So I’m standing there, half wishing he’d notice me. Half knowing I’ll die of embarrassment if he catches me gawping at him from across the bar. He’s laughing. Oh he’s having the time of his life, head thrown back, eyes tight shut creasing at the corners, mouth open in a broad-as-his -shoulders smile.
I know already that there’s absolutely no question of me approaching him. Sure he’s just ‘my type’; looks like he reads books for fun, he probably knows what’s going on in the euro zone and, he’s dressed as I would expect any hero in a rom-com to casually be put together. But there’s not going to be any meet-cute here.
To give myself an out, an excurse to cushion the blow and, provide a reason not to try, I tell myself he’s out of my league. I tear myself away from the creep-fest I’ve become and stare at my drink instead of the boy, and I sigh.
Last Thursday I met Jean Smith, an American born social and cultural anthropologist
Jean's lived all over the world studying human behaviour, finally finding herself at home in London. Jean’s become a regular in the media as a flirt expert and even has a book on the subject. But most importantly (to me at least) she’s the founder of Flirtology. Jean insists that, after much research and study of flirting and dating behaviours, flirting is a science, and so, Jean run’s regular classes on the subject in the form of guided flirt tours, which is where I found myself last week.
When the class met at 5:30pm outside the National Portrait Gallery, I was welcomed into the fold of what would become my flirt family for the next few hours. A group ranging from their mid 20s through to somewhere in their 40s. All not yet confident in their ability to flirt. The buzz of expectation along with a healthy dollop of fear was palatable.
“But you don’t want to attract everyone!”
Says Jean almost flippantly. She’s right of course:
“So rejection is a good thing, we shouldn’t fear it. Rejection helps you collect data to determine the type of person who really is a match for you.”
That’s true I thought. Whenever I’m dating I always make it my rule that I’d rather spend time with someone who’s as excited about our date as I am. But I’d never looked at approaching strangers in the same way. But as Jean went on, as we approach strangers, all be it strangers to whom we’re attracted, there should be no prior investment in that exchange. That is to say, we shouldn’t be looking for a certain outcome, before we’ve even initially approached the object of our attraction.
Before heading into the gallery to embark upon our first exercise Jean explained:
“Saying ‘Hi’ to a cute stranger or just giving them a smile is a compliment, it’s a gift to that person. When you give gifts and compliments do you expect anything in return?”
Oh Jean, I’m the youngest child of divorced parents, I’m somewhat of a Brat I’m afraid… although, no, I guess you’re right…
…So straight away I’m on board and when we finally begin moving through the gallery on exercise one: Making eye contact and smiling at strangers - ‘fellow art lovers’ - I’m suddenly an eager teacher’s pet. This woman is onto something.
The eye contact and smiles is for me at least baby steps. It’s something I practise a lot and so, I’m not being boastful when I say it came pretty naturally. Sure I’ll stare at my shoes if the aforementioned ‘just my type’ kind of guy returns my gaze, but on the whole I’m a fan of eye contact and trying to at least appear like a ‘nice person’ with a sunny disposition.
When I mention these jitters, about those ‘just my type’ of guys to Jean after exercise one however, she has a whole new smart come back to knock me from my tower of excuses.
“How do you know he’s just your type? You’ve not met him yet. It’s a thing we all do but we really have to learn not to judge strangers before they’ve even said their first words to us, otherwise we’re going to wind up either very alone, or very disappointed.”
I let the dust settle after that stampede of good sense. ‘I love this woman’ I think as she follows up with:
“Lets try not to judge people as our ‘type’ or not before we’ve had the chance to talk to them a little bit. And hey, if you do find someone attractive and they’re that one person who gives you a bad response when you smile at them, who cares? They’re a stranger. We move on from that and we don’t let strangers dictate our mood or our future flirt behaviour.”
I’ve barely chance to catch my breath from all this fresh air when I find myself in the middle of a busy side street asking strangers for directions in exercise two. Jean says asking opinions or questions, like the way to somewhere, are also forms of compliments. When we ask directions, especially in the age of the smartphone, what we’re really doing is asking that specific person because they’re specifically who we want to talk to. Unless you’re just really lost and out of battery…
Scratching my head and feeling stupid, but hopefully channelling this into an ‘I’m lost face’ I scan the street for a guy around my age who’s not with a girl, who’s possibly my type (but also possibly not because thems’ the rules and I’m still trying my hardest to impress my latest crush… Jean) and someone who isn’t immersed in their smartphone or living in their own bubble of headphones, podcasts, Skype-chats and selfies…
“Hi, I wondered if you knew the way to New Row Street?”
