Sex & Relationships

Here's How To Tell If Someone's Being Friendly — Or Flirty

BDG Media, Inc.

Some people are naturally friendly, no matter who they’re talking to or interacting with. Sometimes, however, friendliness may be construed as flirtiness: Did that lingering eye contact mean something? Did you stand closer to the person when speaking to them? Did you playfully tease them about something more so than you would towards a friend? While there are similarities between the two, there’s also a difference between being friendly and flirty. After all, if you’re just trying being friendly, you probably don’t want to send flirty vibes out; however, in other cases, you probably do want to send out flirtatious signals. Understanding how they differ is the key to navigating various situations so there are no mixed signals on either person’s end. Personally, I fall into the accidentally-flirty camp, as I am super friendly and men often misconstrue it as though I just told them I like them… a LOT.

“It’s important to differentiate flirting from friendliness because research is clear that we aren’t always great at figuring out the difference,” David Bennett, counselor and relationship expert with Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. “In fact, men and women are both bad at discerning the difference, but in different ways. Generally, men tend to overestimate women’s friendliness as sexual interest, whereas women underestimate men’s sexual intentions and just assume men are being friendly when they are, in fact, flirting.”

Thomas Edwards, founder of The Professional Wingman, agrees, and thinks it’s easy for someone to misunderstand being friendly for being flirty. “Unfortunately, many guys today have a low bar in terms what they consider a woman showing interest, based on their own self-esteem,” he tells Bustle. “The fact women are responsive at all can be misinterpreted as ‘they’re into me.’ But, in reality, there are clear signs beyond just saying ‘hi’ back that can show you’re flirting.”

Of course, one person in the situation may be friendly while the other is flirty, or vice-versa. “Without knowing someone’s intentions, flirting and friendly behaviors are often nearly identical, and this makes knowing the difference extremely frustrating for everyone involved,” Bennett says. “In actuality, everything depends on the context and level of romantic interest in each person.”

Below, relationship experts weigh in to help discern the difference between being friendly and flirty. So, the next time you find yourself in a confusing “Friendly or flirty?” situation, you can better see if your behavior — or the other person’s — is exhibiting one more than the other. Here are nine signs someone is flirting, not just being friendly.


They’ll Make Prolonged Eye Contact

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Antonia Hall, psychologist, relationship expert, and author of the Sexy Little Guide books, says that paying attention to a person’s eye contact is one way to determine if they’re being friendly or flirty. “Maybe someone went out of their way to say hello and even asked how you were doing, so surely they’re flirting, right,” she tells Bustle. “But not necessarily. They might have just been making a friendly gesture because they’re kind-hearted. See if they make direct or prolonged eye contact.”

Bennett agrees. “One clear sign of romantic interest is sustained eye contact that lasts longer, and with a greater intensity, than what’s just ‘friendly,’” Bennett says. “If someone is showing signs of friendliness, like laughing and being playful, but couples it with an ‘I want to stare deeply into your eyes’ or even an ‘I want to get in bed with you right now’ type of look, you can generally assume it’s more than just being friendly.”

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist, and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, also distinguishes between “friendly” eye contact and “flirtatious” eye contact. “Friendly is a glance, maybe a nod, or a relaxed ‘Hello,’” she tells Bustle. “But flirty is prolonged eye contact, lowered eyelids (bedroom eyes), and an emphasis on the ‘Hello’ — leaning forward, flipping their hair, or straightening their clothing. Friendly is relaxed and just implies cordiality while flirty tries to get across a specific interest in intimacy.”


They’ll Make Physical Contact

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Another nonverbal clue that someone is flirting is that they make physical contact with you. “The most common example of flirting that’s not friendly is gradually getting physically closer to the person,” Edwards says.

Hall, too, thinks this is a big giveaway. “They’ll make physical contact, like grabbing your arm or tapping you,” she says.

