Interpersonal relationships are an essential part of society and have been ever since the beginning of civilization. In a hostile world, our ancestors formed relationships to guarantee the survival, and as a result passed on the need for camaraderie as a vital part of our physical and emotional structure. One way humans express the need for camaraderie is through flirting. What is flirting? I decided to ask a few college students their definition of flirting. Some of the responses from women include: “Expressing interest or attraction to someone in the form of flattery, teasing, or body language.”, “Using natural charm to attract attention from another. A playful way of showing interest.”, “Trying to let someone know that you like them without outright saying it.”, “I think if a guy is talking to you a lot, compliments you a lot, and tries to make himself look good, he’s flirting”, “I would define flirting as a technique used to either show attraction or to make someone more attracted to you.”. Here are some of the responses from men: “Talking and joking to get to know the other person and subtly commenting on the other persons attractiveness in hopes that the other person will like you either start some kind of relationship or just have fun for a night.”, “Flirting is when someone actively attempts to demonstrate an interest in someone else. It is often misinterpreted and used in order to get things.”, “I would say playfully talking to the other sex trying to attract them to yourself.” Reading through the responses you notice common themes about what flirting is and its purpose. To summarize, flirting is letting someone know you are attracted to them (in a sexual matter) by expressing interest through a variety of ways. Looking at the responses, you notice that both genders use flirting with the goal of having the opposite gender feel an attraction towards them. The main focus of this is work is to understand how gender affects the way in which a person expresses and responds to flirting.
Do a quick Google search on flirting and you will find numerous tips and techniques on how to flirt. A popular men’s website, Askmen.com, commonly provides information regarding flirting and how a man is “supposed” to behave in order to become a success flirt. David Deangelo is a popular correspondent on the website. In article titled, How to flirt with a woman and more¸ Deangelo responds to a letter from a man who has had some success using the techniques David advocates but still gets a cold shoulder from many women. The man enjoys going to see live bands and this kind of scene is where he frequently attempts to flirt and pick up women. He tells David about a common interaction his has with women at a bar. It goes as follows; man: “This band really sucks.” woman: “Hey, I like this band.” man: “Oh, I’m sorry – not for saying that, but because you like this band.” The writer is using a technique David is a big proponent of called cocky and funny. Cocky and funny (C&F) is a phrased coined by David Deangelo and is defined as a mindset or frame a man uses to try to gain attraction from a woman. The idea is for the individual using the method is to act cocky, but yet in a funny way in to increase attraction. In the article, David tells the man that he is doing an ok job with the C&F method, but can amplify attraction and stop rejection by following his advice. Deangelo says that saying “this band sucks” to a total stranger is not funny and can be kind of creepy. He suggests that the man tries this approach instead; man says: “Hey, do you like this band?”, woman says: “Yeah.”, man says “Doesn’t surprise me. What, are you the guitar player’s sister?” (askmen) Basically, David is teaching guys what he believes is the best way to flirt and to attract women. He contributes to the socializing of guys by teaching to behave a certain way as it relates to flirting with women. Socialization is the process through individual take on gendered qualities and characteristics and acquire a sense of self. (textbook)
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Cosmopolitan is a popular women’s website and magazine. Numerous articles give wisdom and advice to women across world about issues including, relationships and sex, health, careers, self-improvement, celebrities, as well as fashion and beauty. Cosmo also teaches women how to flirt and be successful with any man out there. An article on the website reveals five tips about flirting for all ladies out there. The first tip listed is to put out the vibe, which means for women to show a man she is interested by giving him a sign. According to the article a sign can things like making eye contact and flashing the guy a “go ahead, make your move smile.” The second tip is to challenge him, which means to be competitive (in a playful way) with man you are going for. Men enjoy being competitive and find it attractive when a girl can be just as competitive. The article’s third tip for flirting is to be sort of there for him. Being sort of there for him means not giving him all your time. The article says that guys love the thrill of chasing what they think that can’t have and argues that it’s best to treat the amount of time you give your crush like cell phone minutes: use in moderation at first and he’ll want more (cosmo). The fourth tip is to “duck, duck, goose him!” This tip says it’s a good idea to be childish with your crush, punch him and his inner child will be forced to respond. The finally tip is places to meet guys. The places include concerts, gas stations, volunteering, amusement parks, and waiting lines. As with men, women use websites like cosmo as a means of socialization.
