So you’ve spent the past 18 months rearranging your sock drawer and speaking only to your cat, and now you want to flirt with actual real people? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered
The year and a half we’ve spent living in a pandemic may have been a lot of things, but sexy isn’t one of them. Sure, we had the time to step back and think about what we really wanted, to reconnect with hobbies, or to alphabetise our spice racks, but for people in the dating market, old Miss Rona certainly put paid to the fiery frissons that usually come from chance encounters and flying sparks. Instead of being out there in the prime of our lives – the sexual beings that we are, flirting and connecting with one another – we made a lot of bread, rewatched old box sets, and tortured our friends with online organised fun. And that’s just those of us who weren’t personally affected by the tragedy of course – for some, it’s been a much sadder, darker period.
Put plainly, the pandemic has been the biggest cockblock known to humankind since pre-marital chastity was a widespread and acceptable part of dating culture. So, you’d be forgiven if during this protracted period of state-enforced introversion (and if you’re single and living in a shared house: celibacy) you’ve lost your mojo with dating.
But do not fear! Help is at hand. As all COVID restrictions are lifted in England today (July 19) – delivering with it the renewed possibility of cheeky snogs, smudged lipstick, awkward chats, and forgettable quickies – Dazed asked Dr Britney Blair, a clinical therapist specialising in sex and relationships, and co-founder of the Lover app, for some tips on how to reintroduce flirting into our lives without coming across robotic, weird, or in a pandemic-induced state of social ineptitude. What adjustments should we make to our flirting in a post-pandemic world? And, crucially, what is eye contact again?
TAKE IT SLOW
“Don’t feel pressure to go back to full speed immediately,” warns Blair, noting that after a year in which we’ve had limited social contact, many will have “emotional whiplash” from the process of returning to ‘normal’. Be aware that yours and many other people’s boundaries may have changed while you’ve been in isolation. Maybe you’re less into the idea of random sex, maybe you’re more into it. Or maybe you hate the idea of someone touching you. Baby steps and all that or, as Blair says, “give yourself and other people time and space to explore how you’re feeling”.
READ THE ROOM
Body language is one the most obvious ways of judging if someone’s into you (or at the very least into flirting with you). But without practice, you’d be forgiven for forgetting how to read the signs. “Look for the people who have open body language rather than just the hot ones,” says Blair. “People exhibiting open body language will typically be looking around them, holding their shoulders back, smiling, and allowing eye contact. If someone is giving you one-word answers or staring down at their phone, you can be fairly sure they don’t want to be disturbed,” she continues. “Respecting people’s boundaries will be so important after all the emotional trauma we’ve all just been through, so read the signs and move on if they’re not reciprocated.” This is especially true of non-consensual touching of any form, as people’s anxiety about physical contact is likely to be heightened after a year of social distancing.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Look, do you think Raheem Sterling scored a goal the first time he kicked a ball? Well, maybe. Probably, actually. But regardless, if you’re a bit out of practice with flirting then find safe, low-stakes ways to practice – and maybe don’t go straight for the person whose face inspired your new portrait painting obsession in lockdown 2.0. Blair also advises trying a bit of what she refers to as “rejection practice”. The gist of this is: approaching people to chat in public (in a non-sexual or threatening way) and seeing how they respond. Odds are, some of them will reject you, says Blair (speak for yourself). “None of us like to feel rejected,” she explains, “but the more you are exposed to it, the less you’ll care.” And if you’re socially anxious after months of isolation, and that all sounds like too much, then you could always ask a friend to practice a bit of low-key small talk with you until you feel a bit more comfortable.
TRY TO GET SOME EYE CONTACT...
Eye contact is the key to flirting, says Blair. “Just make sure you make a distinction between this and a creepy stare,” she warns. And while we’re on the subject...
DON’T BE CREEPY!
“Examples of creepy behaviour are negging (needlessly criticising someone to undermine their confidence, which some dating ‘experts’ have been known to recommend); not reading someone’s body language; and continuing to talk or pursue someone who has made it clear they aren’t interested. Oh and don’t touch or grope people without permission, obviously!”
“Respecting people’s boundaries will be so important after all the emotional trauma we’ve all just been through, so read the signs and move on if they’re not reciprocated” – Britney Blair, sex and relationships therapist
ASK QUESTIONS… AND ACTUALLY LISTEN TO THE ANSWERS
Our worlds have become a lot smaller since the start of the pandemic, meaning we’ve all become a lot more tuned into Radio Me, but remember that listening is a skill – and an attractive one at that. If your memory is suffering post-lockdown, take a quick trip to the loo or the bar and write down a couple of notes on your phone of interesting things they’ve told you to return to later. “A lot of people just fire off like a fire hydrant when they’re nervous, but try to leave space for the other person to speak,” Blair says. She also advises a spot of “vulnerable but appropriate self-disclosure”, given that a lot of people find humility charming. “You could even just make a joke of it and say, ‘I’ve lost the art of flirting! Do you think I can get it back?’” This sort of admission makes it easier for people to connect with you – just be sure not to overshare.
People! Love! Compliments! Especially me (@rosestokes). “Say they have nice hair,” says Blair, “or make your intention clear by saying that you noticed them from across the room.” And besides, we’ve all been starved of attention for so long, it might be nice to feel noticed again – just, again, don’t be creepy.
GIVE THEM YOUR NUMBER
Blair says this is a no-pressure way of communicating that you’d like to stay in touch. “That way you give them the option as to how they’d like to proceed,” she explains.
DON’T BE SO HARD ON YOURSELF
“We’ve all been through a collective trauma, and people’s nervous systems are more activated as a result,” says Blair, “so give them a little bit of leeway and space.” Above all, she says, remember that nine out of ten times any rejection is not about you, so try not to take it too personally if your advances fall flat (we know it’s hard).
IF IN DOUBT… ASK
If you’re really struggling to gauge how people are feeling, remember you can always… just ask? In a post-pandemic world, we may need to be a little clearer with each other about how we’re feeling and what we need.
AND FINALLY, ENJOY IT
Stop sweating! Chill out! What’s the worst that can happen? The government issues a stay-at-home order and you get locked in your house, unable to make a move on anyone ever again? That’ll never happen.