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Learning Fine Art of Drop-the-Hanky Panky : Flirting Isn't Just an Opening Gambit or an Eyelash Flutter; It's All About Self-Esteem

November 05, 1986|DICK RORABACK | Times Staff Writer

How long has man been flirting? How far back do you want to go? Have you ever taken a good look at the monkeys? --Paul Bohannon, USC professor of anthropology

What's a nice crowd like that doing in a place like this?

Good-looking crowd, too. Bright, well-spoken, nicely dressed. Don't we know you from somewhere?

There are about 30 of them, in their 20s, 30s, early 40s. A few more males than females, in the best tradition.

Do they come here often?

One assumes that they don't, that they don't have to, that it is all a lark. Here is this course on "How to Flirt," and on the surface, there isn't a cotton-mouthed, knock-kneed loser among them. Seventy-five percent of them could get by on looks alone, one thinks, and the rest on personality. Some on both.

Yet here they are in a Learning Network classroom on Sunset Boulevard, studying up on the fine art of drop-the-hanky panky. It doesn't track.

Artfully Commanding

In the end, it doesn't have to track. The course, it turns out, is not really about flirting. More about self-esteem. Which is probably a good thing to have when the lady on the next bar stool is telling you to get lost, creep.

Susan Jeffers, who has a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University, is teaching the course. Jeffers is attractive, articulate, artfully commanding; author of the forthcoming "Feel the Fear . . . And Do It Anyway." She is upbeat, Panglossian. She is as soothing as Vicks Vap-o-Rub.

Don't push it, Jeffers is saying. Feel good about yourself and the rest will take care of itself. She may even be right.

This, however, does not seem to be what the class has come to hear. What they want to know, in the main, is how do you get rid of that wad of lint that insinuates itself between tongue and lip instants before an opening gambit to a perfect stranger? Beyond that, what they want is a good line, one that works. A shibboleth. An open sesame.

It's tough going out there these days. Especially for women, with their higher expectations. But for women and men, it's not a line of snappy patter that's going to make people fall at your feet. --Marilyn Hamel, author of "SexEtiquette"

By way of breaking the ice, Jeffers asks the class precisely why they are here.

Lana: "I see people I'm attracted to and really don't know how to approach them."

Chuck: "I think the rules may have changed."

Linda: "My husband suggested it. If anything happened to him, he wanted me to get a flying start with the next guy."

Steve: "I don't flirt well, and I don't even know if someone's flirting back. I say, 'Who, me ?' "

Virginia: "We women in the workplace may have forgotten some of the feminine things. . . ."

Jim: "I'm here because if something happens to Linda's husband, I want to be ready." A man who needs no introductions.

Margie: "Hey, I'm here to find out what's going down."

Bryan: "Let's face it: I'm shy."

To flirt well, you need charisma. You need to be playful, a risk-taker. Michael Aharoni, psychologist

"The lower your self-esteem, the harder it is to flirt," Jeffers says. "I'll show you how to build yourself up so you won't worry about being rejected. Without self-esteem, one becomes self-focused. You're not looking at the other person, you're looking at you .

"Turn it around. Flirting is a wonderful way to make someone feel good. Everyone likes to be flirted with. Those women who go 'ugh' when construction workers whistle are being phony. They love every minute of it." Someone in the back row whistles. Three women turn. The rest smile. Advantage, Jeffers.

"I'm going to show you a way to build yourself up, so you won't worry about being rejected," Jeffers says. She douses the lights, puts on a hypnotic tape, all flutes and birds and harps.

"Close your eyes. Visualize yourself as a powerful, loving, affirmative person. . . . You are magnificent, giving, creative. . . ."

Lights up. "I felt very loved, very powerful," says one woman.

"I was visualizing myself on the mound at Dodger Stadium," says a young man. "I was pitching a no-hitter. Story of my life."

Looks or dress have very little to do with it. You're not going to flirt well if you're too fearful of drawing attention to yourself, if you tend to look away. --J Bartell, psychological consultant

"Eye contact," continues Jeffers, "is most important." Also most unnerving.

The class is paired off, each couple told to look each other in the eye, conveying genuine interest, without speaking, without smiling . . . an admonition honored in the breach.

A giggle from the direction of two odd-men-out, paired at random. "Sorry," says Jim. "I'm staring at Bryan here, doing the best I can, and he whispers, 'Not on the first date.' "

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