I’VE reached a furry, online dating nadir. It came in the shape of the online male I met who thought it OK, en route home from date one, to text and ask if I have pubic hair. Seriously.
Which is why I’m going offline and on to the Fearless Flirting Tour, brainchild of Jean Smith, author of Flirtology: Stop Swiping, Start Talking And Find Love. I need to learn to flirt face to face because I find that if I fancy someone IRL I do the alluring dry-lip-stuck-to-teeth smile and everything I say is in the ‘I carried a watermelon’ category.
Happily, Jean’s website says she can turn me into a ‘flirting machine’.
‘The Fearless Flirting Tour is about getting over your fear of talking to strangers,’ says Jean. ‘People’s minds play tricks on them. They create narratives — if you talk to this person they’re going to do that — but these are made-up stories. People are always asking, “How do I meet people?” There are literally people everywhere — the question is, “How do I talk to them?” You have to talk to them to get anything going. So that’s what I teach.’
We meet at the Café In The Crypt beneath St Martin-in-the-Fields church in central London. I’m here with five women and three men, aged from their thirties to their fifties. We’re terrified. In fact, anxiety is causing my chest to tighten.
Jean asks what flirting means to us, saying: ‘For me, it’s about making people feel good.’ Many say flirting means ‘rejection’ and ‘vulnerability’. Jean says we must change our negative mental model. Our first task is to head outside and ask strangers for directions to Waterstones. But we must have at least one follow-up question too, one that might lead to dry-humping or at least a little wink.
I embrace my suffering and approach.
Me to Man 1: ‘Excuse me.’ Nothing.
‘Excuse me.’ Nada.
About an inch from his face: ‘Hello. Do you know where New Row is?’
Man 1: ‘No.’
Me, pointing at his San Pellegrino: ‘Why are you drinking that?’
Man 1: ‘What?’
Me: ‘Why are you standing here?’
Man 1: ‘Er…’
Me, looking at the London Coliseum: ‘Isn’t that a beautiful building?’
Man 1, backing away slowly: ‘Yeeees. Ah, my friends are here now.’
And off he sprints. There are no friends.
‘Buoyed’ by my ‘success’, I accost another innocent.
Me: ‘Excuse me.’
Man 2 looks up at me, shakes his head, then looks back down at his phone. I’m no body language expert but I sense this isn’t positive.
On to Man 3. He smiles as I approach. He gets his phone out to google directions for me and we both laugh when we see we’re actually on New Row. My killer line with this man? ‘Why are you standing in the gutter?’ I know. But he laughs and then we chat. He touches my back as I leave… without his number. A touch, though — he adores me!
The group reconvenes outside the bookshop and Jean leads us downstairs for more flirting. I spot a man. Paul — Jean discovers his name, not watermelon me. Paul is charming as I try to discuss William Boyd -an author I haven’t read — with him. I leave the chat with nothing, least of all my dignity. Why is this so difficult?
‘Don’t overthink it,’ Jean says. ‘You’re just asking an open-ended question. If that’s too hard, just make a statement and add, “What do you think?” And don’t attach your emotions or feelings of self-worth to a stranger. Their reaction has nothing to do with you. They could be married, gay, you’re just not their type…’
Jean wants us to use props — books in a bookshop, food in a supermarket — to help us break the ice. I pick up a book on depression. ‘Maybe something more playful,’ suggests Jean.
Our second task is to flirt with people in Tesco. ‘They’re just men’, says Jean. ‘Still humans.’
I take a deep breath, strut into the store, spot a man and go in for my supermarket pash. He’s holding olives. I try the excruciating ‘Which olives do you prefer? Black or green?’ God knows how but that leads to a flirty chat.
Me: ‘What do you have with them?’ ‘Do you cook a lot?’ ‘Why are you in a supermarket on Valentine’s night?’
Future Ex-Mr Bibi: ‘I’ve got to eat…’
This is going well! So I panic and say thank you before I run off.
Jean! What should I have done?
‘Find him!’ she says. ‘Say, “You know a lot about cooking. Can you email me recipes?”’
But my love is nowhere to be seen — he’s probably hiding in a freezer. That’s OK: this is the start of my flirting journey. A proposal by the capers would be too much to ask.
We gather outside again and share our stories. One of the group opened with ‘do you sell prune juice?’ Another asked, ‘Is that good bacon? Do you eat a lot of bacon?’ And one had a talk about fabric conditioner. I love this group — funny and sharing the joy and pain of flirting.
A final task: chat to someone in Covent Garden. I ask a bloke for bar recommendations. He shrugs, says he doesn’t know any and that’s that. Fine. Doesn’t matter. Him, not me. Not a fit.
It’s pub time before we go home. Everyone is chatting and one woman is flirting with the barman. Another is checking out a fella. Nice. Me and my flirtmate Eve, 35, talk.
‘I do less partying now and Tinder is dead,’ she says. ‘How do you meet people? I wanted tips. I’ve loved this — strangers bonding by walking around aisles with empty shopping baskets. It’s stopped me caring about what the other person is thinking. I don’t know anything about them. What’s the worst that can happen?’
Know the signs of attraction. If s/he is displaying HOT APE, they like you too…
O Open body language
E Eye contact
Jean’s top flirting tips
Anyone can approach and initiate flirting
Society has moved on and economic situations have changed. The old rules — that men must make the first move (and therefore pay) simply don’t apply. If you can buy someone a cup of coffee, you can initiate flirting.
Talk to everyone, all the time
Which is easier? Never talking to new people and then, when confronted with someone you fancy, trying it out? Or getting used to speaking with people in your daily life? Then, when you spot someone, it’s just you again, talking to people.
To approach, you must be able to exit
The graceful exit is much easier than you think. ‘It was nice chatting with you. I must go now.’ No, they won’t cry themselves to sleep because you’ve left the conversation.
Take ‘reject’ out of rejection
Your goal in flirting isn’t to find out if people like you. You have done the work of liking yourself outside the flirting arena. If you don’t give your self-worth to others to determine, then rejection won’t hurt. Rejection is a weeding mechanism: it helps weed out who isn’t a good match.
Test. Then assess
To avoid being creepy… test: place a hand on their arm or say something complimentary. Assess: do they move away? Do they cringe? Or do they smile brightly at you and return the favour?
■ The next Fearless Flirting Tour is March 14 from 6.45pm to 9pm. Visit flirtology.com/group-flirting-lesson