ANDEE TAGLE, BYLINE: Hi, LIFE KIT listeners. We have a favor to ask. We want to make LIFE KIT even more useful and enjoyable for you. And to do that, we need your help. Please consider completing a short, anonymous survey at npr.org/podcastsurvey. It'll help us out so much and will give you a chance to tell us more about what you like or don't like about the show. Again, you can take the survey at npr.org/podcastsurvey. And thanks.
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ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:
This is NPR's LIFE KIT. I'm reporter Andrew Limbong.
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LIMBONG: Leslie Boston-Hyde is a travel nurse, meaning she goes to different hospitals filling in for other nurses. She specializes in being an OR nurse and is actually doing her first stint in Southern California right now. She's also recently divorced and meeting new people in a new city after a five-year relationship, not to mention the past year and a half we all just had. And, well...
LESLIE BOSTON-HYDE: I had no clue what I was doing, just kind of like a lot of other people, I'm sure.
LIMBONG: This summer, bars are open, barbecues are going, parties are a thing again. It's a big summer for flirting, something Leslie's never been good at. When I asked her exactly how not good, she compared herself to a potato. Anyway...
BOSTON-HYDE: On a whim one evening, I decided to watch a Diamondbacks game at a bar after work.
LIMBONG: She's originally from Arizona, a lifelong Diamondbacks fan. And she noticed the guy down the bar wearing a Phoenix Suns hat. After her divorce, she had issues with misreading signals and guys ghosting her. So she really wasn't feeling like putting herself out there all that much. But on this night, in this bar, there was Phoenix Suns hat guy.
BOSTON-HYDE: And I think to myself, well, he's pretty cute, and he might be up for random fellow Arizona sports fan to pick up her beer and sit next to him.
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BOSTON-HYDE: We end up hitting it off without a hitch.
LIMBONG: OK, did you catch that big, long breath, the one that left out all the tiny moments that led to them hitting it off - you know, what she said, her body language, all of that? That is the stuff of flirting. And it's what we'll be covering today on this episode of LIFE KIT. I promise there's not going to be any cheesy lines or creepy pickup artist tricks or anything like that, just a refresher on in-person, face-to-face flirting if you're rusty or some basics if you're new to this.
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JEAN SMITH: The problem with flirting is that there are so many different definitions of what we think flirting is, depending on our gender, depending on our culture, and actually probably depending on our moods.
LIMBONG: That's Jean Smith.
SMITH: I'm a social and cultural anthropologist, which just basically means I study human behavior.
LIMBONG: She wrote the book "Flirtology: Stop Swiping, Start Talking And Find Love." As part of her research background, she's interviewed hundreds of people around the world about flirting. And when she asked them, what is flirting? Everyone had a different answer.
SMITH: So this makes it confusing for people.
LIMBONG: But something shared across the board is what keeps people from flirting.
SMITH: And that's fear of rejection. Nobody wants to be rejected. And people will do anything they think will stop them from being rejected. So unfortunately, this means that they basically don't do anything.
LIMBONG: Smith says the key to getting over that fear of rejection is changing your entire framing around flirting, which brings us to our first takeaway. Rethink why you're flirting, and don't go into it with a specific personal goal. OK, this is a big one. So let's take it in two parts.
SMITH: What I've noticed is that people look at the dating arena or even their flirting skills as a time to compare themselves to others, see if they're good enough, see if they're worthy and attractive and all this...
LIMBONG: ...Which is at the root of that fear of rejection. And you can listen to me tell you that you are good and worthy and attractive enough because you are. But it's something you have to find for yourself. By the way, you can find some previous episodes of LIFE KIT that might help with this. Anyway, once you realize that, then, Smith says, rejection becomes kind of a useful mechanism.
SMITH: What I mean by that is it's just simply a matter of, is this the right person for me? Am I the right person for them? Do we get on?
LIMBONG: Because at the end of the day, flirting is about the other person.
SMITH: It's about turning the tables. You get a much better result if instead of trying to get others to make us feel good, we actually concentrate on making them feel good.
LIMBONG: This relieves so much of the pressure of, oh, what if they don't like me? Or what if I'm not charming enough or funny enough? Because, well...
SMITH: It's not about getting people there to like you or approve of you. It's about making them feel special.
LIMBONG: And part of making someone feel special is not putting your label on them immediately.
