When I was young, I didn’t realise I might be good at flirting because I didn’t know I was doing it. I’ve always had a healthy interest in the male of the species, enjoying men’s company and loving a good old grapple in the bedroom, but when I was young, if I’d been asked, I might have attributed my success with men to having blonde hair, or liking a laugh, or being hungry for contact – all of which can help when flirting but don’t explain its subtleties. In my early forties, I was asked to facilitate a workshop on ‘something to do with relationships’ and remembered an occasion not long before when a theatre director had me and another actor flirt with him as an improvisation exercise. I did this so well that the director said he was seduced by me (in spite of being utterly gay). I thought, ‘I must have some sort of flair for this art!’ I decided I would teach flirting, deconstructed my own behaviour for content, and Flirtshop was born, a weekend course I ran for groups of people who had never flirted or had forgotten how to flirt, often because they had only just emerged from long, stagnant relationships, and were shy and demoralized with tiny egos.
It’s such a shame that flirting dies in long relationships (it doesn’t have to, but you’ve both got to want to do it). We usually associate it with the beginning of a potential romance. Does flirting always signal sexual interest? I think so, but it doesn’t have to have serious intent or a discernible outcome: it can be a fun bit of business with an attractive passing stranger like a cheeky waiter, or with a friend where the boundaries are clear and you’re free to tease. One of my ways of describing flirting is ‘talking with a twinkle’. This is helped by awareness of how sparkling conversation works (to and fro not monologuing, employing lightness and wit) and of how to listen and show interest (be sincere, find genuine curiosity in someone’s story, show them they’ve been heard). Flirting also uses body language in certain expressive ways, to draw attention to our best physical features (legs, chest, hair) or to show fascination with the other (playful eye contact, open gestures, subtle touching). There are degrees of flirting. If you’re a pair of curmudgeonly old gits, just having a moan together on a park bench might constitute a flirt in your world. Or if the atmosphere is right, the fizz is flowing and you’re both feeling beautiful and wild, a flirt could be oozing with bon mots, lavish compliments, double entendres and a feeling of sublime connection.
Theoretically, flirting shouldn’t be any different with age. And yet, I’m flirting less these days. I rarely meet men of my age (56) through work – currently I’m running improvisation workshops for lots and lots of younger people, who have a tendency to de-sex me because, naturally enough, they’re not interested in their mum. On my way to Lidl recently, a ruddy-faced drunk weaved his way over to me and said, with frank appreciation, ‘Where’ve you been hiding all my life?’ Beer-goggles or not, I was genuinely cheered. I didn’t stick around though – I have my standards (and Lidl was about to run out of croissants).
Finding my own flirting skills blunted is concerning for a person who was a bit of a natural. There are good reasons for the decline, not least having had two longish relationships taking up most of a decade. But it’s also because I’ve lost confidence, the face and bod being a bit ravaged and the energy occasionally flagging. So, I am writing this to rev myself up and get back in the saddle. Here are my tips for Flirting in Older Age, as a spur to both you and myself to keep this delightful and life-enhancing form of communication going, dodgy knees and thickets of ear-hair notwithstanding.
Get Out More
You can’t flirt with the cat. There are innumerable ways to meet people, some of which such as speed-dating or tantric love-fests positively encourage flirting. If you’re looking for fellow oldies, hunt for your peers through Meet Up groups (walking ones are good), University of the Third Age, am-dram, Five Rhythms, group holidays (Skyros, Cortijo Romero) or age-streamed singles events. I haven’t tried Tinder yet but personally prefer hitting groups of potentials rather than sifting laboriously through scores of individual charlatans, exhibitionists, and nut-jobs to find my gold.
Stop ogling the svelte/teenage/film star type. They’re out of your league. Pick on someone with your own girth/faded glamour/air of decrepitude – MUCH better chance of success.
Wear Nice Clothes
It’s a truism that image counts for more than anything when we first encounter someone new. You don’t have to be lustrously beautiful but good clobber will invite eyes to be drawn to you, and you need that to get started. When on the pull, go for something very flattering that’s not dull. We wrinklies can still have sexiness or swagger in our dress – silk shirts, glimpses of flesh through the translucent material, a jeweled walking stick. Go crazy with the shoes – for women, loud colours, a bit of a platform or lots of straps, for men, an elegant polished brogue (sends shivers down my spine), biker or Chelsea boots. Sexy signifiers don’t age, so if you can get away with it, go for it (I’ve yet to see a woman who doesn’t look hot in fishnets, a fur stole and long gloves). Wear conversation pieces – a T-shirt with a cool slogan or image, a stylish hat, unusual accessories like cascading earrings, a cape, a fan.
…stop grooming because it’s all a bit of a bother. A huge percentage of what attracts us to others is smell – make sure yours isn’t Eau de Rancid.
