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  • Kristan Higgins

The subtle art of not flirting

Updated: May 5, 2022


I recently had a college-age reader write to me and share the fact that she’s never had a boyfriend. She professed to be ignorant of how to flirt, let a guy know she thought he was cute, talk to a boy in “that way” other girls seemed to know instinctively. Could I help?

I could! I was that girl! I remember in college, being completely oblivious to the fact that any guy liked me at all, helplessly and silently in crush with boys I never spoke to, sitting in my room reading on Saturday nights when my friends were at parties, because I dared not enter those social waters. I had never had a boyfriend. My first kiss came when I was 18 and three-quarters, at the tail end of my freshman year of college, and I only had the guts to let him kiss me because I was transferring (thank you, Brian! You live in my memory as an incredibly sweet guy).

Obviously, that changed, since I’ve been married for eons and have two children. I have lived and learned in good ways and in bad. My advice to her was…


Don’t worry about flirting. It’ll come or it won’t. Flirting implies a comfort and sense of humor (to me, anyway). If you’re not comfortable, don’t force it. There’s no rule book here.

Make eye contact.

Smile at your romantic interest. It conveys interest, and in my experience, works better than pretending not to see him or her, which was my go-to move for years (and why I had such a hard time getting a damn boyfriend).

Ask questions that require more than a one-word sentence. Follow up “Where are you from?” with “How did you like growing up there?”

Be polite, positive, and thoughtful. You can hold the door, too. While doing so, say, “Have a great day!”

Be complimentary. “I thought what you said in class was really smart.”


Fill your alone time with cool things. Ride your bike. Play an instrument. Read something not assigned for class. Take a walk. Watch the lunar eclipse. People who enjoy being alone give off an air of confidence and security, which are very appealing qualities.

Organize something dorky and fun, or go along on something dorky and fun. Did anyone ever have a bad time bowling? I think not. If your romantic interest doesn’t go along, that’s okay. You’re still out with people, showing the world you can do dorky and fun things.

Be sympathetic. We’re all in this human thing together. Those folks who are getting drunk or being too loud or sitting in their rooms playing video games…we’re all the same. Hoping people will like the real us, and maybe a little scared to show just who that is.


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