Knowing how to flirt is confusing because the act can take so many forms. Maybe it’s a bit of teasing or a laid-back date invitation to hang out. Maybe it’s a playful tap on the arm or even a dare. Maybe it’s even as small as a mere wink. Since flirting can encompass any of the options above and then some, being able to interpret signs of interest is more challenging, nuanced, and interesting than you might have imagined. But, by knowing the five basic flirting styles, you’ll give yourself a leg up in mastering the skill.
According to research from the University of Kansas, there are five flirting styles. In a 2015 study, researchers paired 51 sets of opposite-sex strangers who had previously taken the Flirting Styles Inventory (which is available here) to determine how they convey interest. After watching the interactions, the research team also noted specific traits corresponding to a participant’s specified style and level of interest in their partner, which the participants revealed in a survey after the experiment.
“The reason we’re bad at seeing when people are interested is because they show it in such a variety of ways.” — Five Flirting Styles author Jeffrey Hall, PhD
“We’re really bad at detecting if people are flirting with us,” Five Flirting Styles author Jeffrey Hall, PhD, a professor of communication at Kansas said in a press release. “We‘re great at knowing when they’re not interested. But the reason we’re bad at seeing when they are interested is people show it in such a variety of ways.” Enter: flirting cues. These are the natural signs of someone’s attraction, and though they may be different for each person, they’re also hard to curb. So, knowing how to read these cues holds the secret for knowing how to flirt and how to decode the way others might be flirting, based on their personality.
Below, get more intel about the five camps all flirts fall into. Which is yours?
Learn how to flirt effectively, based on the 5 flirting styles.
Traditional flirts tend to subscribe to an old-school, gendered and heteronormative take wherein men make the first move, and women wait for men to reveal their feelings. Women of this type may struggle to catch someone’s attention, because they are passive in the mating dance; and men of this type tend to wait a while longer before asking someone out. Traditional flirts are often introverted and value intimacy over novelty.
Signs you’re dealing with a traditional flirt: They’re taking forever to ask you out or waiting for the first move; they’re introverted or reserved; they’re intense and dislike small-talk.
This type sees flirting as a tool, and they tend to enjoy banter and teasing for the sake of it. Engaging with a playful flirt won’t often lead to a serious relationship because this type tends to derive self-esteem from flirting. They tend to run hot and cold. They love playing games, and can come across as dismissive. They are more successful at dating casually or in short-term relationships. (As a playful flirt myself, it’s no wonder it took me so long to form significant romantic relationships—I wasn’t exactly putting that energy out into the world!)
Signs you’re dealing with a playful flirt: They tease; they’re hard to pin down or lock into a date; they keep it light, not intimate.
Physical flirts are big on touching. They’ll lean into you, adjust their stance toward you, play with their hair or put focus on their mouth—this style of flirting is sexually charged, to say the least. They tend to build connections quickly, and they pick up on signs of interest within the context of their day-to-day lives. Flirting, for physical types, is innate. (It also may make some uncomfortable.)
Signs you’re dealing with a physical flirt: They touch you a lot, whether it’s a tap on the arm or a kiss on the cheek; they use their body in suggestive ways, like by flipping their hair or leaning in closely; they are confident, and they come on strong.
This is the most common flirting style, and that’s probably for the best. Sincere flirts are direct and honest in their interest, and they aim to build emotional connections from the beginning. They’ll strike up a conversation about the book you’re reading. They’ll try to get to know your friends, take interest in your hobbies, and learn about your job. They’ll compliment you. It’ll feel like a friendship in addition to a romance.
Signs you’re dealing with a sincere flirt: They compliment you, ask you tons of good questions, and focus on building the emotional connection. They’ll want to talk and interact, so they’re unlikely to want to go to a noisy bar versus a quiet coffee shop. They may fidget. They’ll maintain focus on you.
Polite flirts may be the hardest to read of all five types, because their emphasis is on, well, politeness. They won’t want you to misread their interest for sexual attraction, and they’ll be focused on building a relationship in well-mannered way. It’s subtle. They follow the rules, and they’d rather you miss signs of interest than think they’ve taken things a step too far.
Signs you’re dealing with a polite flirt: They show interest, but in a respectful way; they’re unlikely to flirt using touch and are more likely to lean back, away from you to give you appropriate space; they speak in a measured tone.