I ask feeling immediately stupid as I realise I have my phone in my hand so immediately follow up with a “bad signal” lie. I’m bracing myself for an annoyed come back when the guy (who is my type…) begins to look around us in a bid to spot my destination. He then whips out his phone proclaiming its not far and really, he’s very helpful and sweet. The exchange is over in about 30 seconds but with plenty of smiles and niceties. Despite knowing that I mustn’t take my high from the good reaction of a stranger, I do, just a little and move on to spot my next target.
“Hi do you know the way to New Row street?”
He’s not my type and he doesn’t really know but our exchange attracts the attention of another handsome passer by. He does know and offers to walk me, as that’s where he’s headed too.
Elated although on the edge of being rumbled I agree. As we walk I feel like a total spy: Of course I know where New Row Street is, I’ve worked around the edges of Covent Garden for almost three years, but I play dumb for the sake of the flirt. He’s nice and as I confirm my fictional story that I’m meeting friends he drops the classic clanger that he’s meeting his girlfriend. Ah…
However I decide this excise went better than expected. Even guys who didn’t know where New Row street was stopped to help/talk to me and I’m kind of proud for making the most of the exercise.
At the top of New Row Street is Jean and my classmates, waiting outside the Tesco Metro, for exercise three.
Apparently Supermarkets are a flirting hotspot. Who knew?
Jean explains that it’s mutual and unthreatening ground, full of ‘props’ (products in the store) to use as conversation starters.
We all head in, empty baskets in hand; undercover flirters masquerading as indecisive shoppers.
The problem I find is Jean’s given us all openers. Ways into conversations. She’s told us that beginning a conversation by asking someone their opinion on a prop is a great way of both beginning talking, but also showing someone that you’re interested, specifically in what they think. Again, it goes back to these indirect compliments. But my problem here is realism.
I’m a storyteller. I always have been since I was four-years-old and worked out that lying was a much more fun than telling my parents what really happened to the last of the biscuits in the tin. As a storyteller the first thing I want to make you do, as my audience is, believe me. So when I went to approach guys in the supermarket I felt like I needed a back-story a real reason to ask their opinion. Because just saying, ‘what do you think about this tea?’ didn’t feel believable.
This way of thinking held me back a lot during this exercise and I ended up walking around aimlessly with an empty basket for quite some time.
Until I spotted him: Tall, suited, in the spice aisle; he cooked.
“Hey, do you think the mixed spices are cheating?”
He turned and half laughed, he too was holding Peri-Peri spice blend.
We chatted a little bit, mainly about spices agreeing that the ease of mixed, compared with the effort and cost of fresh, was probably the way forward. It wasn’t ground breaking but after 10 minutes of trying not to look like a shop lifter I took it as a victory. I thanked Mr Peri-Peri and snuck out of the shop to re-join the group.
As we shared our success stories Jean of course confirmed what I already knew. I was making things too complicated. “Who cares if someone thinks your question is dumb, it’s just a way of saying ‘Hi’.”
With this in mind I tried my best to simplify during the fourth and final exercise: Flirting with strangers in busy Covent Garden. Something which as a Londoner I’ve only ever attempted after a few too many rounds of tequila slammers.
Deep breath. ‘You can do this.
So I think it might take me a bit more practising. In the whole time I timidly spoke to one guy and asked where he’s gotten his ice cream from, but he was in a group and merely pointed. Leaving me with a fleeting “You should try the Oreo!”
I was a little down as we joined together at a bar for the final time, but I tried to remind myself that the strangers I hadn’t managed to talk to, shouldn’t be held accountable for my emotions. A new mantra to add to my list.
As Jean left us the consensus all round was kind of the same: Small wins.
We’d only had two hours with Jean, she’s a busy a woman as flirt coach, writer and anthropologist. But her lessons and insights had made us all eager to carry on trying out her techniques and flirting in real life.
I like Jean a lot, it’s not just her cool American accent but her casual way of changing your opinion entirely with a couple of lines of crystal clear sense pretty awesome. As an expert she doesn’t preach PUA techniques or a paint-by-numbers approaches to getting what you want out of dating. Her biggest secret, which she’ll share with you for free, is simply:
“There are no quick tricks to flirting, you just have to be yourself and you’ll attract people who like you for you.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
So am I a fearless flirter? Not quite, but I’ll be asking direction, with a smile, in the supermarket until I find my way there!
You can find details of Jeans work and tours here.