Flirting After 40

Most of us flirt through small gestures or light conversation, but do the rules of flirting change once you pass 40?

By Wendy Lyons Sunshine

fter divorce, I made a liberating discovery. Despite years spent buried in a monastic marriage, despite months holed up feeling sorry for myself, I still could reply with romance-charged banter when an attractive man struck up a conversation with me. Much to my amazement, despite a decade-long rut, I still could flirt.

A happy surprise
Most of us flirt with small gestures or light-hearted conversation. We make eye contact, brush a sleeve or lean up against the other person playfully.
Most of us flirt with small gestures or light-hearted conversation.
Perhaps we ask for advice, tease or compliment. Our body language and small talk get charged with sex appeal hinting at our availability. Whether flirting is done in person or online, beneath it all we’re saying, “I find you attractive… and might like to get closer.”

Is flirting any different when you’re over 40?
A friend who recently returned to dating, Joyce, and I mulled this over recently. She confessed that as she’s gotten older, she’s become more selective, choosing when and how to turn up the heat. For one thing, she avoids flirting in situations that might lead to embarrassment for her kids.

Plus, she’s more aware of the signals she is sending. As a 20-something years ago, Joyce was running late for a first date and answered the doorbell swathed in a thick neck-to-floor bathrobe. Despite the outfit’s modesty, her date assumed that the garment itself was a blunt invitation, much to her chagrin. Nowadays Joyce is more conscious of when and how she sends flirty messages.

Indeed, social psychologists have found that men consistently over-estimate the amount of sexual
Women can encourage flirting by providing conversation starters.
signals that women are sending. Some women are startled to learn that their simple smile and friendliness are interpreted as an open invitation. The good news seems to be, then, that if a woman has her eye on someone special, she won’t have to work terribly hard to make her interest known.

John, a divorced 51-year-old sales executive, says that flirting gives him a way to break the ice. Each little question or eye contact is a test of interest.

“You throw out a hook, and if you get a bite, then you throw out another hook,” he said of his approach. “If you keep doing this for a while, all of a sudden you’ll find yourself with a date for Friday night.”

Women can encourage flirting by providing conversation starters, John said. It might be as silly as wearing a badge that says “Ask me about my German Shepherd”—when you don’t even own a dog. The point is to give others an easy opening move and to stir up fun banter.

Sometimes flirting is the gateway to a deeper connection, and sometimes it’s just a moment to be savored before we move on. But at any age, flirting embraces life by saying underneath it all, “You’re here, and I’m here, and how great is that?"

Wendy Lyons Sunshine is a freelance writer who frequently contributes to Happen magazine.
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