Can’t stop thinking about that cute stranger you had eye contact with on your daily walk? A psychotherapist explains why this might actually be good for you.
I am the world’s worst flirt. For starters, I hate holding eye contact with anybody for longer than a second. My face burns bright red and a rash breaks out on my neck if somebody I find vaguely attractive starts a conversation with me. And in those rare moments where I do feel confident, I put on my best (read: worst) Samantha Jones impression and end up making the situation feel very uncomfortable on both sides. I just can’t pull off the whole husky-voiced “I’m a try-sexual, I’ll try anything once” thing.
But what a difference a year-long pandemic makes…
When we went into the second lockdown last November, I licked my wounds after a romantic faux-pas and hit pause on dating until the weather warms up again and Covid-19 cases cool down. Like most people reading this, I’ve pretty much been in hibernation since then. I’ve been using the time to care for myself both physically and mentally – and I feel good!
In fact, I feel so good that I’ve started to notice something surprising.
Whether I’m joining a birthday Zoom call or meeting a friend for a walk, I now make a point of putting on make-up, styling my hair and wearing bright clothes that aren’t elasticated. It makes me feel like my old self again, you see.
When I do this, I notice that I catch eyes more frequently and confidently with people who I pass on my walk or stand next to in the coffee shop queue. I feel a jolt of excitement. I dare myself to keep eye contact. I flick my hair and raise my head. I feel like an attractive single woman who’s “still got it”. God damn it, I feel sexy (something I’d nearly forgotten I could be).
And it doesn’t end there.
On one occasion, my heart raced as a cheery (and cute!) neighbour handed over a package that had been incorrectly delivered to his flat. There was also the blue-eyed man who I had a two-minute chat with about the hot food he was making in his kitchen for people in the community. I was convinced I’d be retelling one of these lockdown meet-cutes at my imminent wedding.
My self-esteem, and imagination, has truly been running wild. But after talking with a couple of fellow single friends in lockdown, I know I’m not the only one.
One friend sent me a three-minute voice note telling me about how great she felt on a trip to Tesco. Wearing a full face of make-up for a Zoom call later that evening, she’d popped out to pick up a bottle of wine and saw somebody checking her out at the self-checkout. She sounded like a giddy teenager as she relayed the exciting moment.
Another friend admitted that she’s been purposely wearing leggings on her walks because she knows she has amazing legs. She said she loved the idea of people walking past and thinking, “Wow, bloody good pins”.
So, are more people actually checking me and my friends out more than usual or is it all in our sex-starved heads? I put this to dating expert and psychotherapist Heather Garbutt, and her answer actually surprised me.
Heather thinks that if you’re feeling good, people probably are genuinely checking you out more right now. “We’re all starved of any kind of attention,” she tells me over the phone. “With all the best will in the world, online dating – even with emails and Zoom – is so limited. We want to be seen and we want to see. Our bodies are hungry for contact, including eye contact. We’re all full of longing. And when you’re feeling good and radiant, you’re blooming magnetic. Seriously.
“Also, you know when you’re being checked out – you can feel the sizzle of contact.”
Heather also makes the important point that there is a definite line between a welcome bit of flirty eye contact and somebody intrusively looking at you. But when I ask if a mutual kind of flirting is good for us, she insists: “Do whatever you need to do to feel good and enjoy it. It doesn’t mean it promises a relationship or anything. It’s just two people saying, “Hey, you look nice, I look nice – let’s flirt a little bit. “
Explaining how this is going to impact our dating behaviours and decisions when we eventually come out of lockdown, Heather says we need to be careful: “I think a lot of people will just ‘go for it’ but there needs to be some caution with that, because we’ll be coming out like shots out of guns.
“We really need to continue to check out if the person is who we think they are way before physical contact, even if the huge longing for physical intimacy is there. You could find yourself becoming attached to someone who’s unsuitable… but just happens to have very nice eyes.”
And for now, a pair of very nice eyes is all I need to remind me that flirting isn’t so scary after all. I actually can’t wait to make up for lost time (in fact, I already am).
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…