But flirting is also an essential element of the mate-selection process, and when you are 'flirting with intent', rather than just 'flirting for fun', you need to be a bit more selective about your choice of target.
In mate-selection flirting, there are two basic rules about who to flirt with that will increase your chances of success and reduce the likelihood of embarrassing rejections.
1. Do initiate flirtation with people of roughly the same level of attractiveness as yourself
This will give you the best chance of compatability. Most successful marriages and long-term relationships are between partners of more or less equal good looks. There is some leeway, of course, and other qualities are also important, but statistically, relationships where one partner is much more attractive than the other tend to be less successful. Studies have shown that the more evenly matched partners are in their attractiveness, the more likely they are to stay together.
But evaluating your own attractiveness may be difficult. Research has shown that many women have a poor body-image, and often underestimate their attractiveness. Some recent studies indicate, for example, that up to 80% of adult women believe that they are too fat, and try to achieve a figure that is around two sizes smaller than the body-size men find most desirable. If you are female, the odds are that you are more attractive than you think, so try flirting with some better-looking men.
Men generally tend to be less critical of their own physical appearance than women. This is partly because standards of beauty for males are much less rigid than for females, and a wider variety of shapes and features are considered attractive. But it must be said that some men are also inclined to overestimate their attractiveness. If you are a more honest male, and do not consider yourself good-looking, remember that most men lack expertise in the subtleties of social interaction, so polishing up your flirting skills could give you the edge over a more attractive rival.
2. Don't flirt with people who are unlikely to return your interest.
Even if you are not looking for a long-term mate, you will enjoy flirting more with someone who is interested in you. So it makes sense to approach people who are likely to see you as at least a possible partner, rather than those likely to dismiss you as unsuitable.
Evolution has favoured males who select young, attractive mates and females who select partners with power, wealth and status. Men therefore naturally tend to seek women who are younger than them and place greater emphasis on physical beauty, while women are more likely to favour older males with higher status and earning potential. Women also tend to prefer men who are taller than them. Analysis of thousands of personal ads - where people are more explicit about their requirements, and more obviously conscious of the requirements of others - shows that these are the qualities most frequently demanded and offered by mate-seekers.
Short, low-status males and older, less attractive females may therefore be a bit more restricted in their choice of potential partners, although there are many exceptions to this rule, and confidence and charm can outweigh apparent disadvantages.
In the How to Flirt section, you will find tips on how to tell immediately, even from across a crowded room, whether someone is likely to return your interest or not.
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