By Monty Phan
Arizona Daily Wildcat November 8, 1996
You sit down just as you notice him or her walk into class. You'd like to get the person's attention somehow, but you're all the way across the room, and you can't very well yell, "Hey, I want you!" from way over there, right?
So you try other ways. You cast a furtive glance, make eye contact a few times.
Professors call it pre-courtship behavior, which encompasses certain immediacy cues inherent in nonverbal communication. Others simply call it flirting.
It's a habit for some - a wink here, a smile there. For others, it's as unconscious as breathing, a sort of subliminal seduction. But all those classroom Casanovas who do it use some sort of body language to get their message across, unconscious or not.
"I'm pretty much always flirting in class," says Brad Finger, 22, a history junior whose perpetual grin backs up his claim. "If I talk to a girl in class, I definitely flirt with her."
Finger says he takes a seize-the-moment attitude toward flirting, because "if you flirt, there's a window of opportunity" that the other person may respond in kind.
Abby Lodmer, 20, a media arts sophomore, seems to employ the same philosophy.
"Sometimes I'll flirt with anyone," says Lodmer, who uses the words "sweetheart" and "babe" where others might say "um" or "uh." "Sometimes I don't realize I'm flirting."
But to those who have studied such behavior, it's obvious. Often, there are clues in how people move or react - and when it's a small class and a short-tempered professor, you gotta know what to look for.
Here are some hints:
- Eye contact. This is perhaps the easiest and most subtle of actions - "little glances you can give from across the room," as Lodmer puts it. After all, who needs to yell, "Hey you! Over here!" when an extra-long look right into the eyes of another person will say the same thing?
Just as important as how long you look is the way you look, be it out of the corner of your eye or combined with a wink. In his book, "Body Language of Sex, Power, and Aggression," Julius Fast writes that women "move their eyes while they blink - or to use the old-fashioned term, they 'bat' their eyes. Men, on the other hand, tend to look straight ahead while blinking. ... [O]ur society interprets this blinking and eye moving as seductive."
- Make-up. OK, so this one may not work well for the guys, but hey, you might learn a few things anyway.
Claude Miller, a graduate teaching assistant in the communications department, says people tend to want to make themselves appear vulnerable in situations where they want to seem approachable.
He says when someone blushes, it is a way of showing vulnerability, and that studies have shown when some women wear blush, that is the message they may be trying to convey.
Lodmer, a big fan of make-up, says she never leaves home without it.
"Frosty lipstick, that's the kind of thing a lot of guys notice," she says. "Mascara to bring out the eyelashes. Blush, definitely - blush is a flirtatious plus to the face."
Alicia Heady, 20, an economics senior, says the key is knowing how much to put on: "enough to make it look like you put some time into looking good but not too much so you look like a doll," she says.
- Sitting. How and where one sits gives off signals, too, Miller says. "How close people are and how they orient themselves" can often indicate interest, as well as a "forward lean," which shows attentiveness.
Fast writes that sitting with the legs crossed and a shoe dangling from one foot is flirtatious for women. "Sitting with your legs crossed, looking like a lady" is how Lodmer put it.
- Gestures. In a study, citing by Fast, on courtship behavior, A.E. Scheflin calls it "preening behavior," which includes, for women, stroking of the hair and checking of make-up, and for men, readjusting of clothes or smoothing out creases in pants.
In his book, Fast writes, "The most obvious gesture for a woman is the lifted hand that pushes back the hair from the face or rearranges it above the ears. It's a flirtatious gesture, and it spells femininity."
Often, certain gestures are much simpler and more obvious.
"Girls will touch you a lot if they like you," Finger says.
The nonverbal stuff, however, will only get you so far. You've got to talk sometime. But that doesn't mean the body language stops.
Finger says that sometimes he'll tell a joke and get a playful push in response, a sign he interprets as positive. And if he's successful inside the room, sometimes he'll take the act on the road.
"There've been times when I'm walking out of class and I put my arm around a girl," he says, and if she's receptive, then, hey, everyone's happy. But he says he realizes there's a stopping point.
"Sometimes you can tell they don't like it," he says. "I'll stop when I come to the conclusion I'm badgering the girl. And if I'm not annoying her, but she's not flirting back, then I'll stop."
After some thought, he adds, "Or if I find out the girl has a boyfriend, because I don't want to piss any guys off."
Keight Sweeney, 22, a philosophy junior at Pima Community College, says her friends call her a flirt, but she doesn't see it that way.
"It's just a matter of being really friendly, talking to people more than anything," she says. "I don't necessarily go out of my way."
At the very least, it makes the time in class go faster.
"I think flirting is a really good thing," Finger says. "You're not hurting anybody by doing it. I'm sure it makes some people feel better about themselves."
And Lodmer has this parting advice: "I recommend any girl who wants to be the ultimate flirt in class to get a tongue ring."