Flirting! with Selena Anansi

Bookworm Hienrichs: Welcome to this month’s Aether Salon! Today, Selena Anansi of Winterfell will extend the Valentine’s season, and regale us with the gentle art of flirting. Before we proceed, some housekeeping reminders:

1) To ensure you can hear the speaker, stand or sit on the patterned carpet.
2) If you do not have a wearable chair and wish one, please contact Baron Wulfenbach.
3) Please remove all lag-feeding whatevers you might be wearing.
4) A tip jar is out for our speaker. Do please show your appreciation!
5) Any tips to help support the establishment will also be welcome – just click on one of the support signs!
6) If you’re not a member of the AEther Salon group, there are signs that will let you sign up. You’ll be most heartily welcome!
7) Edited and unedited transcripts of these proceedings will be posted at aethersalon.blogspot.com.

And now, to introduce our speaker, here is Baron Klaus Wulfenbach.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Welcome, everyone. We are honoured today to have Selena Anansi, Princess of Winterfell, who despite her title is a shy and unpretentious young woman. She comes from a land of shadows and magic, quite unlike New Babbage. Bitte, treat her gently.

Selena: Thank you, Herr Baron for your kind introduction.

Good Afternoon, everyone. About 6 months ago I came across someone complaining that these days being polite has become so rare that people mistake it for flirting. I wondered why my flirting was taken as being polite and determined that I was obviously doing something wrong. Being a young lady in the steamlands, I felt it was my duty to learn the difference and save myself much embarrassment.

So, what exactly is flirting? I simply needed to know, so I set off to research and learn what flirting was and here I am today to present you with my findings. My father is a librarian so I knew the first place to look was a dictionary and I was not surprised with what i found, and most dictionaries had the same thing to say: To flirt, the verb, is to behave in a way that shows a sexual attraction for someone but is not meant to be taken seriously. A flirt, the noun, is a person who enjoys flirting with other people.

Great, but what about the history of the word? I was slightly unsettled when I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary for etymology of the word flirt. I found a much less flattering take on the word. It seems that beginning around 1577 the word “flirt” was generally not a pretty or lighthearted term. It was often coupled with words like hussy, slut and women of loose character. needless to say, to call someone a flirt was not a kindly act.

Obviously over time, as with many things, the opinion of flirts and flirting has changed. Nowadays, being called a flirt isn’t as derogatory a term as it started out being. In fact, some professionals believe that continued flirting after a relationship has progressed into something steady and permanent is an important ingredient to a happy and long lasting relationship.

So let me ask you to think about this: is flirting a natural inherent fact of our existence or is it a learned skill of manipulation? I believe, and have learned that it is both. There are some parts of flirting that we simply can not, without practice, avoid. The blush, sweaty palms, heart racing, light headedness, or the suddenly clumsy can’t think or speak moment when we first encounter someone we are attracted to. Some people can pick up on those subtle signs in others, but most of the time it is up to us to recognize our own attraction and begin the actual flirting dance.

Recently I read a wonderful book by Gail Carriger called Curtsies and Conspiracies (published in November of 2013 by Little Brown and Company a division of Hachette Book Group) where the main character, Sophronia, is just starting to come into the early stages of her womanhood.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Disclosure: Not a sponsor of this Salon.
Bookworm Hienrichs chuckles.
Nika Thought-werk smiles.
Jimmy Branagh chuckles

Selena: She is puzzled by her new reactions to being close to one of her male friends. In a scene not unlike many previous scenes, Sophronia is in close quarters with her friend Soap. Soap is a “sootie,” one of the young people who are in charge of the under workings of the dirigible school, and one of Sophronia’s true friends and allies. In this scene, Soap is feeling territorial because Sophronia just admitted to having some problems with another boy on the ship.

