Flirting Might Require More Knowledge than You Think…

Guest Blogger Brittany O’Leary

As college students, we can all remember a time in our lives when we tried to impress a crush. You probably took an extra five minutes in the morning getting ready…then you finally see him or her…and then you tell yourself to play it cool and try to say something funny to make him or her laugh. Throughout this process, you are thinking about your crush and what he or she would specifically find attractive. Every time that you are flirting with your crush—whether it’s picking out a special outfit or making sure to share a funny story (see the video below!)—you are acting rhetorically by convincing that person that you have a something to offer!

We use rhetoric in every personal, professional, and academic interaction we have with each other. Throughout a conversation, we consider the specific people we are speaking to and think of the best message to relay based on that specific person. Similarly when we flirt, we think about what our love interest would like, dislike, or relate most to in order to get that spark. As two people are building a relationship, each individual is internally choosing what to reveal to their potential partner. Should I tell him about my ex-boyfriend of three years? Should I tell her about my past? These are logical things to question when a relationship is just beginning because it is new. Jody Enders, therefore, argues that romance is an inventional, psychological, and creational process as people are making decisions about how to act in a relationship from the very beginning stages of flirting to the very end (Enders 62).

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 12.19.54 PMIn our personal lives, we use persuasion to convey our emotions towards one another, win an argument, or make new friends. Herrick notes, “In fact, it is difficult to imagine a human relationship in which persuasion has no role, or human organization that does not depend to some degree on efforts to change other people’s thoughts and actions,” (Herrick 3). In the presence of a romantic interest, a person’s demeanor will change slightly. It may be something as simple as twirling your hair, but it is a change nonetheless. Herrick argues that when he is trying to talk to a love interest, he will develop a case to show how attractive he is. He will thus make choices that he believes will showcase him in a certain manner—will his romantic interest like someone who’s slightly arrogant, humorous, or down to earth? All of these thoughts are rhetorical in nature. Herrick explains, “…I start to develop a case—though not an explicit and public one—about my own good qualities…My words and actions take on a rhetorical quality as I build the case for my own attractiveness,” (4). Because his actions are persuasive in nature, they display a level of rhetorical thinking that contributes to his process of flirting with someone.

Additionally, Maggie Werner analyzes rhetoric’s presence in seduction—a common tool of flirtation. Werner explains that seductive rhetoric pulls its inspiration for persuasion from the need of pleasure. Unlike many other daily uses of rhetoric, romantic interaction is a unique form of communication that has the “ability to impel listeners to act not on ethics or logic but on aesthetics and desire created through artifice,” (Werner para. 2). Being able to sweep another person off his or her feet can also show how effective a person’s use of rhetoric was while they were flirting. If a person could understand their romantic interest effectively by using persuasive tactics, they might be more likely to spark the other person’s interest.

Rhetoric can often be seen as something strictly academic or professional. In actuality, rhetoric and the art of persuasion are used in our personal lives even when we are trying to flirt with people. Every time you are thinking of how you should act in front of your crush, or what you could possibly say for that boy to finally ask you out, rhetorical thinking is being put into action.


Enders, Jody. “Memory, Allegory, and the Romance of Rhetoric”. Yale French Studies 95 (1999): 49–64.

Herrick, James A. “An Overview of Rhetoric.” The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction. 3rd ed. Boston: Allyn and Beacon, 2005. 1-30.

Werner, Maggie M. “Seductive Rhetoric and the Communicative Art of Neo-Burlesque.” Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society 5.1 (2015): n. pag.

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