SMITH: Like, oh, that person's attractive or oh, that person could be my future husband or oh, I want that person to be my girlfriend. It's more just, first we connect as humans, and we just start really slowly.
LIMBONG: If you lower the stakes of flirting to just be about five minutes of enjoyable conversation with another person, that's a lot more manageable.
JAYDA SHUAVARNNASRI: Something I think about a lot when I see people flirt is that there's so much intention of, like, I need to get the number or I need to buy this person a drink.
LIMBONG: Jayda Shuavarnnasri is a sexuality and relationship educator based in California.
SHUAVARNNASRI: For me it's like, if you're just trying to have a really positive interaction with somebody, that can be flirting. And it doesn't have to come from this goal-oriented way of, I need to do the thing.
LIMBONG: Shuavarnnasri says that people so often get stuck on a relationship escalator of sorts - you know, dating, monogamy, marriage, kids, a house; then you die together and live on in eternity as soul mates. And in a lot of ways, that escalator starts with flirting. But if you get those goals out of your head, it's a lot less pressure.
SHUAVARNNASRI: Which sounds really simple, but we don't really look at flirting that way because we're so used to flirting as a means to an end, and so when we remove that goal, when we remove that end, we just are creating a mutually designed experience that is pleasant for both of us.
LIMBONG: So if you're not looking for a potential hookup or a future life partner, how do you know who to talk to?
SMITH: I always tell people, don't use how attractive you find someone as a gauge on whether or not to approach. You should be approaching people who have open body language and who look friendly.
LIMBONG: Because, Jean Smith says, these are probably going to be the most fun people to talk to anyway, which brings us to our second takeaway - be open with your own body language.
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SHUAVARNNASRI: Which means that shoulders are back; your arms are not crossed. You also look relaxed, right? When you look relaxed, you look approachable.
LIMBONG: Which is particularly important for my fellow introverts out here listening to this. We're about to work our way up to the approach soon. But if you don't see yourself being ready for that yet, Shuavarnnasri says that even just pointing your body in someone's direction can be enough.
SHUAVARNNASRI: Even if I don't look at them - but I will face my body towards that person, and it will look open and inviting, right? And sometimes they may come through. Sometimes they don't. But I will intentionally face that direction.
LIMBONG: Also extremely important is your smile, says Michael Rivera, a dating coach at The Date Maven, a date and a matchmaking consultancy based in Wichita, Kan.
MICHAEL RIVERA: A good smile, a happy, genuine smile is your No. 1 tool of flirting. It's also your No. 1 tool of connection because a happy, genuine smile has a way of lowering walls. And if you can get the person you're trying to connect with to lower their walls a little, well, I mean, you're already halfway there.
LIMBONG: And if that doesn't come naturally to you...
RIVERA: Practice looking in the mirror, and what face, what energy, what posture are you going to have when you walk in the door? Do that in front of a mirror - full-body mirror if you got it.
LIMBONG: That - I'm going to be real with you. That sounds...
LIMBONG: ...Like a nightmare. Like, I understand what you're saying, but it's like, oh, like (laughter) - it sounds...
Listen. I know. It sounds like a silly improv game that some RA at a dorm came up with as an icebreaker, but just try it. Nobody's watching. Five minutes in front of a mirror a half dozen times trying out different smiles - eventually, you'll find yours, and the rest of it will fall into place.
RIVERA: That is the first thing you can do to send those signals and to get that body language that, here - hey, I'm open; I'm a happy person; I'm a kind person, and I'm ready to meet people.
LIMBONG: And when you are ready to meet people, it's time to approach them. Now, let's take a quick detour here to say that, historically, there's been a lot of, you know, straight, gendered advice about who approaches whom.
Here's flirtologist Jean Smith again.
SMITH: One of the questions that I asked in my research, which is quite old by now - but it still is really applicable. I asked people - men and women - about approaching, and I was shocked at how many women actually thought it was a biological thing for men to approach. Like, I mean, it's not at all, actually.
LIMBONG: Spend enough time looking for flirting advice for straight guys, and you're bound to stumble on some form of men being hunters or predators or wolves or whatever. Jayda Shuavarnnasri says that they see the same roles play out in queer spaces too. Regardless of gender, gender roles still seem to be present.
SHUAVARNNASRI: We still haven't been taught this right way to, like, communicate our desires with people in a way that doesn't fall into this binary script of how masculine identities flirt and then how more feminine identities flirt.
