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Think You Know How to Read Flirting Signs? Think Again

A guy sending a girl flirting signs while on a date.

Here’s a scenario that everyone has probably experienced at least once: You meet someone, flirt a little, and think you’re doing great—only to find out later they thought you weren’t interested in them. What the heck? I was totally putting myself out there! Or, on the flip side, have you ever chatted with someone and thought nothing of it, until your friend tipped you off that they were totally flirting with you? What the heck? I though they were just being nice! Reading flirting signs is no easy task and, as it turns out, we all really suck at it.

The truth is, most people have NO idea when someone is flirting with them. It doesn’t matter how great at flirting you are—it’s a battle of intention vs. perception, and sometimes the intention gets lost in translation. So to find out why we’re so bad at recognizing flirting signs, we looked into the science behind our lack of understanding to learn how we can start reading the signs correctly.

We See What We Expect to See
To get to the bottom of how these mixed flirting signals come about, researchers at Stanford University conducted a study to investigate the difference between intention and perception. They set up speed dates to monitor humans’ ability to correctly and incorrectly identify when someone was flirting with them. After each speed date, both the speaker and the listener rated the speaker on his or her level of flirtatiousness. The results suggested that we’re poor perceivers of flirtatious intent, and that we project our own feelings of liking (or not liking) onto others rather than forming a clear picture of their intentions.

Just because you speak the same language as someone doesn’t necessarily mean you speak the same social dialogue they do. Our personality quirks and traits affect how we flirt too. For example, sarcastic people have a much different social dialogue than sensitive people. You can have all the good intentions in the world, but if what you’re saying is perceived the wrong way, it will be pretty difficult to spark a love connection.

“The cues that a speaker may use to attempt to signal a particular social meaning may not be the cues that the hearer focuses on, leading to misperception,” the study explains.

Flirting Looks A Lot Like Being Friendly
Another study performed at the University of Kansas tested the awareness around being flirted with. Researchers gathered 52 pairs of single students and had them sit in a room and talk for about 10 minutes about what they thought the study was about. After, they were asked if they had flirted, and if they thought their partner had flirted. The results show that people are great at detecting when people aren’t flirting with them (80 percent accurate), but are clueless when someone actually is flirting with them. Only 36 percent of men knew when they were being flirted with, and 18 percent of women figured it out.

“Behavior that is flirtatious is hard to see, and there are several reasons for that,” explains Jeffrey Hall, author and associate professor. “People aren’t going to do it in obvious ways because they don’t want to be embarrassed, flirting looks a lot like being friendly, and we are not accustomed to having our flirting validated so we can get better at seeing it.”

Some Flirting Signs Are Universal
So how do you know if someone is flirting with you? There isn’t one set way to flirt, and everyone develops their own flirting style. But there are some universal signs of showing interest. Results of the Stanford speed dating study revealed that both men and women show they’re flirting by laughing more, talking faster, and speaking in a higher pitch. Men ask more questions and speak more softly, while women ask fewer questions and tend to be louder.

Practice Makes Perfect
The best way to know if you’re being flirted with for sure is to practice. The more you flirt, the more in tune you’ll become to what others acknowledge as flirting and what they respond to. Studies also suggest being more blunt. If you’re interested in someone, make sure they know you’re interested in them. Otherwise, they might misread your intentions and project their own onto you.

So now that you know the flirting signs to look for, get out there and get your flirt on! Laugh a lot, talk faster, and keep an eye out for high-pitched voices. You never know, there could be someone in your life trying to tell they’re interested… if only you’d read the signs right.

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