LAWRENCE — “I’m pretty sure he likes me. Why doesn’t he just ask me out?”
“She’s always smiling at me, and she laughs at all my jokes. Is she interested in me, or does she act that way with every guy?”
When it comes to the opposite sex, questions like these have stumped most men and women at some point in their lives. Two people strike up a conversation, share some laughs, but the friendliness never progresses to romance.
There are more pieces to the puzzle of heterosexual flirtation than people may realize, said Jeffrey Hall, a University of Kansas communication studies professor whose new book, “The Five Flirting Styles: Use the Science of Flirting to Attract the Love You Really Want,” hit stores this month.
Inspiration for the book came from Hall’s involvement in flirting style research printed in Communication Quarterly in 2010, which received national media attention. Hall’s research has been featured in USA Today, Time, U.S. News and World Report, and Cosmopolitan.
It’s worthwhile to spend some time pondering flirtation techniques, including your own, Hall’s research shows.
“There aren’t that many people out there who aren’t, at some point, interested in a long-term relationship,” Hall said. “The statistics show the vast majority of Americans will be married at some point in their life.”
There’s no “right” way to flirt or show romantic interest in another person, but being aware of your tendencies may help you correct off-putting behaviors, Hall said.
Hall establishes the five styles — physical, polite, playful, sincere and traditional — using data first discovered in a sample of more than 5,000 eHarmony users in 2007 and later confirmed in a 2010-2011 survey of 4,500 individuals worldwide. Those who missed being part of the survey can still take the questionnaire online.
Hall’s research showed that while many people exhibit a mix of flirting styles, for most, one style is dominant.
For the woman wondering why her crush is so friendly, but never asks for a date — he may simply be the “polite” flirt. These types feel too much (or any) touching or complimenting is not only rude, but risky, even though other experts say these behaviors are clear indicators of romantic interest.
“Polite flirts can end up taking forever to get a message across because they’re so cautious. They’re respectful, they’re hands-off, and they avoid doing anything that’s too aggressive or suggestive,” Hall said.
Polite flirts were 10 percent more likely to use the Internet to find their last flame, FSI data showed. They were also 10 percent more likely to have found a mate at school than other types. Women and people age 40 and older were most likely to prefer a polite flirting style.
Unlike polite flirts, “physical” flirts rely on body language to express interest. They may play with their hair, adjust their stance or use touch to interact with the opposite sex. People tend to perceive a physical flirt’s everyday manner as more sexually charged, Hall wrote.
Physical flirts, too, are more likely to be “switched on” — open to and looking for signs of flirtation and sexual interest from others — than, say, polite flirts, who may not even notice when someone is trying to flirt with them because they’re frequently “switched off.”
“Their problem is they’re more likely to assume the person they’re flirting with is interested when they’re not,” Hall said. “They can end up stepping on toes and making people feel uncomfortable.”
Physical flirts were also 33 percent more likely to admit to flirting with other potential partners while in a long-term relationship and 36 percent more likely to date several people at the same time, FSI results showed.
For a “playful” flirt, making others uneasy is the least of their concerns. This type enjoys the attention and the “game” of flirting. They enjoy flirting for its own sake, even when a relationship or hookup is the last thing on their mind.
“They can come off as dismissive and belittling with their game playing,” Hall said. “They might be successful with short-term dating, but it’s hard for them to go beyond that in a relationship.”
The FSI survey results showed about half of respondents who said their latest romantic relationship was a casual fling, were also playful flirts. They were also 15 percent more likely to lie to get someone interested in them.
Unlike playful flirts, “sincere” flirts strive for emotional connection and enjoy getting to know their crushes. They ask questions and pay close attention during conversation. This flirting style is the most common, perhaps because it’s usually the most effective, the research showed.
“A sincere flirt might not like meeting people at a club because the loud music makes it hard to really talk to someone and get to know them,” Hall said.
FSI results showed sincere flirts were 20 percent less likely to have met their last romantic partner in a club or bar, and 26 percent more likely to have met their last partner online.
For “traditional” flirts, specific beliefs about gender roles guide the way. They think women should avoid being too forward and that men should make the first move, open doors and pick up the tab.
FSI data showed women were much more likely than men to be traditional flirts. The traditional style was the least popular style among male respondents. For female respondents, the traditional style took a three-way tie with playful and physical styles for third place. This means a woman in a crowd is just as likely to be a traditional style flirt as a playful or physical flirt.
Apart from learning more about their own flirting style, Hall said readers may also come away from the book with a better understanding of why some flirting techniques work for some, but not others.
“It’s not about using a one-size-fits-all-approach or teaching people to be pickup artists,” Hall said.