the five-step flirt

Not too long ago, I took a workshop with Laura Antoniou in San Francisco entitled “Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want.” Her premise was that in alt-sex communities, we’ve lost the art of seduction; our communication style has become too clean. Instead of seducing each other, we approach with questionnaires, lists of limits and preferred activities, and so forth.

In a lot of ways, I agree with her. This is why, for example, in my now-deleted profile on alt.com and on my current one on FetLife, I chose not to fill out the list of available fetishes or kinks. I’ve always found it puzzling that people are so interested in knowing what each other’s favourite activities are. To me, that’s almost the last thing on the list. If there’s an attraction between us, and things are genuinely humming, and we can’t wait to do something about it, well then we’ll figure out something to do, lists be damned – even if on the surface we have no visible compatibilities. And if that hum of attraction isn’t present, then no matter how compatible our lists may look on paper, we’re not likely to have much fun. So really, what’s the point?

It’s kind of like listing your height, weight, eye colour and profession. What the heck does that tell me about you as a person? All that tells me is that you’re someone who thinks height, weight, eye colour and occupation are the salient features I need to know about if I’m going to hit on you, which means I probably won’t want to hit on you.

Anyway, back to the idea of seduction. I agree that many of us have managed to take the idea of self-knowledge and clear communication to a point where we forget the essence of sexual attraction, which does not reside in the contents of your toy bag or the items you tick on a checklist. (This is not to discourage the negotiation fetishists out there – you know who you are, and you’re a whole separate category.)

Now, Laura went on to describe the ways in which she felt we should go about seducing each other. And while I think she’s downright awesome, extremely sharp and funny, and one of the best erotic fiction writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, I must say I disagree with her approach to seduction.

Her basic idea was that we should learn how to tell sexy stories to each other – to describe our fantasies and relate them to the person we’re talking with.

To some people, that might be the ultimate in flirtation technique. But to me, that actually feels like the exact opposite of the approach I like to take, or the approach that others have successfully taken with me. Which of course meant I started to think about why I disagreed with a storytelling approach to flirtation, and what I’d do instead.

I don’t expect that my approach would work for everyone out there either, but I certainly did enjoy thinking about it in a step-by-step fashion, and figured I should share it. Comments, suggestions, personal success stories, tricks and tips… bring it on! In the meantime, here’s my approach.

1. Notice a person I find attractive, and decide if that’s okay or not. Seriously – sometimes it’s really not. I survived of a couple of abusive relationships in my youth, and I took two years off to be celibate and do some inner work and healing once the last one ended. For years thereafter I found myself feeling attracted to people and instantly sharpening my gaze to make sure that the reasons for my attraction were healthy. Was I being drawn to a person who would turn out to be abusive, just because the pattern fit my past? Sometimes, the answer was yes. So in those cases, I respectfully told myself I was not going to go there, and I didn’t. Even if I really wanted to. Now, not everyone has been abused, but we certainly have all fallen into our own versions of bad patterns to some degree or another. I think it can only be a good thing if we consciously analyze our draw to someone before pursuing it, to make sure we’re not about to perpetuate our own misery. This involves both observing the object of our attraction to see what behaviour they produce and what energy they project, and observing our own reactions and feelings towards that person, what we feel rising in ourselves in their presence.

2. Show the object of my interest a piece of themselves that I have noticed and find attractive, and then ask them a question about it. It’s that whole observation thing, taken a step further.

  • That’s a great pair of boots, and they’ve clearly been well taken care of… did you do that work yourself, or did some lucky thing do it for you?
  • I just wanted to tell you, I noticed your haircut the moment you walked in here, and you carry it off with style. Where do you get it done?
  • Hey, you’re clearly trying to stay in the background at this event, but still waters often run deep so I’m curious about you. Is it your first time? What do you think so far?
  • I’ve seen you at two or three of these lectures. You always seem to show up at the ones about gender theory, which means we’ve probably got a few things in common. Are you studying the subject?

And so on, and so forth. This isn’t about coming up with a good line. It’s about accurately conveying the reason for my attraction. In stating what I’ve noticed, I’m also sending the message that I’m a person who notices things about them – which means those same things are probably of interest to me. So it sets the stage for a common ground.

