Jane Gor­don is learn­ing how to flirt – at long last

Can a new book help Jane Gor­don con­quer her fear of mak­ing the first move? There’s only one way to find out (with a lit­tle help from her dream man)

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IT IS AN UN­USU­ALLY SUNNY, if chilly, Mon­day af­ter­noon in Jan­u­ary and I am on day one of my mis­sion to over­come a life­long fear of flirt­ing that has left me, at an age I am not pre­pared to re­veal (but over 50), sin­gle for more than four years. A busy river­side park in Ox­ford­shire may not sound the ideal place to em­bark on a crash course in flirt­ing. But my task to­day, as de­tailed in so­cial an­thro­pol­o­gist Jean Smith’s new book Flir­tolog y ,is­notto throw my­self at the first vaguely pre­sentable age-ap­pro­pri­ate man I en­counter. It is just to ap­proach a stranger and ask him a sim­ple ques­tion, such as, ‘Do you have the time?’

If I can pull this off to­day – and re­peat the ex­er­cise for the next five days – I will, Smith prom­ises, have taken my first small step to­wards a new way of liv­ing. And, if I can suc­cess­fully com­plete three fur­ther chal­lenges in her book (cul­mi­nat­ing, can you imag­ine, in ac­tu­ally ask­ing an at­trac­tive stranger to go for a drink/din­ner/dirty week­end), I could have found my dream man (Bill Nighy!) by Valen­tine’s Day.

As easy as this first test might sound,

I am ner­vous. Thank­fully, I have a use­ful ac­com­plice to help me: my dog. With per­fect tim­ing, Zorro drags me to­wards a man who, ac­com­pa­nied as he is by a very lively Labrador, doesn’t look too fright­en­ing.

‘Ex­cuse me,’ I blurt out. ‘Are dogs al­lowed off the lead here?’ The man looks con­fused – mainly, I sus­pect, be­cause his own dog and in­deed most of the other dogs out on walkies this af­ter­noon are bound­ing around off their leads. ‘Yes,’ he even­tu­ally mut­ters in an ‘is-this-women-com­pletely-stupid?’ kind of way. Clearly, this is not go­ing to be the start of a beau­ti­ful re­la­tion­ship, although Zorro (let off his lead) and Lucy the Labrador are

re­ally get­ting on (in fact, al­most get­ting it on). The next four days fol­low a sim­i­lar pat­tern: Zorro do­ing very much bet­ter with strange dogs than I do with strange men.

Smith’s book isn’t just aimed at older women. It is di­rected at any sin­gle per­son of any age who is weary of the way in which tech­nol­ogy has blunted our abil­ity to so­cially in­ter­act with each other in the real world. Smith’s premise is that we are far more likely to find love in the lo­cal park/ pub/café than we are on Tin­der, if we could just put down our iPhones, look around us and re­learn the an­cient art of flirt­ing.

It is es­ti­mated that just un­der 50 mil­lion sin­gle adults in the US have tried on­line dat­ing, yet only five per cent of Amer­i­cans in mar­riages or long-term re­la­tion­ships say they met on­line. The ra­tio in the UK is sim­i­lar. Another study re­vealed that

33 per cent of peo­ple who have tried on­line dat­ing have never ac­tu­ally gone on a date – a cat­e­gory that I fit right into, hav­ing (urged on by a friend) signed on to a spe­cial­ist ‘over 50’ dat­ing site last year. The men who ‘liked’ my pro­file were ei­ther clearly in need of a carer rather than a part­ner, or just wanted un­com­pli­cated sex (look­ing for a woman who was foxy/play­ful/un­in­hib­ited). I had ‘waves’ from around 200 men, but since most of them looked more like Bill Bai­ley than Bill Nighy, I didn’t wave back.

There is, of course, another rea­son why men and women to­day are wary of be­ing overtly flirty. In the wake of the Har­vey We­in­stein rev­e­la­tions and the emer­gence of the #MeToo move­ment, they are in­creas­ingly aware that a harm­lessly aimed smile at a work col­league could be mis­con­strued. My own fear of flirt­ing is di­rectly linked to the fact that sex­ual ha­rass­ment (ver­bal and oc­ca­sion­ally phys­i­cal) was a part of my daily life back in my youth, when I was work­ing in a male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try. Which prob­a­bly ex­plains why I have only ever had two boyfriends – the first I was mar­ried to for over 20 years, and the sec­ond I lived with for 10.

