Why flirting with strangers can be good for the relationship – 02/12/2024 – Balance

Why flirting with strangers can be good for the relationship – 02/12/2024 – Balance

In a crowded bar on a Friday night, a person sits alone and waits for a friend to arrive.

The waiter, observing the lonely person, starts talking, asking how their day was and making them feel at ease.

Before long, the two begin to get along well, time flies and the wait for the late guest falls into oblivion.

The waiter is charming and the flirtatious conversation of the casual encounter makes you feel at home. She’s enjoying the attention – and why wouldn’t she?

“When someone flirts with you, you feel valued and the perception of your ability to attract the other’s desire increases”, says psychology professor Gurit Birnbaum, from Reichman University, in Israel.

In other words, being flirted with is good. But can it also be good for those who flirt?

Birnbaum points out that even for someone in a relationship, flirting with other people is expected. “Over time, people tend to fantasize about other people. This is normal – and it doesn’t mean anything bad about the relationship.”

In the bar scenario, our waiter doesn’t know if the person sitting at the table is already in a relationship. But there is something stranger about this interaction that emerges at the bar.

Although this type of interaction may be happening right now somewhere in the world, in this specific case, the waiter is computer generated and the entire interaction takes place in virtual reality. It takes place in a world idealized by Birnbaum.

Reflecting on the idea that people begin to fantasize about others even though they are in long-term relationships, Birnbaum wondered if fantasies could be used to help regulate our most destructive desires.

She wondered whether or not flirting with a virtual waiter would increase a committed person’s propensity to flirt in real life.

“I thought this safe space [a realidade virtual] it could help people control their desires and maintain their current relationships,” she explains. “I can think whatever I want and I’m satisfied. And I don’t need to act on those fantasies.”

The virtual waiter looks a bit strange. Its movements are stiff and its appearance is somewhat frightening.

“Virtual reality is much more immersive than what you see on video – don’t be disappointed,” warns Birnbaum when sending me a recording.

It is certainly impossible to mistake the waiter for a real person. But the speech is realistic and, after five minutes of interaction, the conversation flows quite authentically.

After removing their headphones, people participating in Birnbaum’s experiment were introduced to an interviewer or a complete stranger, both of whom were attractive. In fact, it was a researcher posing as someone who needed help.

Study participants who flirted with the virtual waiter found the interviewer less attractive and spent less time helping the stranger than people who had a conversation that didn’t have a flirtatious tone.

For Birnbaum, it’s as if flirting at the virtual bar has inoculated people against real-life temptation. And people also said they wanted their real partners more after the flirty bar interaction.

Birnbaum indicates that flirting with strangers when in a relationship can strengthen the bond between partners. But she warns that this can be a dangerous path.

It is essential to be strongly aware of the limits of flirting, both yours and your partner’s, she highlights. And there are subtle reasons that can lead people from innocent flirting to cheating.

“When people are exposed to norms of infidelity – for example, when you know that your colleagues cheat on their partners – you are more likely to do the same,” she explains. This phenomenon is called “contagious infidelity.”

Birnbaum highlights that there are a “myriad of personality characteristics” that make people more resistant or prone to infidelity. People who are more narcissistic or have insecure attachment problems, for example, are more likely to cheat than others.

“We need to take into account many factors to predict which seduction experiences would lead to infidelity,” according to Birnbaum.

Learning to flirt

Careful flirting can be good, but many people consider themselves inept at this practice.

A survey of almost 7,000 male users of the Reddit platform concluded that not knowing how to flirt was the fifth most common reason, out of 43 mentioned by men to justify why they are single.

But luckily for these people, it might be possible to learn how to flirt better.

After three hours of training, which involved learning techniques to appear more confident when speaking, a group of adult participants showed greater extroversion and better flirting skills.

And there are other flirting techniques that can be learned as well.

