Basic Steps of Flirtation and Approach

Would you like to know how to increase your success in connecting with strangers of the opposite sex? Numerous research studies across several disciplines confirm what thoughtful observation shows us about how men and women make their first, unmediated contacts in public.

There is a recognizable sequence of behavioral steps by which two people can escalate their level of knowledge and social intimacy. Although this sequence can also be observed in studies of animal behavior, and many elements are common across cultures, the following elements of flirtation describe behaviors particularly relevant to Western culture.

The Core Courtship Sequence described below consists of a series of behavioral overtures, made by either a woman or a man, which represent escalations in acceptance and social intimacy. At each point, one of the people engaged in the sequence can derail the entire sequence, and there are reasons for the derailment and specific stop-and-go signals to indicate that “the mission is aborted”.

You can learn to understand and respond to those signals and become more skilled – and more comfortable – with them. You can learn to flirt with more joy and success than you are experiencing now.

The Approach

One person approaches the other or moves to be in closer physical proximity to another. This much is clear: no approach equals no possibility of initiating contact.

Example: A woman sits down next to a man in a coffee shop or a man stands near a woman in a dance club.

The Acknowledgment

The person who has been approached signals awareness and acceptance of the other’s presence in some way. This signal is not like a train whistle, however, but a subtle body language which you can learn to recognize. For example, he or she simply may look up, move over to make room, nod slightly, or signal with a glancing eye contact.

A display of total obliviousness to the one who is approaching generally indicates lack of interest in pursuing the sequence further at this point. Unless the approaching person can show some sort of an acknowledgment of some kind, the sequence will undoubtedly fail at this point.

The Verbal Exchange

The two people may then engage in a mild verbal exchange about impersonal, unimportant matters such as the weather or the scene around them. Mild.

This is the classic place for the clever “line”, but cleverness is not required. At this point, a verbal exchange is not for the purpose of sharing valuable insights about life or determining philosophical compatibility. It is just a vehicle to further the developing contact.

Examples: Verbal overtures might include anything from “please pass the pickles” to “you look very pretty”, to “have you seen the waitress?”. Without some form of verbal response, it is highly unlikely that the next step will occur.

Physical Re-Orientation

Over a period of time, a couple that has begun to talk may also begin to orient themselves physically to one another, to turn toward one another until, if all is goes well, until they are fully facing one another.

This step can take minutes or hours… or weeks or months… to achieve. Yet, without this physical reorientation toward one another, not very much can happen, so give up on people who turn their back toward you persistently and for long periods!


The woman or the man (most often the woman) touches the other in a light, fleeting way. Examples: A couple might accidently brush their hands against one another while reaching for a drink, or the woman might pat the man on the arm in the middle of a shared joke. The exchange of very subtle, almost glancing touches may continue for some while, and if all goes well, can escalate into the casual affections shown by couples who are dating.


If all goes well to this point, a couple may begin to mirror one another’s movements imperceptibly, to move their limbs or their heads in synchrony with one another, eventually to proceed to a close, face-to-face conversation, or even a full body synchrony which much resembles – and may actually be – dancing.

Whatever length of time involved, when full synchrony has been achieved, the approach sequence can be said to have successfully evolved into the possibility of an involvement. At this point, it would make sense to ask for A Date.

These behavioral steps do not represent a social script, but a creative process which can develop between a man and a woman.

Each stage involves an overture to escalate knowledge and intimacy which may or may not be accepted. It is very difficult to bypass any of these steps. In fact, trying to rush or to bypass these levels of acceptance is the primary factor in derailing the whole process.

Generally speaking, it is the woman who is the gatekeeper of each escalation point, so to speak. For a variety of reasons (which I will be happy to explore elsewhere), it is the female side of the couple who determines what the appropriate response to each overture will be.

The rapidity and ease with which the signals flow back and forth between the participating parties is a direct function of what some people refer to as “physical chemistry”. This means, among other things, that the elusive factor of physical chemistry has a distinct behavioral component to it which can be rationally understood and acted upon with a greater sense of confidence.

One critical factor which cries out for understanding is that the entire sequence begins… can only begin… with an action which constitutes an Approach.

If there is no Approach, there is no possibility of detecting that Magical Chemistry. By its nature, “chemistry” has to do with how two people interact, hence it cannot be ascertained from a distance. Anyone who intends to mate with ecstatic success needs to increase their range of choice by connecting with more potential mates. That obviously means making and acknowledging more Approaches in order to initiate flirtation sequences which may lead… somewhere.

Now you know, as you probably already intuited, what actually happens in a flirtatious first contact. Do not waste time in the future pretending that you just cannot figure out what is going on when you meet a new person.

© Dana Peach, M.A., M.Ed