Ac­cord­ing to Smith, the fear of be­ing mis­in­ter­preted is mak­ing both men and women avoid the face-to-face in­ter­ac­tion that is much more likely to lead us to meet the ‘one’ in the gym or the work­place than on the in­ter­net. Which is why she is so pas­sion­ate about re-ed­u­cat­ing both men and women in the art (and sci­ence) of Flir­tol­ogy.

Chal­lenge two seems only marginally more dif­fi­cult than the first: this one, to build your con­fi­dence, in­volves com­pli­ment­ing a stranger a day for five days in a row. Grate­ful that Jean warns against be­ing too for­ward in this ex­er­cise, I just about scrape through on days one to four, but em­bar­rass my­self hor­ri­bly on day five when I tell a 20-some­thing, im­pos­si­bly hand­some barista in Star­bucks that he has ‘the most beau­ti­ful eyes I have ever seen’. I am so mor­ti­fied by the look of hor­ror on his face that I leave the shop without my cof­fee (or my dig­nity).

Two weeks in, I am be­gin­ning to re­alise that un­til now I have been walk­ing around with my eyes tightly closed to the ro­man­tic pos­si­bil­i­ties that might ex­ist around me. And while I have yet to see a stranger who comes any­where close to my dream man Bill, I am feel­ing more out­go­ing and am smil­ing a great deal more than I used to.

Crunch time, though, turns out to be chal­lenge num­ber three: putting my­self in a so­cial sit­u­a­tion and mak­ing a di­rect ap­proach to an at­trac­tive man who glances at me across a crowded room. I must, at the very least, end the evening with the mo­bile num­ber of one, but prefer­ably two, al­lur­ing men.

This is go­ing to be tricky, be­cause I live in an area where ab­so­lutely ev­ery­one is mar­ried, and the very few sin­gle men of an ap­pro­pri­ate age that there are have none of the qual­i­ties I’m look­ing for.

Thank­fully for this task I have the ideal ac­com­plice. No, not my dog – but my friend Belle who, while hap­pily mar­ried, could give mas­ter­classes in flirt­ing. Belle organises a girls’ night out (well, a ‘women of a cer­tain age night out’) at the only lively bar within a 20-mile ra­dius of our coun­try town.

I put on a dress and high heels and ac­com­pany Belle and Alex and Sue to the cho­sen venue. But the lights are dim, the

‘I em­bar­rass my­self when I tell a hand­some barista that he has “the most beau­ti­ful eyes I have ever seen”’

place is half empty (‘Things don’t kick off here till mid­night,’ the bar­man tells us) and, you guessed it, Belle looks fab­u­lous and is the only one of us to re­ceive more than a sin­gle cur­sory glance across the un­crowded room.

The idea of go­ing on to the next chal­lenge, boldly ask­ing a stranger to go on some kind of date, is im­pos­si­ble. I call Jean to ask her where I have gone wrong. My main prob­lem, it seems, is hav­ing too lim­ited a view of the kind of man I would like as a prospec­tive part­ner. I have to lower my stan­dards in or­der to broaden my hori­zons. Some­thing I am not sure I can do (it will al­ways be Bill!).

But Jean is not en­tirely neg­a­tive about my chances of even­tu­ally grad­u­at­ing in Flir­tol­ogy. She is even im­pressed with the way in which I tack­led that first task (ask a stranger a ques­tion) and en­cour­ages me to pur­sue this. ‘Dogs are the ul­ti­mate flirt­ing tool. They make it eas­ier to start con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple, but they also help you to con­nect with oth­ers who like dogs,’ she tells me.

So, while I might not yet be the ul­ti­mate flirt, I do have the ul­ti­mate flirt­ing tool. Who knows, on some sunny af­ter­noon I might just bump into fel­low dog-lover Bill dur­ing walkies in the lo­cal park. Here’s hop­ing. ‘Flir­tolog y: Stop Swip­ing , Start Talk­ing and Find Love’ by Jean Smith is pub­lished by Ban­tam Press (£12.99). To or­der your copy for £10.99 plus p&p, call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.tele­graph.co.uk

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