LIMBONG: And dismantling gender roles is tough and, you know, probably not going to be accomplished while flirting with a stranger sipping rose at your cousin's bar mitzvah. This is just to say anyone can approach anyone, but it helps to keep in mind that aspect of that very first takeaway.
SHUAVARNNASRI: Are we creating mutually pleasurable experiences for the people around us?
LIMBONG: And to initiate that, all our experts agree to start with a question. And that's our third tip.
RIVERA: It could just be as simple as, so what brings you here today? If you're at a wedding, you know, how do you know the bride and groom? You know, if you're at graduation, how do you know Jake? He graduated today. You know, how do you know them? I haven't seen you around.
LIMBONG: If you can fold in a compliment into the question, all the better - or find a common interest. It doesn't have to be a big, preplanned thing. It just has to be in the moment. If you're at a bar and both waiting for a drink, Jayda Shuavarnnasri says, just ask them what they're drinking.
SHUAVARNNASRI: Not as a way of offering to buy it for them, but just ask them, so what are you drinking? What do you recommend? Have you been here before? So that's a really small way to start a conversation with somebody without feeling the pressure of like, I need to get to know this person, have some deep, meaningful, life-changing, you know, interaction, but just a small way of like, so what are you drinking? If you've never been there before, say that.
LIMBONG: So I hear what you're saying. And, you know, the, like, what-are-you-drinking, been-here-before thing has, you know, come up. A part of you can't help but feel like, if I come prepared with that line, it'll come off like a line. You know what I mean?
SHUAVARNNASRI: Oh, yeah. Mmm hmm, OK.
LIMBONG: And so, like - and that doesn't feel authentic, and then I'm spiraling, and now it's like, I'm dying alone again.
SHUAVARNNASRI: Yeah. To me, it's, like, the easiest if - because they're at a bar already, and you're both waiting.
LIMBONG: But it could also be, what do you recommend? Or if you're new to a city and looking for places to eat, ask that instead.
SHUAVARNNASRI: Because generally, people love talking about what they know, what they like and what they don't like. And so that would be another good opening question as well. Yeah - giving people an opportunity to share what they enjoy.
LIMBONG: Which is especially important if you're an introvert. Let them do the talking, and then all you have to do is listen, which brings us to our fourth takeaway; test and assess.
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LIMBONG: All right, so you're asking your questions.
SMITH: At a coffee shop - oh, have you tried any of these doughnuts yet? Are they any good? Or at the barbecue, just be like, so how do you know Sarah?
LIMBONG: Flirtologist Jean Smith says there's one missing part in a lot of flirting.
SMITH: The missing is that space, the sort of pause, observation to assess, how are they reacting to you? Because a lot of women had the complaint that guys would just go straight in, and there was no sort of, like - have you noticed you're not really welcome? - or that sort of thing. And so with this space for assessment, you just say, OK, let's look at this person. How are they reacting to me? Nine times out of 10, people are delighted. We - you know, we're social animals. We love human connection. But have they stepped back? Have they crossed their arms? Are they looking away? You know, this all means, like, OK. You need to get out of there. They're not open to your approach.
LIMBONG: Which is fine because, again, it's not about you, but about making the other person feel warm and welcome. And, you know, sometimes dipping out of the conversation is the best way to achieve that.
RIVERA: There's a level of confidence of that. Because I think a lot of people, when they go to approach and flirt, all they're really thinking about is the 100 ways that it can go wrong. But if you can do a little bit of the mental geometry in your head before you start, you really realize you actually can't lose. You - I mean, everyone likes to be complimented. Everyone likes to be shown attention. So you gave someone a compliment. You showed them some attention. And if that's all that they got out of their day, that's pretty good stuff.
LIMBONG: Which brings us to our fifth and final takeaway - end the conversation. OK, so maybe you aren't clicking with the person. That's fine. There's a couple of different exit strategies here. If you're with other people...
RIVERA: ...You can always end it with, you know, it's been really great talking to you. You know, you're a really interesting person. But I must admit, I've kind of abandoned my friends a little longer than I intended to, so I need to get back to them. But thanks for chatting with me a little bit. You know, I hope you have a really great rest of your day.
LIMBONG: And if you're by yourself, depending on where you are, just do the thing people do there. Order your coffee or say hi to the host.
RIVERA: You're really not calling anyone on the carpet for saying, hey, you know, you lost interest, apparently. And you're not even shining that light on yourself either. It's just a kind of really safe way to leave that conversation.