Expansive body posture – such as adopting a wider posture, looking directly at your interlocutor and raising your head – increases the romantic interest of men and women. This may be because we associate occupying space with dominance, expansiveness and openness (but being unpleasantly expansive – the so-called “manspreading” – can outrage other people).

This effect can be seen in both real-life dating and online dating apps.

Whereas a quick encounter or a glance at a photograph can make or break someone’s chances of successful flirting, maximizing space can increase the chances of a successful romance.

Maximizing space is not something we always do necessarily consciously, says psychology professor T. Joel Wade, from Bucknell University, in the United States. “It’s not like, oh, there’s someone cute, I’m going to show off. It’s just natural behavior,” explains the teacher.

This nonverbal display of dominance can take the form of expanding the body or spreading out belongings to show comfort and belonging in a space, according to Wade.

Flirting is usually an overt act, but it can also be covert – actions that you don’t necessarily relate to flirting, explains psychology professor Maryanne Fisher, from St. Mary’s University, in Canada.

People flirt mainly with nonverbal signals, like stroking their own hair. This behavior is called “self-preparation,” according to her. “It’s the idea of ​​making myself more attractive to you.”

And differences in flirting techniques persist regardless of sexual orientation.

Men, people who describe their identity as “masculine,” and people who adopt “masculine” gender roles, for example, are more likely to be openly flirtatious in what they say and do, regardless of the person they are attracted to.

Women, people who identify as “feminine” and people who describe their gender role as “feminine” are more likely to flirt covertly, non-verbally.

If sexual orientation does not determine flirting styles, existing research, largely focused on traditional sex and gender roles, may be “well suited to capturing the experiences of flirting behavior among sexual minority individuals,” write Jenn Clark, from the University of British Columbia, in Canada, Flora Oswald, from Pennsylvania State University, in the United States, and Cory L. Pedersen, from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, in Canada.

“There is research that indicates that there may be slight differences between the various sexual orientations, but, in general, the tendency is for there to be a lot of universality [entre o estilo de flerte e o gênero]”, agrees Wade.

Other examples of covert flirting are “bonding signals.” They can range from initiating eye contact, hugging and smiling to jokes to something more intimate, like sharing food – something we don’t normally do with strangers.

Outside the context of flirting, taking your partner’s surname at the time of marriage or wearing a ring would be symbols of a bond with another person.

“Signals of bonding are often performed in your partner’s absence to indicate that you are committed,” says Fisher. And these signals can also be used to show that the other person is unavailable.

“If you want to indicate that your partner is committed, the easiest way is to take action,” explains Fisher. “It’s easier to put an arm around him than to tell someone to back off.”

But, if flirting bonding signals are rejected or not very well received, these are signals that tell the potential interested party about the level of commitment in your current romantic relationship and define whether it has a chance or not.

And, of course, not showing exclusive interest is one of the flirting behaviors that turns people off the most, perhaps because we like to have the exclusive attention of our partners.

Wade highlights that subtle examples of flirting can be useful, as the person flirting can also quickly end the interaction if necessary, plausibly denying any romantic interest on their part.

Generally, men overestimate romantic interest, perhaps confusing warmth with attraction. Women, on the other hand, underestimate him, which may have generated the notion of the “friend zone”.

“The level of so-called false positives is very different between heterosexual men and heterosexual women,” explains Fisher.

“Smiling, at least in Canadian culture, is the default, right? It’s a way of defusing situations and increasing your perception of warmth. But heterosexual men look at women smiling and think ‘oh, she’s interested in me.'”

Some companies have capitalized on the perceived excessive flirting, according to Fisher. They use women on the front line, like restaurant receptionists.

“There have been lawsuits in the United States, with women saying they are being harassed because they are told to smile and initiate this forced interaction, which is being perceived as sexual,” she says. And women are disproportionately more affected than men.

So it’s worth asking: was the virtual waiter really interested in the person sitting alone or was he just doing his job?

Read the original version of this report (in English) on the BBC Future website

This text was published here

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