Why – and How – to Show Someone You Like Them

A good percentage of my posts emerge from revelations I have while journaling. I’ll blather on about a problem for pages at a time, and suddenly, the answer becomes crystal clear and spills out of my pen, almost of its own volition.

I had one of those recently, and it was the dumbest, most obvious thing: when you like someone, it is okay to act like you like them. Fuck what John Lennon says: you don’t have to hide that shit away.

See, when I was in high school, I got rejected by someone I really, really liked. This is a totally common, normal experience – especially for men, who are socialized to be romantic and sexual initiators – but something about this particular rebuff really messed up my flirt-o-meter. I see now that after that letdown, I deeply internalized the idea that if you show romantic or sexual interest for someone, and they don’t return those feelings, they will be grossed out by your advances. They will lose their esteem for you and want to avoid you as much as possible. In short, you will have fucked up whatever scrap of a relationship you had with them previously.

Of course, there are cases where this is true… like if you’re being genuinely inappropriate, or if the person in question has been burned by a creepy suitor before. But for the most part, everyone likes to feel liked and wanted and so you’re not going to horrify anyone by acting slightly-more-than-friendly in their direction. (With the caveat, obviously, that you put an immediate stop to that shit if they tell you to.)

Pre-epic-rejection, I was a lot better at this. I frequently told people they were cute, purely because I thought so and thought it’d make them happy to know that. I didn’t get anxiety about whether or not it was “too much” to favorite people’s Instagram selfies and clever tweets. I didn’t phrase my texts in the most benign, noncommittal way possible.

The other day, I got waaaay overanalytical while composing a message to someone I like, and it hit me: why am I trying to act like I don’t like this person? If anything, I want him to know I like him – not only because that will help move things forward more quickly but also because I know it will make him smile. Who doesn’t want to feel desirable and desired?

It will probably take some more practice before I fully get this idea through my head, and get back to being flirt-happy the way I was in high school. For my benefit as much as yours, here are some low-risk, high-reward ways to fawn over your crush without weirding them out…

 

Give them a really good compliment.

Like, the kind that is slightly above and beyond what you’d say to a friend or a random acquaintance you happen to admire. Compliment something that is integral to who they are, like their sense of humor, confidence, or charm. Or keep it classic and compliment a (non-sexual) part of their body, like their sparkling eyes, shiny hair or strong arms.

This kind of compliment pushes the boundaries of casual friendliness ever-so-gently. If they scrunch up their eyebrows and say, “…Thaaaanks?” then you’ll know to maybe dial it back a bit – but if they light up, blush, or giggle, that’s your green light, baby.

 

Make an effort.

When I want to figure out how someone feels about me, I pay attention to what they do, not what they say. People can spout all kinds of platitudes and excuses, but if they like you, they will make a consistent effort to reach out to you, make plans with you, and make you smile.

…Or at least, that’s how most non-shy folks operate. If you’re like me, your anxiety sometimes tricks you into thinking that the most innocuous of “What’s up?” texts or “Let’s get together!” DMs could be construed as overbearing. Unless you’re pestering the person with message after message, don’t fret – there’s no way they’re as annoyed as your anxiety-brain tells you they are. Drop ’em a line, ask them to hang out, keep in touch. Nothing can happen if you don’t keep those channels open.

 

Remember things they tell you.

“Hey, how did that late-night shift go? Was it as horrible as you thought it was gonna be?”

“I saw a trailer for a movie I thought you might like, because I know you’re a big Anchorman fan…”

“Did you end up buying that skirt you were thinking about getting?”

These are such mundane examples but I’m honestly getting a little swoony just contemplating them. It is so flattering when someone cares enough about you to remember the dull details you mention in passing. This tells them three things: 1) you are a good listener, 2) you find them interesting, and 3) you were thinking about them in the interim between your last meeting and your current one. You might as well be wearing an “I Like You!” sign on your chest… but this strategy is much more subtle than that. Win!

 

Touch them.

Okay, you gotta be able to read your audience on this one. Have some common social sense. I am not telling you to get touchy-feely with people who aren’t into it, or to cling onto someone the whole time you’re with them. But let’s be real… Those “flirting tips” you read in magazines for teen girls (no? just me?) are spot-on when they say that light, casual, occasional touch can act as a strong I-like-you signal without seeming strong.

