Usually, in order to let someone know that you’re interested, you might have to do a bit of flirting. This includes the odd compliment, batting your eyelashes and laughing at just about every joke they make. That may sound easy in theory, but it’s actually pretty complicated in practice. So what is flirting? And is flirting cheating? The Mix explains.

A couple of young people are sitting at a bus stop. They are thinking of flirting.

The definition of flirting

It’s pretty tricky to find a concrete flirting definition. Coincidentally, it’s definitely tricky to work out if someone is actually flirting with you or just being friendly. But we’ll give it a go. 

Generally speaking, flirting refers to behaving as if you’re romantically interested in another person, but in a light-hearted way. Confused? So are we. To help, flirting behaviour typically includes various nonverbal signals like facial expressions, eye contact, playing with hair, and lightly touching. For example giving someone a friendly prod, tickling them, hugging them or playfully tapping them.

Is flirting cheating?

A lot of people, especially if they’re new to the dating scene, might question if flirting is cheating. Honestly, no.

Flirting is actually quite different from cheating. In most cases, when you’re already in a relationship, flirting is just harmless fun that offers a bit of excitement and a laugh. Not a way to proclaim your sexual interest. But it totally depends on the couple. Sometimes, excessive flirting with other people can lead to tension. One example is if the flirter and the flirtee know each other really well. It could send off misleading signals to their respective partners and create jealousy.

For more info, check out our article ‘what is cheating?’ here.

Flirting body language

When we think about being attractive, most of us think about our appearance. But, you don’t have to be a model to catch the attention of someone you like. Even more important than the initial attraction, is personality. Some people are able to approach a woman, man or person and pique interest purely based on their character and nonverbal communication

This generally means that they’ve got charisma – a peculiar mixture of charm and personality. Charismatic people attract others with their enthusiasm and energy. As a result they don’t have to rely on the size of their eyes or the shape of their chin to woo people.

Eye contact 

Get someone to video you talking to a group. That way you’ll be able to see what your potential flirting body language says about your behaviour. Remember, body language is all about the look on your face, the way you speak, and the signals you send by how you stand and move. 

Take eye contact. If you don’t look at someone directly when you’re introduced, it’ll send the wrong message. You’re essentially telling them that you are shy, aloof, or have something to hide. Equally, if you stare them down, that seems threatening and hostile. Most encounters are a mixture of looking at the person and then looking away. Luckily, you can practise to get it just right.

“If someone likes you, you’ll probably notice an increase in eye contact,” says body language expert Judi James. “They’ll hold your gaze for a second or two longer than usual. Then they’ll keep glancing back to check your expression to see how you are reacting to them. They might not even be aware they’re doing it. But you can learn a lot just by reading body language cues

Telltale signs that someone is flirting with you

Another sign that someone likes you is if they stand a bit closer to you than is normal. We’re gonna get a bit technical here – so bare with us. When standing, the usual distance between people is between 45cm and 1.2m. Any closer usually signals interest. Try it and see. Just keep in mind that if the person inches away from you, it may mean they’re not as interested in you as you are in them.

Another sign that someone likes you is if they face you with an ‘open’ body. Essentially this means that they don’t have their arms folded and/or they don’t fiddle with something while they’re talking to you. 

Any action that places the arms across the body means they feel they need to defend themselves against you. Unless they’re just in deep thought. And if you’re sitting, they’ll cross their legs away from you. Putting a hand up to their face is another way of cutting you off. But, if they have their eyes wide open and their eyebrows high, it probably means they like you.

“When you’re talking to someone who likes you, they tend to smile a lot,” Judi says. “Don’t get too excited though. You should check it’s a genuine smile where the eyes crinkle up. If it’s a fake one, only the mouth muscles’ll move.” The person may also agree with whatever you’re saying if they wanna make you feel good. Sadly, the agreement may turn out not to be genuine when you get to know them better – don’t say we didn’t warn you.

How to flirt with someone

“If you want someone to know you like them, don’t be shy – make eye contact,” advises Judi. If you don’t, they’ll think you are stuck-up or not interested. Stand an inch or two closer to them than you normally would. Get to know the person – find out what they’re interested in and chat about it. Have a coffee. Send a few texts. Do them the odd favour, and see how they respond.

Flirting body signals

There are loads of body signals people use to draw the attention of a potential love interest when they’re flirting. Someone putting his/her/their hands on hips or waist is common. So is fiddling with items such as pens, drinks and bags. Males are said to be more likely to play with circular objects when they are flirting, females with cylindrical objects like glasses. But that’s probs just a load of old rubbish. Something that’s not rubbish? These signals:

  • Swinging or rolling hips. Especially when walking past a potential partner or dancing;
  • Playing with their hair, tossing it over their shoulder or smoothing it down;
  • Fiddling with a necklace, bracelet or earrings;
  • Exposing a shoulder by letting a sleeve hang down.
  • Fiddling with a tie, playing with buttons, collars or sleeves;
  • Sticking their fingers inside a belt;
  • Rubbing or pulling on an earlobe;
  • Head tilting

How to cope with shyness

“Learning to look at people with confidence is the key to overcoming shyness,” says Judi. “Even if you look away again, try your best to make eye contact as much as possible. You can even practice in the mirror. Just look yourself in the eye.” If you need some tips for how to overcome shyness, try this article.

Thanks to Flipside magazine for providing this article.

Next Steps



By Susan Aldridge

Updated on 21-Jun-2022