A Modern Day Guide to Coquetry

You want to give her your particular attention without fawning, to pique his interest while presenting a touch of resistance, to treat her differently. So you target your words and you smile deliberately. When she turns to look at you, you let your eyes linger. In the world of flirtation, propriety is secondary to provocation, and conversational content is superseded by teasing and touching.

Teasing is contextual. For example, when your romantic interest exclaims that he hasn’t seen you in forever, explain that you’ve been avoiding him. When she groans for the fifth time about how cold it is, remind her that if she complains a couple more times maybe it will get warmer. When he starts talking about his career as a high-powered corporate lawyer, ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. These remarks need not make sense.

It’s important to recognize that learning to tease is a difficult exercise in calibration because it is as much about delivery as it is about wording. Should a particular line be articulated with a laugh or with a straight face? Where exactly is the line between funny and rude? Regardless, it’s worth the effort, and the offense you risk giving is part of the feedback process. If you misstep, make a note of it and move on.

Continuing with the specifics, one way to tease people is to make and to verbalize false assumptions about them. If she has never been on a roller coaster, assume that she didn’t make the height cutoff. If he doesn’t respond to your texts, he’s playing hard to get. If you don’t understand what she just said, she was probably hitting on you again. Willfully misinterpret her words, and ascribe sexual content to them if possible. If she is busy this coming weekend, it probably has something to do with hookers and/or threesomes. “That’s what she said” jokes are juvenile, but in some contexts, they’re great for setting a playful tone.

And now we come to touching. On the bright side, you probably already know how to touch people. You wouldn’t think twice before hugging your mother, but when it comes to others, it isn’t so easy. Conversation is a natural starting point. Try briefly (but not hesitantly) touching her arm or side while making a point. Small gestures help. Place your hand on his back as you walk together. If he teases you, feel free to respond with a little shove. Take opportunities to escalate (tickling is good) and to otherwise push boundaries.

Of course, when coupled with an unaffected insouciance, nothing seems weird. I remember one illustrative incident from high school. I was talking to an attractive girl from my drama class over lunch. Feeling uneasy, I kept my hands by my side and struggled to make conversation. Another friend, casual as can be, sauntered up and wiped his hand across her chest a couple times. Then grinning, he pointed back at her chest and explained “There were some crumbs.” The girl smiled and began giggling. It was surreal.

So go ahead, pick people up and set them down just outside the comfort zone of familiar everyday interaction. Take opportunities to figuratively throw others off balance and couple it with a playful nonchalance. Flirting has a great deal to do with understanding what people respond to, and you’ll find that people respond to the challenge.