3. Observe their responses to me. While I’m engaging in this minor interaction, I am also observing. This is not the time to be trying to impress someone. No… this is the time to be observing. How do they react to me? What’s their body language like? Do they seem friendly, interested, bored, overly enthusiastic, falsely “on,” noncommittal, irritated? Do I feel that hum of attraction on their part, or is it one-sided? Before I really start to flirt, I look for these signs to get a sense of whether a flirtation would be welcome. I’m not honestly interested in flirting with people who don’t find me attractive – there’s no turn-on in aiming my charms at the erotic equivalent of a brick wall and trying to convince it that it wants me. Truly, if it ain’t there, I can’t create it and don’t want to try – that just feels obnoxious.

Now let me point out that these first three steps can happen in very short order, if all the stars are properly aligned and we feel the vibe strongly. For example, when I met Boi M, I knew from the second we made eye contact that the attraction between us was overwhelmingly strong. I’m not advocating six weeks of processing before saying hello. I’m just advocating a conscious and sensitive approach to flirting with someone to make sure you actually want what you’re after, and that what you’re after really wants you to be after it.

I also use this step to test whether or not my initial decision about whether or not this attraction is okay bears out now that we’re actually chatting. It’s like the next step in the process of figuring out what I’m after. If the person’s clearly not on the same page as me, but there’s still attraction, perhaps we could have a torrid night but not a relationship. If their answers impress the hell outta me, I’m probably thinking about a dinner date. And with that in mind…

4. Indicate my interest in a straightforward way. Not much more complicated than that… I just say it.

  • I find you really attractive, and I’d love to take you out to dinner.
  • You’re the hottest thing in this room, and I’d love to take you home with me tonight.
  • This conversation is so interesting. I’d love to pick your brain some more… are you free for coffee this week?
  • Hey, it seems we have a few things in common. I have an hour to spare and there’s a St-Andrew’s cross looking terribly empty over there. Whaddaya say?

And then, though it may seem counter-intuitive…

5. Issue a CTA and then leave them alone to think about it. A CTA, in marketing-speak, is a Call to Action – a specific invitation to do a specific thing to get a specific result. A CTA needs to be clear in order to be effective; while people can be creative, I find that especially in situations of flirtation, it helps to give a concrete direction – not an order or a rigid prescription, but an immediate and accessible sort of invitation. In other words, after any of the above indications of interest, I’ll say, “Think about it and let me know, …

  • I’ll be over there for a bit, come find me anytime tonight if you’d like to play.”
  • Here’s my number, I’d love to hear from you if you’re interested in dinner next time you’re in town.”
  • I’m leaving in fifteen minutes, so if you want to come with me, meet me at coat check then.”
  • I think you should come with me to the reading. Here’s my e-mail address, drop me a line by Thursday if you want me to pick up two tickets for us.”

I generally also add something to let them know there will be no hard feelings or weirdness if they’re not interested. And then I literally walk away.

Why? Because I want someone to come with me if they’re genuinely interested, not just because I’ve cranked up the pressure by my presence. And a great way to know if someone’s interested is if they actively come after what I’ve just offered them.

This is what makes seduction a dance. I take a step, and then the next person takes a step. If I’m the only one stepping, then the interest is one-sided and the dance fails. But if we’re working in tandem, then they’ll gladly take their turn once I offer it to them.

This approach also gives me the chance to show that I’m leaving things in their hands, and not investing my energy in pushing for a specific decision on their part. It shows people that their comfort level is at least as important to me as having my desires fulfilled.

So that’s it. My personal five-step flirtation technique. I never broke it all down like this until now, but there it is. Do with it what you will. Criticize, comment, agree, disagree… I’d love to hear your thoughts!

16 Responses

  1. These are pretty good tips. I agree that showing an interest in a specific thing about the person is a good thing and that’s definitely on my to-do list in general, in context of flirting or not, because I like people (friends or potential/current partners) to know what it is I find special about them.

