My name is Shanon and I'm a flirtaholic. As you're reading this, I'm probably flirting with some poor unsuspecting male -- a doorman, my doctor, a rock star.
My come-hither-ness was first called out when I was 22. It was a gloriously sunny day in Sydney and the male friend I was having coffee with leaned across the table and said, "You know, you're an insatiable flirt."
"That's ridiculous!" I scoffed while batting my eyelids at him.
Flirting is a skill that might come quite naturally (perhaps cringe-inducingly) to some, yet a woman I recently met at a friend's party introduced me to the idea that many people find flirting as terrifying as swimming with sharks. Her name was Tracey Steinberg; she smiled an awful lot, and she told me she was a dating coach who hosts "flirting parties" in Manhattan.
"Go on," I said with a raised eyebrow.
Many of her clients don't know the first thing about breaking the ice with strangers they're attracted to, she explained. They freeze, go mute, look at the floor or blurt out a depressing fact about hurricane devastation.
Steinberg arranges outings for groups of five or so adults with the desire to boost their courting potential, takes them to a busy bar, gives them a pep talk, then forces them to approach attractive strangers and, well, get cutesy.
This sounded like something I had to witness firsthand. And it made me wonder, if people are willing to pay experts to teach them to flirt ($95 for one of Steinberg's two-hour flirting parties), what does that say about the role flirting plays in our lives? Is it just a bonus skill that's nice to have, like being able to roll sushi or pole dance? Or is it a necessary function of bringing soul mates together?
According to Fran Greene, a dating and flirting coach and author of "The Flirting Bible," it's a bit of both.
"Flirting allows you to meet someone you would ordinarily be too timid or terrified to approach," she says. "No matter what the outcome, there is a sense of magic that occurs when you flirt. The more you flirt, the better you get and the more people you will bring into your life."
Sadly, when I rocked up to Steinberg's flirting party in my flirtiest maternity dress, bitterly cold New York temperatures had kept all but one of her clients away. But this was good news for the single lady, Becky, because with Steinberg all to herself, she'd get more bang for her buck (so to speak.)
Over drinks at an upscale pool hall, Steinberg prepped Becky with a recap of the do's and don'ts: "It's about having a natural smile, soft eyes"... "make yourself available and approachable"... "be complimentary' ... "maintaining eye contact is key"... "don't be too quick to dismiss him if he says something weird"..."keep the conversation light and breezy."
Becky, an artist in her 30s, nodded slowly, hanging on every word as though she was learning of a secret plot to end the world. Becky's main obstacle to being a pro flirter, Steinberg told me later, is her brain.
"The people I work with tend to be very accomplished in their career, very intellectual," she said. "But it really gets in the way of flirting because flirting is with your body, it's not with your mind."
Perhaps to emphasize that last point, Steinberg put Becky through one final exercise before we got to the practical portion of the evening:
"Who is your ideal hot guy?" she asked.
"Hmmm. Daniel Craig," Becky said.
"And what would you say to him if he was standing right over there?"
After a couple of dud suggestions from Becky, Steinberg chimed in and threw out a bunch of icebreakers that might snag the attention of our current James Bond.
"OK, let's go meet some guys!" Steinberg said, all gung-ho.
Not satisfied there were enough men at the pool hall, she led us across the street to another bar to find Daniel Craig.
To be clear, these parties are not about hooking up. Nor are they about finding your future husband or wife. They're all about getting practice.
Nick is a journalist in his late 40s living in New York who found the hands-on approach useful when he attended a flirting party just for dudes a couple of weeks ago.
"Basically, I'm a successful guy," he said. "But the notion of walking up to a woman I've never met and striking up a conversation is paralyzing. Imagine the terror you might feel if you had to give a speech to 10,000 people while wearing only your underwear. That terrifies me less than approaching a woman in public."
Gosh. What helps, Nick has learned, is to get that large pesky brain out of the way.