“You need me to teach him any lessons? A little boxing ‘round the ears?”
“That’s very kind, Soap, but I can fight my own battles”
“I don’t like you fraternizing with boys, Ain’t normal.”
Sophronia quirked her head in amusement. “No? And here I was thinking that’s how society worked. Might as well learn the way of it.”
“Oh, you believe so?” Soap leaned in. Even though she stood on the on the first step, the sootie towered over her. He smelled of wet coal and engine oil. It must have been quite strong, as it seemed to be affecting her breathing. He leaned in, his normally cheerful face quite serious. “I could teach you a bit.”

Soap is flirting with Sophronia, yes? And if Soap is observant he would pick up on the fact that his friend is reacting to his proximity. This I believe is part of the unconscious flirting, and poor Sophronia has no clue as of yet. But Soap is observant and he does notice her breathing change and he presses on to another part of flirting.

He was so close, Sophronia thought for one delusional moment that he intended to kiss her on the mouth! Instead he reached for her arm, the exposed piece between glove and sleeve where his filthy hand would not soil her dress. He raised it to his face and kissed her just there, his lips impossibly soft.

Poor Sophronia. She is overcome with a flood of thoughts of complicated friendships and quickly withdraws from the situation, nearly tripping on the stairs as she leaves. She is normally rather agile, so she puzzled with her sudden clumsiness. I think this is a wonderful example of young lady who is being trained in the arts of espionage and deceptions first brush with REAL flirting and experiencing her own involuntary physical reactions to being so close to someone she has chemistry with. That at the moment of attraction, that split second when we encounter a creature of attraction, our brains stop and our bodies take over and we can’t think. Our bodies take over, we blush, we get sweaty palms, butterflies in our stomachs, we get giddy and we can’t put two rational thoughts together.

Dr. Antonio Damasio, medical doctor, professor and head of neurology at the University of Iowa has made a connection between what happens to our brains in that moment of attraction and the brains of people with certain kinds of brain damage. We suspend intellect at least long enough to propel us to the next step in the mating game-flirtation.

That is all well and good, but why flirt at all? Why go the extra mile play the game of flirting past the obvious physical signs of attraction? Evolutionary Psychologist, Steven W. Gangestad, Ph.D., of The University of New Mexico, has concluded that flirting is the quickest and safest way to determine compatibility without “going all the way” and chancing a poor mating match and therefore a part of our evolutionary growth and genetic survival. As with animals in the wild, to simply announce, “I am attracted to you, are you attracted to me? Let’s get together?” leaves us vulnerable and that simply will not do. Flirting offers a relatively risk free set of actions that allow us to test the waters and gather information about potential mates. Dr Gangestad says “Flirting is a negotiation process that takes place after there has been some initial attraction.” He goes on to say “It works much better to reveal this and have it revealed to you in smaller doses. The flirting then becomes something that enhances the attraction.”

Well, alright then! Flirting is an important part of courting and a skill I needed to work on. Next big question was: HOW does one flirt? In my research I came across a gentleman by the name of Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt. In his studies nearly 30 years ago, he found that women, regardless of culture, socioeconomic status, language or religion all had an uncanny similarity in how they flirted. Women would almost universally smile at a male, then arch her brows to make her eyes wide and then quickly lowering her lids while tucking her chin slightly down and coyly to the side, averting her gaze, followed within seconds by putting her hands on or near her mouth and giggling.

Before his study of women’s flirting habits, Mr Eibl-Eibesfeld was already familiar with the widespread dances and prances of mate-seeking animals. For him, a woman presenting her extended neck to a man she wants is not much different, his work suggested, than a gray female wolf’s submissiveness to a dominant male she’s after.

I have to interject that as an independent woman, I find this observation a little less than flattering. But I pressed on in my research. Decades later, a couple of gentlemen doctors, one a social psychologist and anthropologist spent many months in the natural habitat of singles looking to find love; dimly lit hotel lounges. They became very good at predicting who of the singles would pair up and head for the elevators.

Women smile, gaze, sway, giggle, lick their lips, and with the help of high heels and carefully assembled outfits, they arch their backs, forcing their buttocks to tilt out and up and their chests to thrust forward. All to advertise their ample equipment for childbirth. The men arched, stretched, swiveled, and made grand gestures with their arms. Their swaggers, grandiose gestures and bursts of laughter seeming to say “Look at me, trust me, I’m powerful, but I won’t hurt you.”

