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Flirting By the Numbers


When it comes to dating, some people have a hard time reading silent signals. If you are one of these people, then it might be worth researching Helen Fisher’s Five Stages of Courtship. Fisher categorizes the stages of flirting and courtship into getting attention, recognition, grooming talk, touching, and body syncing. To better understand, Lisa Fritscher, a writer for The Anatomy of Love, explains each stage in more detail.

Flirting The first stage is basic flirting. Many people claim to have little or no knowledge of how to flirt, yet true flirting is a nearly instinctive behavior that occurs with no foresight or planning. Universally, across vastly different cultures and social norms, women flirt with their eyes and heads, opening their eyes a bit wider and tossing their hair. Men perform a “chest puff,” extending themselves to their full height, tucking in their stomachs, and thrusting out their chests. Both sexes employ what is known as the “copulatory gaze,” staring intently at the other person for two to three seconds before breaking away. Open smiling that shows both the upper and lower teeth, nervous fidgeting, self-grooming, and over-emphasized movements are also common among both men and women.

Recognition Recognition begins when deep eye contact is offered and accepted. The prospective partners shift their bodies towards each other, calm some of their fidgeting and self-grooming behaviors, and prepare to move into the next stage. Recognition is a relatively short and simple stage, but it is critical to preparing the partners for the highly meaningful and often scary act of talking to each other.

Grooming Talk Grooming talk can feel extremely risky, but it is a natural and critical stage of courtship. Although the words exchanged are often meaningless social banter, both partners’ voices shift. They become higher, softer, and more melodious, using the same tone that they might use with children or those who are ill. In fact, many actors intentionally raise their vocal register by nearly an entire octave when performing a flirtation scene. Talking also reveals a great deal about each person, such as their background and level of education. Grammar, word choice, and other details can bring the pair together or drive them apart. If all goes well, though, the conversation gradually becomes deeper, setting the backdrop for the next stage.

Touch At this point, the pair begin to signal that they are ready for touch through a series of nonverbal cues. Leaning forward, resting an arm on the table, moving the feet closer to the other person, and even stroking one’s own arms are all common cues. At some point, one partner will touch the other in a socially acceptable way, such as a quick hand squeeze or light arm touch. If the other person responds in kind, a much deeper connection is established.

Body Synchrony In the final stage, the pair begin to synchronize their movements in a delicate, unconscious way. Lifting their drinks at the same moment is often the first step. At first, the synchrony is brief and quickly broken. But over time, it becomes a more and more definite mirroring—when he leans left, so does she. When she smooths her hair, he does the same. Many times, both partners are unaware of the synching, but it is clear and obvious to observers. Perhaps this is why friends and relatives are often aware of a burgeoning relationship long before the two people involved realize that they are anything more than friends. The dance of courtship is different for every couple, yet its basic patterns are deeply ingrained into us as humans. Its rituals and routines have survived across cultures, languages, and vastly different societal norms. From early flirting behaviors through the intimacy of body synchrony, research shows that the 5 stages of courtship are absolutely essential to building the bonds that can eventually lead to lasting romantic love.

It’s easy to see why one would engage the five stages when interested in someone else, but I wanted to see how common it is, so I conducted my own field research by observing college students at a large dance party.

It was interesting to see how people approach a situation based on what they want to get out of it. Mostly I saw people just checking each other out. One guy, a stripper/police officer, planted himself behind a group of girls and just watched them as they danced. At one point, he bent forward, put his hands on his knees to get at eye level with the girls’ butts. He then licked his lips and watched until one of the girls acknowledged him. Once eye contact was made, he got nervous and tried to slink away without drawing attention to himself. It was clear that he didn’t actually want to approach them, but rather wanted to watch them. This theme was repeated by others throughout the night.

Aside from guys and girls subtly checking each other out, I also saw a few extreme versions of Fisher’s five stages. A friend of mine was dancing, and a guy walked up behind her. He started dancing close to her. This was the first stage: getting attention. The second stage was when she noticed him and began to dance near him. Things then started to speed up. Only a few words were spoken between them, then they began to make out—stages three and four. After kissing for a while, she decided she got what she wanted and tried to walk away from him. She wasn’t interested in courting him, so she didn’t get to stage five, however the guy was interesting in courting her so he continued to follow her around and acted how someone would in stage five. If she started dancing intensley, so would he. When she stopped dancing, he would stop. When my friend realized that he was truly interested in her, she did what she had to do—she ran a and hid until she lost him.

A dance party may have not been the best place to observe Fisher’s five stages. People at parties may not be interesting in courting as much as they are interested in making out and getting their twerk-on. The first-four stages (flirting, recognition, grooming-talk and touch) were used by many people, then the couple would separate after they got what they wanted, which was usually a make-out session or grinding on each other during a sensual song.

I concluded that it’s easy to determine if someone is interested right-off-the-bat. However, you need to see if the person is willing to take it all the way to stages four and five. If you try to court someone who only exhibits stages one and two, then it will be uncomfortable if you jump directly to stage five.

In summary, when flirting, follow the stages, and don’t leap-frog over your partner’s stage. Move at the same pace--don’t push to stage five when he’s only at stage two. On the other hand, if someone is pushing stage five, and you are hanging out at stage two, politely tell them that you are not looking for the same thing.

Dating is a numbers game, so it makes sense that flirting is a science. Your journey for courtship will be more successful if you’re aware of the natural stages of progression. Now, take this information and go get your flirt on!

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