    I think that making the interest explicit (step 4) is a VERY good idea. Too many people rely on subtlety. At the receiving end, I can be very oblivious to flirting if the person does’t come out and say that they would like to hook up. I often figure out only hours later that someone was flirting with me, either along these lines or in other ways. My brain is so slow to process information that, on the spot, I don’t even realise that there is flirting going on. I tell people that if they are interested in me, they have to hit me over the head with a 2X4. I don’t know if I’m officially ADD or what but I know that I’m slow. Not dumb, by any means, just slow.

    In terms of me initiating flirting, my only problem is that I find people incredibly pretty hard to read (there are autistic traits that run in my family). So it’s difficult for me to assess whether the person is open to receiving the flirting. So, again, unless the person makes it very clear during step 3 that they are interested, I find it very hard to initiate step 4.

    Finally, one of my peeves is people who like to flirt but *just* flirt. Their reasoning is that it’s harmless fun. But I don’t find it harmless at all, I find it rather hurtful if I’ve been flirting with someone who seems interested but then find out they were just playing. I don’t flirt unless I am genuinely interested in a person in a sexual or romantic way. But there are a lot of people out there who thrive on being wanted and who think it’s ok to play around.

    Anyway, kudos for being able to break down the process into discreet steps, even though, as you say, in real life they don’t necessarily feel so discreet. Ultimately, I find that the best hook-ups I’ve had just kind of happened on their own, with no actual flirting.

  2. Oh, about the checklist thing: I tend to not fill out an exhaustive list of EVERY thing that I enjoy. But sometimes, if I’m looking for something VERY specific, I do see some usefulness. Some fetishes are hard to come by in real time. I have a hard time finding people who are interested in exploring blood play or humiliation fantasies in real time because they are things that people don’t seem to be willing to talk about in person, with people that they already know. If I put that on a checklist, and look for others with those things on their checklists, then at least I know there is a common interest that we can discuss. Then, if it clicks in other ways and we are able to build trust, we can go somewhere.

    I don’t necessarily have to be into all of the same kinks as someone to play with them and, yeah, if the chemisty is there, we’ll find something to do. But then there are those itches that remain unscratched when no one that you know and “click” with are into those things. Thus the search for very specific interests on websites.

  3. I’ve been wondering how to delete that section from fetlife. I added it and then regretted it.

  4. #4, #4 and #4 are all good approaches, I’ve found. No, seriously. I don’t know if it’s about getting older or wiser or less patient, but I’m now incredibly direct about expressing my interest in someone about 99% of the time. The remaining 1% is taken up by women who are too shy to approach me. Though I’ve had a couple of pleasant surprises in the past little while. I also wonder what makes a person appear more or less approachable…

  5. mmmm — I love flirting. I may be the most flirty pleather angel bootblackin’ cabana boi *ever*! (Insert playful laugh and luxurious body stretch here). I’m not a cavalier flirter, though – I’m picky. Gotta be interesting, interested, and really smart. I don’t care about looks. I don’t care about style. I have catholic (yes, lower case) tastes in lovers, as long as they are smart, ethical, together upstairs and inside, and (*gasp*) they avoid potlucks, SUVs, and polo shirts.

    The guidelines here seem well thought through. Of all of them, I love the last one (#5). It’s clean and direct and ensures that any further interaction is a chosen interaction. I’m picky about my lovers and I want them to be just as picky about me. There’s not enough time as it is – I know that I’ll kick the bucket before I’ve read even a quarter of the books that I yearn for, not to mention all of the concerts, walks, red lentils, conversations, and boots (ooooooohhhh) that remain to be enjoyed. Why flirt with somebody who’s not equally serious? Time and energy!!! They’re too fucking precious to be given away.

    What a good post. Thank you, SexGeek.

  6. Oh, and as for posting an extensive list of fetish likes/dislikes for the world to see — hey, what fun is *that*? And how can I be so sure of such a list, anyway – mine or somebody else’s? I love exploring and flexibility! So many things are prepackaged in cellophane or shrink wrap — and it’s just preposterous on so many levels! If it gets to that point, there’s too much fun and delight to had in the wrappings and unwrappings that take place with a lover. Yup. Down with shrink-wrap! The basics are visible to eyes that look anyway — I bet that anybody at all clued in to kink can see my unnatural fetishes for pleather boots and shoes, feet contained therein, red lentils, street cones, and sharp gleaming metal objects — just by walking into my house. Okay, maybe you couldn’t tell about the street cones … but then, maybe I don’t really have a street cone fetish. (Although they *are* vegan. Just sayin’… I might …) Or I might just be teasing. Or flirting. Or being obnoxious. Or delaying the inevitable (i.e., work).