All this is done while holding a conversation that could be quite tame and completely unrelated to the task at hand, small talk as it were. Sprinkling the conversation with compliments. It is important to avoid cliche pick up lines, as that could possibly foil all the primping and posturing done up to this point. If both parties find each other pleasing enough, they would progress past talking and move on to touching. Touching themselves to draw attention to their lips or bare arms. Ladies playing with a tendril of hair to draw attention to their necks, or twirling a long necklace to tease the gentleman’s eyes lower to a demure (or not so demure) flash of cleavage. Gentlemen playing with their pocket watches to show off how gentle and strong their hands are.

Both parties would then progress to what might be termed as “lint-picking” or a sort of mock grooming. She may reach out and pick a mote of lint from his lapel. Either party may suddenly reach for something across from them and whoops! An “accidental” finger touch – an accidental finger touch that could lead to what I read one author refer to as digital “dirty dancing.” Digital “dirty dancing” would be an intricate dance of fingers across palms and forearms. Rather scandalous in some settings!

Fear not, there is a more discreet version of this hand play for when you are trying to keep up the face of propriety, and it, my friends, is called “playing footsie.” A skilled purveyor of this art would slip their foot out of their shoe and touch the arch of the others foot or trace a toe up the ankle. One must be careful when trying this technique as it simply would not do to accost a potential mate with a sweaty foot!

Another subtle and most acceptable way to further your flirting prospects in public is to dance with the object of your desire. Dancing… I don’t mean the modern bump and grind kind of dancing. Bump and grind dancing, to me at least, is well past flirting and well into the realm of foreplay. But that is not for today’s discussion.

Dancing, real dancing, slow dancing is rather wonderful. What could be more delicious than a strong hand upon a ladies back and perhaps a gentle trickle of fingertips across her shoulders? Ladies can take advantage of some dances turns and spins as a way to “accidentally” bump and then cling to a gentlemans body for ever so slightly longer than actually needed. Additionally some dances call for close proximity where a pair could easily whisper sweet things to each other.

The art of flirting is exciting and titillating, but it is important to remember that not all flirting leads to making out or even “the deed.” Remember that flirting is fun. Focus on smiling, making eye contact and presenting your best self. If you find yourself in the room with someone you find attractive and you want to test the waters of flirting, find something that feels natural to you. Start with something small and work your up as you gain confidence.

You can try some of these techniques:
Staging of “chance” encounters – make a point to be where the person you are interested in will be – find shared interests.
Eye contact, lower your lashes after a short gaze, batting eyelashes, staring, winking.
Banter with them, chat and make conversation, be light hearted, tease gently.
Girls, try your hand at coyness, affectedly shy or modest, marked by cute, coquettish, or artful playfulness, but remember not to be too sugary or childish.
Move in slightly closer than a casual conversation may normally call for, lean in, show interest in what they have to say.
Try out some protean signals, such as touching one’s hair or lips.
Giggling and laughing encouragingly at any slight hint of intimacy in the other’s behavior.
Remember to flatter them (regarding beauty, style, intellect, wit).
Try casual touches, “accidental” bumping or lingering touches while dancing.
Dare to try a round of footsie.
Remember that the lost art of sending notes, poems, or small gifts – let them know you are thinking of them.
Sing them a song… dedicate a song and dance to them.

But even after all that… Once you have all this under your belt and you feel that you are a pro at flirting…

In all the reading I did, one woman’s memoir had one very helpful bit of advice that I will be sure to employ, “always leave something on the table.” Meaning, try not to breeze through all the flirting in one encounter. This is not to say you should tease or dally with the emotions of the object of your desire, but it can add a delicious level to flirting when you draw it out over several encounters. Keep them interested; keep them wanting more.

And we have come to the conclusion of my presentation. Thank you so much for coming and happy belated Valentine’s Day.

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