According to some evolutionary psychologists, flirting may even be the foundation of civilisation as we know it. They argue that the large human brain – our superior intelligence, complex language, everything that distinguishes us from animals – is the equivalent of the peacock’s tail: a courtship device evolved to attract and retain sexual partners. Our achievements in everything from art to rocket science may be merely a side-effect of the essential ability to charm.
At one level, you can flirt with more or less anyone. An exchange of admiring glances or a bit of light-hearted flirtatious banter can brighten the day, raise self-esteem and strengthen social bonds.
Clearly, it makes sense to exercise a degree of caution with people who are married or attached. Most people in long-term relationships can cope with a bit of admiration, and may even benefit from knowing that others find them or their partners attractive, but couples differ in their tolerance of flirtatious behaviour, and it is important to be alert to signs of discomfort or distress.
Research has also shown that men have a tendency to mistake friendly behaviour for sexual flirting. This is not because they are stupid or deluded, but because they tend to see the world in more sexual terms than women.
– Read the rest of this incredibly interesting Guide to Flirting, published by the Social Issues Research Centre, and find out about the “diplomacy gene” and “cultural remission.”