Here's How To Tell If Someone's Actually Flirting With You

And not just being friendly.

by Natalia Lusinski and Carolyn Steber
Originally Published: 
Here's how to tell if a guy is interested in you or just being friendly
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Some people are naturally friendly, no matter who they’re talking to. They laugh at jokes, have great eye contact, and make you feel appreciated. Talk to them long enough, and it might even seem like they’re flirting. But if you often can’t tell if someone is interested in you or just being friendly, you’re not alone.

It’s often difficult to know when someone is flirting or simply being nice, David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert, tells Bustle. In fact, a 2014 study from the University of Kansas showed just how bad people are at realizing when someone is flirting with them, with only 18% of women picking up the hint.

It might be extra difficult because friendly conversations and flirting share quite a few common characteristics. (Think smiling, laughing, etc.) “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.

This can also lead to awkwardness and even misunderstandings, according to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Sex Research, which is why being able to spot the difference between flirting and friendliness is key. Here are a few ways to tell, according to relationship experts.


They’ll Make Prolonged Eye Contact

There’s a subtle but noticeable difference between average, run of the mill eye contact — like the kind you have during conversations with friends and family — and prolonged or lingering eye contact.

If someone is romantically interested in you, Bennett says, their eye contact will seem more intense. They might couple good conversation with that “I want to stare deeply into your eyes” type of look, he says, at which point you can reasonably assume they’re flirting.


They’ll Make Physical Contact

Another big giveaway is if the person makes physical contact, “like touching your arm or tapping you,” Antonia Hall, a psychologist and relationship expert, tells Bustle. In the social distancing age, this might look like standing a bit closer or angling their body in your direction.

That said, if someone’s physical proximity or touchy gestures make you feel uncomfortable, there are plenty of ways to turn them down or ask for more space.


They’ll Ask More In-Depth Questions

Both people who are being friendly and those who are flirting will pick your brain and ask questions. But if someone is truly flirting, you might be notice a deeper “agenda” that seems to suggest they want to know you better, Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author, tells Bustle.

A friendly person will ask casual questions, like “How are you?” or “What brings you to this picnic?” while someone who is more-than-friendly will get personal, ask about your past, your thoughts on a certain subject, etc. They might even imply that they’re single or ask about your dating life.


You Detect Romance In The Air

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According to Bennett, context is always key when it comes to spotting flirtation. If there’s any hint of romance in the air — like maybe you’re strolling just the two of you through a park — and things seem flirty, they probably are. But if you’re just getting coffee with a group of friends and they’re being equally attentive to everyone, chances are they just give off a flirty energy and it doesn’t “mean” anything.


They Give You Lots Of Compliments

Have they pointed out your green eyes? Gushed over your taste in books? Or said you look great in your new jeans? Hall says this can be another indication of flirtatious behavior if they’re giving body language cues too .

“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 Tilt Their Head

In the aforementioned study published in the Journal of Sex Research, researchers used a Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to detect the kinds of faces people pull whilst flirting. The coding showed the most effective flirting cues include a head turned to one side and tilted down slightly, a slight smile, and eyes turned forward toward the implied target — all things that do seem a bit sultry!

"Our findings support the role of flirtatious expression in communication and mating initiation," noted Omri Gillath, a professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, who co-authored the study. "For the first time, not only were we able to isolate and identify the expressions that represent flirting, but we were also able to reveal their function — to activate associations related with relationships and sex."


They Act Different Whenever You’re Around

Psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree previously told Bustle to look at how they interact with others. If they’re just being friendly, nothing will change when they talk to you versus anyone else in the vicinity. But if they’re into you, you’ll noticed a marked difference the second you approach, such as leaning closer, lowering or raising their voice, etc.

"Everyone flirts differently and, to make things even more difficult to decipher, there are also 'polite flirters' who are more subdued and flirt by leaning back and creating space," Roantree said. "In these cases, watching their general demeanor may be a giveaway."


They Send Cute Emojis

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If all of this potential-flirting is happening via text, and you can’t go off their eye contact or body language, consider how often they text — as well as the words they use. If their texts are chock full of heart emojis, if they try to make you laugh, or if they always text back right away, you may have a potential love interest on your hands.


You Have Their Undivided Attention

Last but not least, look for undivided attention, which will go hand-in-hand with prolonged eye contact and deeper questions. They’ll want to talk to you, finish conversations — and won’t seem distracted. As Hall says, “If [...] they make a special effort with you, then it’s safe to assume that they are interested and flirting.”

From there, if you feel the same way, it might be safe to straight up ask about their feelings for you. While you can take a guess, talking about your relationship is always the best way to know for sure.

Sources & Experts:

Hall, J. A., Xing, C., & Brooks, S. (2014). Accurately Detecting Flirting. Communication Research, 42(7), 939-958. doi:10.1177/0093650214534972

Parnia Haj-Mohamadi, Omri Gillath, Erika L. Rosenberg. Identifying a Facial Expression of Flirtation and Its Effect on Men. The Journal of Sex Research, 2020; 1 DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2020.1805583

David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert

Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author

Antonia Hall, psychologist and relationship expert

Madeleine Mason Roantree, psychologist

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