What's the Future of Flirting?

It's getting kind of complicated. Let's break it down.

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Dating has changed a lot in a matter of just a few years. With the emergence of dating apps and social media, the old "rules" of flirting and dating just don't exist anymore, and the new rules are always in flux. So, how are you supposed to stand out and make moves with your crush when there are millions of distractions lurking in the palm of your hand?

"New modes of communication have created new ways to play." – Moira Weigel, author

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Flirting, like love in general, is part biology and part social construct, so while some aspects stay the same across time, others can vary a great deal. We talked to a flirting expert about how flirting has evolved, where it's heading, and what little things you can do to keep up.

Learn the Mainstays, Because Some Things Never Change

Many flirting tactics are so ingrained in human biology (things like body language), that you probably use them without even realizing it. "There are certain flirting behaviors that evolutionary biologists believe are constant," says Moira Weigel, author of Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating. "Some are obvious: smiling, glancing at someone, and then looking away. Some are less obvious: tossing your hair back to expose your neck, tilting your head sideways, licking your lips, placing a palm up on a table or bar countertop, where your partner can see it."

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Exercise Those Thumbs of Yours

Admit it: You're on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr a lot more than you should be anyway, so you might as well use those platforms to your advantage. "You can flirt by liking someone's Instagram photo, replying to their tweet, by responding (or even not responding) to their text. All of these new modes of communication have created new ways to connect and play," says Weigel. Don't inhibit yourself by overthinking it. Just double tap that photo and send an "LOL" back to your crush's story every once in awhile. The more at ease you are with small social media interactions, the more accessible you'll seem.

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Embrace Dating Apps

To some, dating apps can seem, well, icky and desperate. But that mentality should be a thing of the past. Dating apps are now such an integral, normal part of the dating scene that meeting people on, say, Tinder is basically like meeting someone out in the "real" world. Just go for it.

Make sure things about your personality are visible right away.

Of course, flirting on these platforms has also changed. More people are revealing more information about themselves in their profiles, like including their Instagram handle and writing a quick snippet about what they're interested in. That's key, making sure that there are things about your personality, and even another way to connect with you on social media, that are visible right away.

Master the Art of Emoji Talk

Emojis have changed the way we communicate with everyone, including our crushes. Throwing in an emoji or sending back a GIF can keep conversation light and casual. Try using emojis that you couldn't just make out of a colon and parentheses. Send a flame instead of saying "it's lit," use the double high-five instead of saying "awesome," and maybe even send a snake every time a certain pop star is mentioned. Think of this as your new form of wordplay.

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Get a Little Political

According to OkCupid's "What Flirting Looked Like in 2016," a data-driven report on the flirting habits of its users, political candidates were a massive topic of conversation for users. That's right: politics and religion are no longer taboo to talk about, no matter what your grandmother tells you. So, in addition to staying up to date on The Young Pope, stay up to date on what's happening in politics. It's totally fine to keep a running list of topics, relating to both pop culture and current events, that you know you can chat about with ease—but it might also be good to know a few clever ways to leave a conversation gracefully, in case that political conversation goes sour.

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Be Direct...

"It's best to be confident and direct," says Weigel. "This doesn't necessarily mean saying, 'Hi, I like you, do you like me?' But it does mean telegraphing interest: through eye contact, smiling, the occasional touch—if it seems welcome, a brush on the arm—or by initiating contact if you're on your phone. Then that more delicate back-and-forth, the play, begins." And don't drive yourself crazy trying to send one super-witty text after the other. "I think people tend to overthink being cool or chill or hard to get. It never hurts to express basic kindness and care," she adds.

"Young women are becoming more confident in acting on their desires." – Weigel

...But Maybe Not Too Direct

"Every advice expert since Ovid in ancient Rome seems to agree that some withholding is helpful to stimulating interest; it's best to leave some ambiguity in what you say, to allow for interpretation," Weigel says. So next time you're thinking about spilling your entire life's story, tell one of your most interesting anecdotes, and then say that you have "a lot more." Wink optional.

Recognize That Gender Roles in Flirting Are Obsolete

It's now widely understood that gender isn't a binary, it's a spectrum. So it only makes sense that we're seeing the death of traditional gender roles in flirting. Tinder added a "more" to its gender categorization, and Bumble requires the female in straight matches to make the first move. "Young women are becoming more confident in acting on their desires; men are becoming more comfortable with that," says Weigel. It took long enough.

Moira Weigel's Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating ($26) is available at us.macmillan.com.

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