LIMBONG: If you're uncertain about which way the conversation is going, it's as simple as giving them an out.
SHUAVARNNASRI: Hey, if you've got to go, it's OK, you know? Or let me know if you want to go back to your friends.
LIMBONG: If maybe there is something there, try ending it and coming back later.
SMITH: Repeat points of contact are really powerful. So you could do an initial five minutes and assess, oh, I really enjoyed talking to that person. Yeah, I want to do that some more. I want to see what happens.
LIMBONG: So you leave the conversation, give it a half hour or so and then approach them again.
SMITH: And you can sort of talk about something you mentioned in that first conversation, you know, sort of like recall. This is just to draw on commonalities, make them feel comfortable, like you two have something together, you know? And you see how that one goes.
LIMBONG: Remember, you're testing and assessing. Do that a couple more times. And if vibes are vibing, then...
SMITH: What you should say at the end is, I've had such a nice time talking with you. Like, we should meet up again.
LIMBONG: And here's where we talk about the number. Social media info can be so open, so wishy-washy. Any one of you can find me online pretty easily. But a number is something else, which also means it carries its own weight.
SHUAVARNNASRI: We live in a culture that normalizes, like, I'm going to get something out of an interaction. I'm going to get the girl's number. I'm going to get the guy's number. I'm going to get this. And to me, it's like, if you're a stranger I've never met, I don't feel the need to give you anything, including my personal information.
LIMBONG: So instead of asking for someone's number or even trading numbers, try just giving yours. It's a small way of circumventing the usual power dynamics involved in flirting. One of the best interactions Jayda Shuavarnnasri had was when someone did just that.
SHUAVARNNASRI: The reason why it worked for this person is like, hey, you know, I really like this, but I've got to go back to my friends. I'm going to give you my number, and if you hit me up, great. If you don't, that's OK, too.
LIMBONG: And it's OK because - well, to recap...
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LIMBONG: One - don't go into flirting with a specific goal other than helping someone else feel good or seen or special. And that mindset helps ease this fear of rejection, that you're not good or worthy enough or attractive enough.
RIVERA: Most of the time when people are rejected, it has nothing to do with them at all. It has everything to do with the person that's doing the rejection.
LIMBONG: And that's OK because rejection isn't a loss if you're not looking to gain anything out of flirting.
Two - be open and inviting with your body language. If thinking about your shoulders, your posture and your eyes and all of that is too much, focus on your smile and practice it.
Three - approach with a question. Come here a lot? How do you know what's-his-face? Are there any good restaurants around here? Get them talking, get them sharing and find some common interests to bond over.
Four - test and assess. Pay attention to how they're answering, their body language. This is particularly true if you're taking AP Flirting and going in for a touch.
SMITH: If you're feeling the vibe, you can test and assess. Maybe, like, tap their shoulder or something and see how they respond. If they pull back, OK, you've stepped a bit too far there. Don't do that again.
LIMBONG: And five - say your goodbyes. Either politely end it, or maybe end it for now and come around later. But if there's something there, then give them your number and put the power in their hands.
SHUAVARNNASRI: You are opening up the conversation so that people can decide for themselves.
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TAGLE: Before we wrap things up, just a quick reminder, again, to have you complete that survey we mentioned at the top of the episode. It's at npr.org/podcastsurvey. It'll really help us out. Again, that's npr.org/podcastsurvey.
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LIMBONG: Special thanks to everyone who responded to our callout - Leslie Boston-Hyde, Andres Cardenas, Samantha Coria, Miguel Mercado and our very own David West. For more LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes. I've hosted one on how to make the perfect playlist and another on how to appreciate poetry. You can find those and lots more at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT and want even more, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter. And as always, here's a completely random tip.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Here is my random tip. This one is actually from my grandmother, who lived in Slovakia, and she was a great cook. If you want to boil eggs and you don't want the eggshell to break when you put it in a pot, you simply put it in the cold water, and then you add just a little bit of vinegar to go with it.
LIMBONG: This episode was produced by Andee Tagle with production help from our intern, David West, and editing assistance from Clare Lombardo. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. Beth Donovan is the senior editor. Our digital editors are Wynne Davis and Beck Harlan, and our editorial assistant is Clare Marie Schneider. I'm Andrew Limbong. Thanks for listening.
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