The previous two paragraphs give a pop culture perspective on flirting. Based on the pop culture view on flirting there are similarities between genders on how a person flirts. However, there are still yet differences as well. One similarity is that men and women alike use flirting to portray a more playful, fun, and attractive self to the person they are interested in. A difference is that men are socialized to take a more active role in initiating flirting. Men are taught to approach women and start the conversation. Women are socialized to use more none verbal cues to initiate flirting, as illustrated in the Cosmo article were the author tells women to flash him a “go ahead, make your move smile” smile.
Over the past 30 years attraction and interpersonal relationships has been studied numerous. A publication by Antonia Abbey in 1982 brought awareness to the idea that men generally interpret the world in more sexual terms then women. Men are more likely to misperceive a women’s friendliness while flirting as the women being interested sexually. This can lead to potentially catastrophic consequences. Abbey’s researched looked at the role of several nonverbal cues in the perceptions about flirting including: distance, eye contact, touch, and clothing. Most of the research confirmed that men were more likely to perceive an interaction with women in more sexual terms. In 1988, Shotland and Craig looked at whether men and women could distinguish between friendly versus sexual behavior, as well as whether men were more likely to attribute sexual intent then females. Flirting can be defined as both friendly and sexual behavior. The research is relevant to understanding how gender affects the way a person flirts. The pair found that, not only could men and women differentiate between the two types of behaviors, but in addition corresponded with the Abbey’s research regarding male perceptions of sexual intent.
Pamela Kalbfleisch states beliefs about flirting represent key aspects of an individual’s “mental model” concerning male and female relations and sexual encounters. Little research has been done on the topic on flirting, however Kalbfeisch believes there are three commonly held cultural beliefs about flirting. The first belief is flirting as a common fun. This is the type of flirting that is overwhelmingly represented throughout pop culture. The second belief is flirting as reflecting uncontrollable sexual urges. Kalbfleisch states that this is the kind of flirting that is reflected in pornography. The final belief is flirting as invitation. Kalbfleisch statest that this type is reflected in sexists beliefs that men should be the gender who takes action when they believe women are flirting with them. In addition, this includes the belief that women simply want men to sweep them off their feet, and so on.
According to Kalbfleish, friendly (“normal behavior” interactions), flirtatious, and seductive behaviors are closely associated with nonverbal behavioral cues (body language). The nonverbal cues are kinesics (movement), haptics (touch), proxemics (distance), oculesics (eye movement), and vocalic (voice).
Kinesics includes the study of the body movements such as smiling and body postures and are gestures seen as indicators of flirtatious behaviors, as well as friendly and seductive behaviors. Medium to large amounts of smiling is associated with flirtatious behaviors. In addition, flirting behavior is described by the use of childlike expressions, like open mouth pouting and head tilting.
Haptics includes the study of the use of touch as a means of communication, particularly by indicating the nature of the relationship. According to Kalbfleish, moderates amount of touch indicates a flirtatious interaction. To compare, friendly behaviors have little to no touch and behaviors like touching the hand or leg represents seductive behavior.
Proxemics includes the study of amount of personal distance between individuals and also varies depending on the kind of interaction. Generally, people who lean toward each other and are at a similar body angle are seen as being more seductive than those people who lean away from one another. Flirtatious behavior is described as individuals crossing their legs toward each other and having more face to face contact.
Oculesics includes the study of the amount and type of eye contact and movements a person displays during an interaction with someone. Flirtatious behavior is characterized as using moderate degrees of eye contact. In addition, flirtatious behaviors include shy looks downward.
Vocalics includes the study of the use of voice as being one the biggest indicators of the kind of interaction. Flirtatious behaviors use animated speech (Muehlenhard et al., 1986), as well as moderate amounts of laughter (Coker and Burgoon, 1987; Perper and Weis, 1987), reduced silences and increased warmth and interest (Coker and Burgoon, 1987).
The research on nonverbal behavior cues stated above is important to understanding how gender affects the way a person expresses and responds to flirting. Because men and women interpret interactions with one another differently, body language will help me determine the type of interaction that is taking place during my observations.
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