    Damn. I suppose I should hop to it. (I love unclear antecedents).

  7. Y’all rock. I totally dig all the thoughtful comments. What a treat to come back here and read what you’ve got to say. :) Happy geek!

  8. Considering how terminally inept I am at flirting, reading anything like this is always really interested. I do have to admit that while my quantity of lovers is lacking, the quality was not, so whatever I did, I was doing something right.

    My question is, do you recommend the same tips and approach for heterosexual men and heterosexual women? Do any differences stand out? And I’m not talking about in the feminist, sm-tolerant, pansexual, genderfluid utopia we’d all like to create. I mean in the harsh, real, flawed, competitive world we live in right now.

    Lastly, Laura Antoinou (sp?) is awesome. Saw two of her presentations at Thunder last year and she was great, though she does re-use her jokes. Does she think no one will show up to more than one presentation? Dunno.

  9. [...] the five-step flirt « Sex Geek Not too long ago, I took a workshop with Laura Antoniou in San Francisco entitled “Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want.” Her premise was that in alt-sex communities, we’ve lost the art of seduction; our communication style has become (tags: flirting dating) [...]

  10. I absolutely adore your step #5. Interestingly, I have never had anyone use that with me. (Admittedly, I’ve never used it either, but that’s probably because I very rarely get as far as using #4. I’m kind of shy about things like that.)

    In retrospect, I think most of my flirting experiences would have been improved by the addition of step #5. It allows the recipient a graceful way out if someone’s asking more than they want to give. It avoids hard feelings. It also seriously reduces the possibility that the recipient will end up doing more than s/he wants either due to a miscommunication, or a wish to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or due to socially-induced inhibitions against giving offence (which can obviously be a particularly common problem for women in heterosexual situations).

    I like it a lot.

  11. Last week I’d never heard of you, and now I’ve heard of you twice! On Friday I found your card in the Swap Box across the street from Venus Envy. And today Megan linked to both my worst date blog series and your flirting tips post.

  12. interesting… and awesomely straightforward!
    i just came from a conversation in which we were talking about how great it is to just flirt. for the fun of it.
    without expectations on either side.
    and without (unconsensual) manipulation on either side, too. i find it incredibly empowering to casually flirt (and be flirting with), just as an interesting mode of interaction. but it means that i have to be intensely aware of where the other person is at (and where i am too, of course), and if i sense that the interaction is going to a sexual/romantic place i’m not intending it to, i’ll make it clear in the interaction what my intentions are (as in: just because i’m flirting, does not mean i’m going to take you home, nor is it just me power-tripping on my attractiveness/finding it innane fun to flirt).
    Now, i say all this because i think many of us flirt in a very casual way more often than we think (as in, your waiter smiled real flirtatiously at you; your friend gave you a really flirty embrace when you were parting ways; you smiled at that person on the TTC). and whats wrong with any of that? i think its a valuable gateway to being more open/honest/engaged people in society, without threatening the power of more serious/purposeful flirtation.

  13. I suppose the old line, “Would you like a drink, or would just like the money instead?,” isn”t going to cut it any longer, eh?

    Hope you’ve got that evil, lil knotty thang all broken in by now. Now there’s an instrument of flirtation if I’ve ever seen…I mean felt one.

    *ouch*

    San Francisco misses you…sort of.

    :::smirk:::

  14. Oooh, it’s Daddy Jane! How lovely to see you here! The knotty thing is… well, I think it’ll take a little more work before it’s fully broken in. Too bad you’re so very far away. :) I’ll make sure to drop you a line next time I’m coming to SF!

  15. [...] sex) Tags: alt-sex, alternative communities, flirting, geekery, relationships, wiscon So I saw this post the other day, and I thought about it. I don’t really know how to flirt, and Sex Geek is [...]

  16. [...] of play. Play actually has very little to do with it, from my perspective. To paraphrase from a blog post by Andrea Zanin (go read her blog, it’s awesome), if I really like someone, odds are good [...]

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