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How to Understand the Difference Between Flirting and Social Interaction

Flirting can be a playful interaction between two people that fancy one another. It is often subtle and friendly, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between flirting and regular social interactions. As a result, you may struggle to recognize when someone is flirting and when they aren't. Situational context, body language, and attitude can all help demonstrate flirting. If you’re unsure, though, it’s always best to simply ask.


EditAssessing if Someone is Flirting With You

  1. Understand which scenarios are more likely to include flirting. Bars, nightclubs, parties, and singles events are places commonly associated with flirting. This is because these venues where people often go to seek out others whom they find sexually attractive. Understanding the social setting in which flirting is more likely to occur can help you identify the behavior.[1]
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    • Appropriate settings for flirting vary depending on factors like age, community, and religion. If you’re a high school student, for example, you may see flirting at school. Your crush is more likely to flirt with you in the hall between classes, though, than in the middle of history class.
    • Don’t assume that someone is flirting with you just because you’re in a social setting. If someone at a bar says “hello,” while waiting for their group, they may be acting friendly, not amorous. Rely on more than just the venue to determine if an interaction is flirtatious.
  2. Watch their body language. Body language may give you some clues to help spot a flirt. Flirting often includes a lot of eye contact. Giggling, smiling, and soft touches on the hand or forearm can also be clues that someone is flirting with you.[2]
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    • Never assume that someone is saying something with body language that they aren’t saying directly to you. If they say, “Please leave,” listen to them, no matter what you think they are saying with their body language.
  3. Consider whether the situation is more likely to be flirtatious or friendly. People like to think that seemingly-flirtatious interactions are signs of attraction, and they absolutely can be. People can be friendly, charming, and even a little flirtatious for reasons that have nothing to do with attraction, though.[3]
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    • Think about why someone may be flirting with you in that moment. There’s always the possibility that they fancy you, but are there any other conspicuous reasons they are talking to you?
    • Say, for example, you’re at the store and your grocery cart is blocking the aisle. Someone flashes you a big smile and asks you to move your cart, then giggles and thanks you when you do. This seems flirtatious, and it may be because they’re interested in you, but it may also be that they find it easier to be friendly than confrontational in these scenarios.
  4. Evaluate your current relationship with the other person. Some people are more likely to be flirting with you, while others are more likely engaging in friendly social interactions. Your boss at work or your teacher at school, for example, should not be flirting with you even if they’re acting friendly. That cute person who you met at snack table at your friend’s party and who has been chatting with you all night is more likely a flirt.[4]
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    • In murky situations, such as developing feelings for a close friend, it’s best not to rely on flirting or subtle signs. Speak to that person directly or decide not to address the matter at all. Flirting is easy to misconstrue, and can complicate established relationships.
  5. Ask the person if they’re flirting. Instead of assuming someone is flirting, ask them outright. You can be cute and say something like, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were flirting with me,” or “Are you flirting with moi?” Still, it’s always safer to ask than to assume.[5]
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    • Don't assume someone is flirting with you. People are only about 27% accurate when it comes to guessing if someone is flirting with them. Unless someone makes their intentions clear and conspicuous, it’s safest to assume they’re not flirting.[6]

EditFlirting Effectively With Someone Else

  1. Think about whether you should flirt with that person. Before you start flirting, think about if it’s appropriate for you to flirt with that person. There are a number of reasons it may be inappropriate to flirt with someone, but some major ones include:[7]
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    • If you are in a position of power over them
    • If they have previously expressed that they’re not interested in you
    • If they are already in a relationship
    • If you work with them in a professional capacity
    • If they are experiencing emotional distress
    • If you are trying to manipulate them
  2. Make deliberate eye contact. Looking someone in the eyes while speaking is polite, but holding direct, deliberate eye contact is a clear sign to someone that you’re flirting. Polite eye contact says you should mostly look at the person with whom you’re speaking, but you can also look around the room, so long as your eyes return to your subject. When you’re flirting though, try not to break eye contact.[8]
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    • Don’t stare at the person and don’t stop yourself from blinking. The idea is to let the other person know that they are your focus, not to scare or intimidate them.
  3. Be warm and pleasant toward the person. Smile, say “hello,” and welcome that person into a conversation with you. Avoid fawning all over them. You want to flirt with them, not gush about them. Have a pleasant back-and-forth, and let them know that it was nice to meet them.[9]
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    • You want this person to think that you are being friendly to them, but not overly so. They may feel awkward if you give them a level of attention they feel you wouldn’t give to someone else. For all they should know, you’re this friendly to everyone.
    • If this is your first conversation with that person, cut it off while you still have 1-2 talking points in your head. You want to leave them interested in learning more about you. This is difficult to do if you talk until you have nothing more to say.
  4. Stay close but not so close that you’re touching. Arm’s distance, or about is right on the border between personal and social space. You don’t want to violate that space, as that can be intimidating, but getting right on the line between personal and social space can suggest to someone that you’re interested in them.[10]
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    • Try not to touch someone without their consent, even if you are sitting close to them. While small touches can be a sign of flirting, they can also be a huge personal violation. If you want to touch someone, even if it’s on the hand or arm, always ask first.

EditKnowing When Someone Crosses a Line

  1. Know the difference between flirting and sexual harassment. A little flirting with the right person can feel great. If it comes from the wrong person, though, it can quickly turn into a problem. Ask yourself if the allegedly flirtatious act was unwanted, unsolicited, and/or unreciprocated. If the answer to any of those is yes, the action may have crossed the line into harassment.[11]
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    • Ultimately, only the person against whom the action was perpetrated can determine if it is harassment. If someone touched you on the knee and wrote it off as “harmless flirting,” but it made you feel uncomfortable, it’s harassment.
    • Likewise, if you continue to flirt with someone after they tell you they’re not interested, you’ve moved into harassment. They’re not playing hard to get, and you are now pursuing them against their will.
  2. Understand that bullying is not flirting. A little good-natured ribbing is common in flirting. However, someone pushing you around, belittling you, wolf whistling at you, or blocking your path is not playfully showing their attraction to you. Bullying, whether it’s physical or emotional, is not flirtatious, and not something you have to accept.[12]
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    • If someone is bullying you under the premise of being attracted to you or trying to flirt, report them right away.
  3. Report someone who flirts with you when they’re in a position of power. Someone who holds a position of power over you should not be flirting with you. This includes bosses, teachers, and anyone who has any sort of social power over you like a doctor or therapist. If someone is trying to use their power over you to further their advances, report them to an authority figure immediately.[13]
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    • Who the person is will determine who you report them to. If it’s your boss, for example, you may need to start by going to your HR department. If it’s your doctor, you may need to report them to their overseeing medical board.

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from How to of the Day