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A man and woman give each other a lingering look while sitting on bikes in spin class


Why sending subtle signals can be both positive and problematic

Andy Phillips   |   Fri, 22 Mar 2024

Have you heard about this ‘new dating trend’ that’s supposedly capturing the attention of singles? It’s called micro-flirting, and man, if there’s a less sexy way of describing something that’s supposed to be romantic, we don’t wanna know what it is.

Micro-flirting refers to the subtle and often unconscious ways individuals signal interest in others, and we’ve heard rumblings that this low-key way of letting someone know you like-like them is the dating strategy du jour.

To be honest, we’re not sure if micro-flirting sounds really fun or totally frustrating, so let’s dive into what it is, why people do it, and – most importantly – whether it works.

What is micro-flirting?

Micro-flirting refers to the act of conveying attraction without overt gestures, relying instead on small, nuanced actions or behaviors. This form of flirting is especially appealing for those who prefer a more understated approach to expressing interest, providing a way to test the waters without the risk of outright rejection.

The essence of micro-flirting lies in its subtlety. It's about small actions that might seem insignificant on their own, but that when combined and directed at a perceptive person, speak volumes about one’s interest. Check out a few examples:

A lingering look. A prolonged glance can convey interest without a single word. It's not about staring but rather about holding someone's gaze just a tad longer than usual, creating a moment of connection.

Playful teasing. Light, playful teasing can be a form of micro-flirting, offering a way to create a shared joke or moment. (The key word here is 'playful,' of course.)

A subtle touch. A gentle touch on the arm or a casual brush of hands can send a signal of interest. It's a physical expression of connection, albeit fleeting and understated.

Compliments with a twist. Offering a compliment that's specific and thoughtful can be a powerful micro-flirt. It shows you're paying attention to details, not just offering generic praise.

Social-media signals. Digital micro-flirting includes liking social media posts, sending emojis, or crafting suggestive messages that are up for interpretation.

Why are people fans of micro-flirting?

Considering many of us engage in these behaviors already (and without thinking about it), why the sudden headlines about the practice? Some say micro-flirting aligns with the current dating climate, where many are cautious about making their intentions known too quickly. It offers a low-risk way to express interest, allowing individuals to gauge the other person's response without making themselves too vulnerable.

Which we suppose makes sense. Micro-flirting does indeed offer a layer of protection against immediate rejection. Because the signals are so subtle, if they're not reciprocated, it's easier to brush off and move on.

On the flip side, if the person you’re signaling picks up on your signs with interest, you immediately create a private world of shared understanding, fostering a sense of intimacy and mutual interest right from the start.

But doesn't micro-flirting come with missed signals?

In short, YUP.

Interpreting micro-flirting can be incredibly challenging. Even if you're super-attuned to subtle signs and non-verbal clues, it's so easy to second-guess yourself. Was that person really trying to communicate through a longing look, or are they simply lost in thought?

And let's face it: reading social cues isn’t a skill we all share ... in fact, for some of us, it’s damn near impossible. If someone can't read your signs, they're not being cold -- they're just confused.

So ... is micro-flirting fun or totally flawed?

Micro-flirting is a potentially playful way to navigate the initial stages of attraction and interest without wearing your heart on your sleeve. And there's no denying that the smallest gestures sometimes hold the most meaning. But if subtle signals are your only approach to flirting, you're going to strike out a lot.

Like most things in life, balance is key. By all means, go for the 'lingering look' and see how it’s received. Perhaps you'll plant a seed that grows into something super intense. The trick is simply to be self-aware. If it seems like your signs are going unnoticed, or if you feel you've been 'micro-managing' for too long, it’s time to go for broke and lay your cards on the table.

The TL;DR of it all? Feel free to be a little cheeky and evasive at first if that approach floats your boat, but ultimately, the only way to progress from ‘crush’ to ‘couplehood’ is to communicate clearly.


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