Bennett also believes that physical contact is a big hint that someone’s flirting. He also says to look for levels of touch that go beyond just a “brush” against your arm or hand. “If they last a little longer or the person gets into your personal space a little more than what’s expected among friends, it is likely flirting.”

If someone’s physical proximity or touchy gestures make you feel uncomfortable and you're not sure how to speak up, here are some tips on respectfully declining someone.


They’ll Ask More In-Depth Questions

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“Flirty has an agenda that friendly doesn’t have,” Tessina says. “As a result, friendly conversations are more casual while, in a flirty one, the person has a slightly more intense interest in getting to know you and getting close.” She says that friendly will be casual questions, like how you are and what brings you here, while more-than-friendly could be more personal questions and asking if you’re dating anyone.


Look At The Context Of The Conversation

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What you talk about with somebody, and how, can also be a clue as to whether you’re just having a friendly conversation — or not.

Jill Sherer Murray, award-winning writer, TEDx speaker, and founder of lifestyle brand, who studies relationships and self-growth, as well as helps people let go for a better life, thinks the way the person steers the conversation will set the tone between friendliness and flirtatiousness. “People who are flirting don’t limit their conversations to the weather,” she tells Bustle. “Often, flirts are not afraid to go there. Once the topic of sex, playfully and otherwise, enters the equation, it’s a clear crossing of the line from friendly to flirty.”

Conversely, if you and someone are having a platonic conversation, “since there’s no interest in going there, sex rarely comes up in friendly conversation,” she says.


They’ll Give These Nonverbal Cues

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Thomas also thinks nonverbal clues can help you differentiate friendliness from flirtatiousness. “They may purse their lips when you smile at them, play with their hair, or adjust their clothing,” he says.

Sherer Murray agrees that you ‘physically present yourself’ to another person when you're flirting. “These are all happening subconsciously, but send the signal that you’re interested in more than just small talk or coffee,” she says.


They’ll Compliment You

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Many of us like a compliment, right? Hall says this can be another indication of flirtatious behavior — sometimes, at least. “When someone is complimentary it can be easy to perceive it as a flirtation, but you have to watch their actions,” she says. “Are they positioning their body nearer to you, with an open body posture? Do they lean in? More is said through these cues than verbal ones, or along with verbal ones.”


They’ll Make It A Point To Tell You They’re Single

Hannah Burton/Bustle

Another way to tell if someone’s probably flirting and not just being friendly is if they bring up their single relationship status or even hide their taken status, Sherer Murray says. “Unless you feel revealing your relationship status puts you on a level playing field (e.g., the other person also has a significant other) or makes the conversation even more exciting and intriguing to the other person,” she says. Conversely, if you and the other person are just having a friendly conversation, “you may even talk about or reference your significant other while talking — or share high-level dating stories if you’re single,” Sherer Murray says. “That’s because you don’t risk losing that other person’s romantic interest by being honest about who you are, because you’re not invested in it.”


They’ll Playfully Tease You

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

If someone is playfully teasing you, it’s another sign they’re flirting, Thomas says. “Teasing is a fun way of changing up the dynamic of otherwise friendly conversation,” he says. “It requires you to be vulnerable by showing you can enjoy yourself, and the other person may do the same, which subsequently could create attraction for one another.”


They’ll Give You All Their Focus

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

If you want to know if someone’s flirting with you, not just being friendly, they’ll give you their full attention. “Flirts are often very focused on the person they’re flirting with, from a physical, mental, emotional, and intellectual perspective,” Sherer Murray says. “In the moment, they’re rarely distracted, and often act as if the person they’re flirting with is the only person in the room.”

Hall seconds this theory. “If a person is friendly to everyone, but they make a special effort with you, then it’s safe to assume that they are interested and flirting,” she says. “In this case, you have a context for how they are with others, which helps gauge potential feelings for you.”

So, now you know when someone is being flirty, not just friendly, and vice-versa. Although there’s a fine line between the two, there are plenty of signs that someone — or you — may be doing one more than the other. The next time you’re talking to someone, you can see how each of you behave, then adjust accordingly.