A Guide to Flirting and Dating
by Charles Downey
It was a disaster waiting to happen.
After 20 years of marriage, George K. returned to the dating scene. He tied some gold chains around his neck and splashed on strong cologne. He bellied up to a nice-looking brunette and shot an exaggerated wink to get her attention.
"Hi there, doll," he announced. "George is my name and insurance is my game. Wow! You must work out 20 hours a day to have a body like that. Say, what's your sign anyhow?"
Needless to say, George met with little interest from the brunette, or for that matter, any woman that night. Although most men are not as out of touch as George, many are mystified about how to express interest and attention that will result in a positive response from women. And others may be concerned about actions which may be interpreted as harassment. So when it comes to face-to-face flirting and dating, how does someone like George make a good first impression?
Identifying What Women Want
In "Gone With the Wind," Scarlet O'Hara protested Rhett Butler's persistent advances by beating her fists on his chest. But as the story plays out, a few forceful but ardent kisses caused our heroine to melt in his manly arms.
Unfortunately, too many people confuse fiction with real life. In more recent times, Butler's persistence might not have ended in romantic bliss, but in charges of sexual harassment.
Flirting can drift over into harassment by:
It can be confusing for a man to know what they are allowed to do when meeting women. However, men can help identify what women want by simply asking. For example, if a man wants to hold a woman's hand, he should ask if it is okay first. The worst thing that could happen is that the answer will be "no." In turn, women can also take more initiative by approaching a man, asking him out, and making the first moves towards intimacy.
Reading Important Preliminary Signs
Before anybody does any touching at all, men need to recognize the often unconscious courtship signals women cast when they are interested. It may be a sad fact to some, but as in much of nature, it is often the females who pick males.
A Look and a Smile
The most important sign is basic but often overlooked. The number one signal is eye contact, accompanied by a smile.
When a woman wants to meet a man, she often casts him a long look, glances away, and then returns the gaze again. If the male object of these glances is astute, he will close the distance and say something that does not put the woman on the spot. Even a man that is shy and standoffish can establish himself as strong and confident just by leaving the pack and making an appropriate advance. And forget those oh-so-clever-pickup lines.
Men who have mastered the art of flirting make small talk that does not include the word "you." They comment on the food, the color of the rug, the furnishings, or the music. The idea is for 2 people to talk about something they share in their environment. If things are going well, the woman is likely to show an open palm, lick her lips, turn her body to face the man, play with her hair, or playfully run a finger around the rim of her glass.
Men who want to show they are strong and confident can then take a bold step forward. When Americans talk casually to each other, they usually stand about 2 feet away. But a man can make a statement of interest by moving in and standing only 6 inches away. Many men also go into a grooming mode—straightening a tie, playing with cufflinks, or slicking hair back. All this shows interest and confidence.
It is usually safe on first meeting to touch a woman between the shoulders and the wrist. So although it is technically safe to give an interesting woman a manly squeeze on the biceps, a light touch on the forearm is probably more enticing. But remember that virtually all women like male strength to be tempered with intelligence and sincerity. So compliments should be heartfelt.
Making a Plan
The best way for a man to demonstrate strength and sensitivity is to come up with a plan for the first date. Select a place that is well-lit and public. This will help prevent any misconceptions or misunderstandings from happening.
If the date goes well and you want to kiss the woman good night, do so outside of her front door and be prepared to go home afterwards. Women appreciate men who don't come on too strongly on the first date.
In short, the key to success in the world of dating and relationships is to be aware of the messages and cues that women are sending, and know how to broadcast some of your own in a way that is clear and direct, but not overpowering.
The Advocates for Human Rights—Stop Violence Against Women
Social Issues Research Centre
Sexuality and U—The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
The flirting report. The Social Issues Research Centre website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Published 2004. Accessed April 12, 2017.
Flirting vs sexual harassment. Sutter Health Palo Alto Medical Foundation website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed April 12, 2017.
Last reviewed April 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 4/22/2015
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