Flirting with Meaning: An Examination of Miscommunication in Flirting Interactions

Abstract

Men tend to view women's behaviors as more sexual than do women in cross-sex interactions (e.g., Abbey, 1982). This difference may result because men view specific behaviors as sexually motivated, whereas women attribute a different motivation to the behaviors. It is proposed that people flirt for a variety of different reasons including the desire to increase sexual interaction. Six flirting motivations derived from the literature are considered in this study: sex, fun, exploring, relational, esteem, and instrumental. The motivations attributed to flirting behaviors by men and women in typical flirting interactions are explored. Gender differences emerge for several flirting motivations (i.e., sex, relational, and fun). Men tend to view flirting as more sexual than women do, and women attribute more relational and fun motivations to flirting interactions than do men. No gender differences emerge for esteem, exploring, or instrumental motivations. The discussion focuses on how miscommunication may occur during flirting interactions.

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Correspondence to David Dryden Henningsen.

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Henningsen, D.D. Flirting with Meaning: An Examination of Miscommunication in Flirting Interactions. Sex Roles 50, 481–489 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:SERS.0000023068.49352.4b

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  • courtship initiation
  • flirting
  • miscommunication
  • quasi-courtship