look up their secret admirers and proceed as they like…or not. “They don't clearly say ‘I want to date you,’” explains Cheek. “But there are alluring sayings on each of them and a few laugh-out-loud lines. I think it's a light and fun alternative to handing your regular card away. There's a bit of mystery behind the whole process.”

FlipMe offers a similar experience, though their cards are a little more direct and obvious with a bright red design on their face. Still, the general idea is the same. “The cards allow men and women to flirt without fear of rejection. It’s putting yourself out there without putting yourself too far out there!" explains Rachel DeAlto, Founder of FlipMe Dating.

One of the keys to successful flirting is being mysterious while still being readable. You want the person you’re flirting with to know you’re flirting. But you don’t want to give away the store in the first glance either. So, take it slow. But be brave. The only thing I can guarantee is that you’ll never meet someone if you don’t try.

Paying attention is another important aspect of flirting. You’ll never even know if someone is flirting with you if you don’t look for the signs. Here are a few questions to consider if you think you might be the focus of a flirt:

1. Is he concentrating on you more than anyone else in the room?

2. Has she caught your eye more than three times in an hour?

3. Does he keep brushing your arm, touching your shoulder, or even mirroring your body language and stance?

4. Is she looking at you intently as you speak and responding with genuine interest?

5. Is he smiling openly and frequently, as well as laughing genuinely?

If you said yes to any of the above when it comes to a social situation, you may have some flirting on your hands. So stay present and respond in kind if you want things to proceed.

Of course, flirting with the person you’re in a relationship with is as important, if not more important, than the flirting you did to find that person. Flirting lets your partner know that you’re still as interested in him or her as you were the day you met. You can use the same techniques you used before you were a pair without the fear of rejection. And you can even go a little further since you’re already an item.

Why not leave your partner notes from innocent to racy in places they least expect to find them? Or call your partner during the day and remind him or her what there is to look forward to when they get home. Keeping a relationship alive is all about continuing to court your partner no matter how many years go by. Even if you have a certificate that says she’s yours forever, it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t make her feel like you want her forever.

People flirt for all kinds of reasons, for power and privilege, for love and romance, for access to jobs and restaurants and anything else that can be gained with a wink and a smile. But the primary purpose of flirting remains in the realm of romance. In days gone by that meant fluttering fans, serenading and carefully dropped handkerchiefs. The methods may be different now, but the purpose is still the same. It tells the focus of your flirt, “I want you and only you.”

“Flirting is the fine art of making people feel good about themselves," a friend once told me.

Words to live by.

Jenny Block is a freelance writer based in Dallas. She is the author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage." Her work appears in "One Big Happy Family," edited by Rebecca Walker and "It’s a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters," edited by Andrea Buchanan. Visit her website at www.jennyonthepage.com or check out her blog at www.jennyonthepage.blogspot.com.