A recent study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences investigated the top flirting dealbreakers that turn people off from a potential partner. According to the findings, the biggest turn-offs include having a “slimy” approach, bad hygiene, and not showing exclusive interest.
Flirting is an important step in attracting a romantic partner, although not everyone does it well. Bad flirting has its consequences — many singles cite poor flirting skills as the reason they are alone. So what does bad flirting look like, and are there behaviors people can avoid if they want to improve?
Study authors Menelaos Apostolou and Chrysovalanto Eleftheriou set out to answer these questions by asking people which behaviors most turn them off when a person approaches them with flirtatious behavior.
“Mating is a fascinating aspect of human behavior,” said Apostolou, a professor of social sciences at the University of Nicosia
First, the researchers surveyed 212 Greek-speaking men and women about their flirting dealbreakers. Specifically, the participants were asked to imagine they were being approached by an interested other and to write down behaviors and traits that would lead them to “rule out the possibility of giving in to his/her flirting.” Two researchers then independently analyzed these open-ended answers and together came up with a list of 69 items that were cited as flirting turn-offs (e.g., narcissism, lack of humor, badly dressed).
To classify these dealbreakers into a smaller number of broader categories, the researchers presented this list of 69 items to a second sample of 734 Greek-speaking individuals. This time, they asked participants to imagine someone was flirting with them and to rate the extent that each of these items would turn them off.
The study authors then applied a statistical procedure called a principal components analysis, which allowed them to summarize these 69 traits into a smaller set of 11 factors. The top three factors were bad hygiene (e.g., rotten teeth, bad breath), lack of exclusive interest (e.g., appearing bored, looking at other men/women), and a slimy approach (e.g., making slimy comments about one’s looks, rudeness). The other 8 dealbreakers were vulgar vocabulary, poor looks, excessive intimacy, lack of intelligence, narcissism, lack of humor and low self-esteem, stinginess, and having different views.
Interestingly, sex differences emerged. Women gave higher ratings for nearly all 11 factors, suggesting they were more sensitive to the dealbreakers than men were. The exception was that men gave higher ratings for some of the items related to poor looks, such as “unattractive body” and “badly dressed.” The explanation for the female participants’ generally higher ratings could be that women have evolved to be more selective of their partners due to higher parental investment in child-rearing.
There were also age differences — with older participants tending to rate the dealbreaker items as more off-putting than younger participants. This may reflect the tendency for people to raise their dating standards as they age, as they grow more in tune with their relationship preferences and more interested in long-term relationships.
Apostolou and Eleftheriou say that their findings may offer direction for clinicians hoping to help clients improve their flirting. “It follows that people can become more effective flirting initiators if they work on their approach, avoid making for instance slimy and sexist comments, touching and being too intimate, and avoid also flirting with more than one individual at a time,” they write in their study. The findings also suggest that working on personal hygiene and improving vocabulary are other ways people can improve their flirting.
Given that the study sample was confined to residents of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, the findings may not generalize outside this context. “I would not say that there are major caveats, but given the complexity of the phenomenon, more studies are necessary in order to fully understand what constitutes bad flirting,” Apostolou said. Follow-up studies among additional samples might illuminate how flirting dealbreakers are influenced by factors like cultural context and sexual orientation.
“Research indicates that many people (maybe one in two) face difficulties in flirting,” Apostolou added. “Understanding what are the dealbreakers in flirting would enable people to improve in this domain.”
The study, “What constitutes bad flirting: An explorative study of dealbreakers”, was authored by Menelaos Apostolou and Chrysovalanto Eleftheriou.