Those magazines often say stuff like, “Lightly push his shoulder playfully when he makes a joke,” or “Reach out and touch his arm when you’re making a point.” I always used to read those tips and wonder how I could possibly make that kind of overture seem natural and non-weird. But now I’ve spent time around some terrific flirts and have discovered that this kind of touch can be played off in a natural way, and it also works a treat.

Touching someone gets their attention, gives them a little boost of happy neurotransmitters, and makes it that much easier to transition to other kinds of touching later (hugging, kissing, and on and on…) – so you should give it a shot, even if it feels awkward at first. (But, again, I need to stress: read the other person’s cues. Don’t get all up in the grill of someone who is clearly not into it. When in doubt, ask.)

 

Is this incredibly basic-level flirting advice? Probably. But I’m still a flirtation novice, even at age 23. I’m out of practice because I let myself learn a fear of being flirty. That’s gotta stop. People should know when I think they’re cute – if just because it might make their day a little happier.

What are your favorite ways to show someone you like them? Have you ever struggled with feeling it’s “not okay” to flirt?

 

  • Ok but like…how do you tell the difference between someone who is just naturally charismatic, and “they like me”? Because I REALLY misread quite a few situations and it turned out the person was just like that (or, they liked being that way and knowing I liked them, it stroked the ego, but I wasn’t their “type” to actually, you know, date/fuck).

    I also have a verrrrryyy hard time figuring out how to flirt with femme people. I grew up mostly straight and only ever flirted with cis men, and vice versa. And I feel that butch people can act like the cis dudes I was accustomed to and I can pick up on their flirting cues more easily. Is it because they’re confident and just are not being coy/subtle?

    I like people, I like femme-y people the most, and genderqueer people a lot, and cis dudes the least and so it’s especially ironic to me now that those I tend to like least…are the only ones I know how to do the flirting thing with. =/

    • I know I just wrote a whole article about flirting and so I’m basically inviting flirting advice questions, but I am soooo not an expert. I should be wearing a cone-shaped hat that says “Flirting Dunce” on it, tbh.

      re: your first paragraph: my strategy has traditionally been to just be dorkily honest. Sometimes that manifests as outright saying, “I kinda have a crush on you. What do you think about that?” Sometimes I ask if I can cuddle them or kiss their face and then gauge their reaction to that. Sometimes I just spout overenthused compliments at them and, again, gauge their reaction. I think being weirdly honest can work really well sometimes because people are likelier to just be open with you. It’s maybe not as “fun” as the “do they or don’t they?!” chase of more traditional flirting but, as an anxious person, I find everything soooo much easier and less stressful when I just Know What’s Up. Hope that kinda makes sense.

      As a femme person who’s occasionally been flirted with by other femme people: my point in this post about “compliments that are slightly above and beyond friendly-level compliments” is a good summary of how most of those interactions have gone down. When a queer femme compliments my outfit, I assume she’s just being a supportive femme pal; when she compliments my outfit and adds that, for example, it makes my hips look especially curvy and sexy, or that my lipstick really shows off my full, kissable lips, that pushes that femme-on-femme compliment into flirt-town.

      Physical contact also helps a lot. Femmes are often touchy-feely with their femme friends, in my experience, but there are ways to push that a little further so it feels flirty. And prolonged, soul-searching eye contact has also always been a staple of my lady-to-lady flirtin’. There is something in that kind of gaze that just says “I am so gay for you.” ♥ !

  • Lunabelle

    Thank you for this. As someone who should be old enough to manage flirting basics, I still do WAAAAY too much second guessing/worrying/looking at the floor/blushing furiously.

  • Lavender

    I often avoid people I have crushes on until I’m drunk and then am an ABSOLUTE AND TOTAL IDIOT and ruin any chance I may have had… I am definitely going to utilize these tips while sober so my drunken idiocy is more likely to come off as cute.. right??

    • Admittedly, some of my boldest flirting has been the result of either alcohol or total exhaustion or both. #anxietyproblems

  • Great advice!! 🙂 Your blog is becoming my addiction, haha. I only came to read one article… 5 later 😉 haha.

  • Layla

    Ok so I loved this and those are definitely great tips but I’m starting to see why I don’t know how to flirt. This is normally just how I treat all my friends. I like them to feel extra loved so I remember the details and give them weird, heartfelt compliments and handmade gifts. Plus I actually hold hands and get kinda touchy-feely with my closest female friends and just as a general thing. My only thing that I’ve started to have some success with is holding eye contact and a smile for a second or two longer than normal. But then I usually get really nervous and look away before either of us say anything.