…go out wearing the same crap you wear for slopping around the house in the hope that someone will see through the exterior to your inner beauty. They won’t get near enough to try.
…wear a T-shirt saying Please Don’t Interrupt Me While I’m Ignoring You which I saw on a mature man in the street – who looked like he could do with some friends.
…look at www.advanced.style for inspiration. It is GORGEOUS.
Have Creative Conversations
Flirting isn’t rocket science. The most important aspect of it is simply talking. To keep interest, make the conversation creative. I once went to a boring party where I knew no one and made it fun by going up to people and asking them how they would decorate their ideal bathroom. I was a hit! People love being invited to use their imaginations. As oldies, we also have massive memory banks to plunder, and the most crystalline memories are those of our youth so exploit those. Have a mutual rave about the music/fashion/food of olden days (that’s punk, sculptural hair and fondant fancies for me). Or find a specialist subject that you both like (there’s always one) and compare years and years of notes. Let the talk lend itself to humour and take the piss out of young people, or of modern gastronomic phenomena viz. coffee shops, artisan bakers, clean-eating. Have a funny, self-deprecating conversation about aches and pains (whilst paradoxically looking fit as a flea and twinkling fetchingly). Give all your attention to the other person and concentrate on helping them to feel good. When it’s all going swimmingly, drop a little sex into the ebb and flow, and see if they bite.
Do Intimate Actions
Invite someone to sit down with you. Ask to borrow their reading glasses. Touch their arm, naturally whilst chatting, and if they seem to warm to you and divulge more personal information, touch it again for a little longer. Ask for a sip of their drink. Offer them a chocolate. Watch their mouth while they talk. Look into their eyes for a beat or two longer than is seemly. Pay them a compliment, disappear, and let them come and find you.
Just because you have a soggy bottom and no discernible jawline doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be treated like a god(dess). If someone is mean or insulting or expects you to be grateful for their attention, summon all your dignity and walk away from their poisonous emanations. And if flirting online provokes unsolicited dick pics and aggressive messaging, consign those plonkers to the digital wilderness.
If you’re going down the computer dating route, have a crib sheet of deal-makers and deal-breakers so you’re clear on the qualities you’re looking for that really matter to you. Recently I posted my profile on an online magazine’s dating page to gauge the lie of the land. I disguised myself with a platinum blonde wig, lots of eye and lip make-up and a false name. I was besieged by scores of men (see what I said about sexual signifiers not changing?). My first deal-breaker quickly became apparent: anyone who had a bad photo was out. It was shocking how many men posed in front of a peeling garage door or their fridge, in long shot and out of focus. If you can’t get an ok photo taken in the age of smartphone cameras, what hope…? Then I eliminated bad spellers (I’m a word-nerd, what can I say?). Then I struck off men with job descriptions I didn’t understand. Then I withdrew because I couldn’t bear people falling for a fake me and wasn’t ready to show the real one.
Once you’re exchanging messages with someone who seems half-way decent, don’t spend weeks working your way into a fever pitch with increasingly flirtatious texts, or even phone calls. I did this years ago and on the instant I met the man in the flesh, I knew it was a no-go. He had a pudding-basin haircut, a goofy demeanour and was as sexy as cabbage. I’m not saying people can’t grow on you, but let connection develop in the meat world, not the robot world. Unless you only want cyber-flirting, in which case, knock yourself out.
Goodness knows there are a bunch of things about getting older that can be a (literal) pain in the neck, but age can make flirting a lot more fun than it was when we were striplings. Here’s why:
• Without rampantly out of control sex hormones dictating every move, we can enjoy more refined badinage and make flirting less about conquest. If we’re after physical contact, flirting can be more about finding someone with whom we can share loving touch rather than a rutting mate.
• With a lifetime’s knowledge and experience we have more in common with more people, and more conversational scope.
• We know our own boundaries better, and can listen to our own needs, so we can say ‘No’ more easily – which makes it a lot easier to say ‘Yes’ when we want to.
• We care less about looks and more about the quality of a person. We make more effort to find out who they really are, which can progress repartee beyond the superficial.
• We’re less proprietorial with age. We can flirt with lots of people and have many different individual friends, for sharing different activities.
• The appalling self-consciousness of youth has gone. Our priorities have changed, we know the true value of things. We can be measured and gentle and reasonable. So, we can indulge in a little flirting fun without the stakes being too high.
Still feeling bashful? Just remember: there is no such thing as failure. If you attempt a cheeky sally or two and receive no response, do not feel defeated – flirting is not an exact science. If your target responds with a look of aghast incredulity or a slap round the face, you may want to recalibrate your style. But short of those, it might just be that they weren’t in the mood or you’re not their cup of tea and that’s not the end of the world. Nothing ventured etc. Ageing is potentially dangerous. It can lead to closing down rather than opening up. Let’s avoid loneliness and get out and flirt more.
Hello handsome…what are you doing later?