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Life Kit: How To Flirt

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

OK. So you're out at the bar or the barbecue or whatever, and you see someone that looks interesting or, you know, kind of cute, someone you might want to say hi to. But what do you do? Maybe you're a little excited or nervous. And let's be real, flirting is awkward, even worse after a year and a half of lockdowns. Thankfully, NPR's Life Kit podcast recently offered a back-to-basics refresher course. Here's NPR's Andrew Limbong.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Here's the big picture thing to keep in mind about flirting.

JEAN SMITH: It's not about getting people there to like you or approve of you. It's about making them feel special.

LIMBONG: That's Jean Smith, a social and cultural anthropologist who wrote the book "Flirtology: Stop Swiping, Start Talking And Find Love." When she surveyed people for her book, she says the biggest impediment people had, the thing that stops them from flirting, is a fear of rejection.

SMITH: 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: An easy way to help get over that fear of rejection is a small reframing of why you're flirting.

JAYDA SHUAVARNNASRI: When I see people flirt, there's so much intention of like, I need to get the number or I need to, you know, buy this person a drink.

LIMBONG: Jayda Shuavarnnasri is a sexuality and relationship educator based in California. She says getting rid of seeing flirting as a means to an end helps take some of the pressure off of flirting.

SHUAVARNNASRI: 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: With all that in mind, here are some more tips our experts gave. First, open with a question. Say you're at a bar, and you see someone you want to talk to. As you're waiting for the bartender...

SHUAVARNNASRI: Ask them what they're drinking, 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.

LIMBONG: Don't overthink this. If you're at a party, ask, how do you know the host? If you're new in town, ask for restaurant recommendations or what they like doing. Asking simple questions like these is a great way of getting people to open up and reveal something about themselves. But as you're asking these questions, Jean Smith says you should be checking in on them. How's their demeanor? How's their body language?

SMITH: 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?

LIMBONG: Speaking of which, your own body language should be open - chest out, smile big, things that will help the other person feel warm and welcome, almost like you're the host of your own little dinner party or something. Now, let's say you and the other person are really clicking and you want to see them again. Shuavarnnasri says instead of asking for their number, try offering yours. It happened to them once.

SHUAVARNNASRI: They gave me their number without pressuring me to give me theirs. And I think that felt really good as, again, a woman in, like, walking around in the world to not feel pressured to give anything.

LIMBONG: It flips around the usual power dynamics of flirting and lets the other person decide whether or not to use it because after all, it is about them.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

SNELL: For more advice about not just flirting but money, health and mental wellness, check out NPR's Life Kit. Just head over to npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.