It's Monday night; football and Murphy Brown are on. Yet 15 people--7 women, 8 men--are downtown learning how to flirt. A lawyer, a musician, a computer programmer, and a mother and her son are among those who want to learn.
Apparently a lot of people over the last 13 years have wanted to learn how to flirt--Kathryn Brown claims she has taught 17,000 students, up to 200 would-be flirts at a time.
"Once I taught only six during a blizzard, and it was a great class," she says. Brown also teaches ballroom dance and sales motivation, and she used to teach drama. Brown herself is engaged to a former student--she asked him out to breakfast.
She believes in a step-by-step approach. Her idea--the pedagogy of flirting--is to teach students not only how to flirt but how to recognize when someone is flirting with them. And how to get rid of someone they don't want flirting with them.
Brown's learning-to-flirt class does not include batting the eyes, flicking the hair, or coming up with good one-liners. "That's superficial," she says. "There's no such thing as a perfect line." Anyone who wants to learn glibness, who wants to develop good openings, is wasting three hours and $65 with Brown.
Instead she teaches her students to recognize and make the most of nonverbal cues. Then they learn to execute an all-important three-step sequence to start and maintain electrifying conversations.
Say you see someone at a restaurant or bar whose eye you think you've caught, and a few minutes later that person walks past you to go to the washroom or the buffet table; it's no coincidence--you've got a live one, Brown says. If you're interested, it's time to flirt. At this point, Brown insists, her three-step formula is essential--to maintain the other person's comfort level. Maintaining that, she says, is what makes a good flirt.
First, approach the person on common ground. Start with the fact that you're in the same place at the same time with the person you want to flirt with, whether it's walking down Michigan Avenue, drinking at a bar, or being in the same adult-education class, for instance. Second, ask a question the answer to which you really want to know--nothing phony. It should be related to the common ground: "Where's the Wrigley Building?" "What white wine do you recommend?" "Do you know the teacher's name?" Third, says Brown, "Follow up with a tidbit about yourself." Something genuine--no lies. Like "I'm new in town and have never been on Michigan Avenue before." Or "I always drink red." Or "This is my first time in this class." (Something like "I'm always forgetting names" is too negative, she says.)
Brown asks a couple of students to demonstrate the three-step technique. She tells them they're attracted to each other and that their common ground is a grocery store.
"Oh, are those any good?" asks the male student, who may be at the produce counter or in the canned-food section--the other students aren't sure which. "I never buy them because they're too expensive."
His female partner answers, "Yes, I use them all the time. They're really good in tuna fish."
Brown says this is good flirting. Comfortable and real--the kind that leads to companionship, romance, marriage, and sex. Coming on any stronger makes people feel overwhelmed and they run away.
A big blond woman says, "When I'm at a grocery store, I want in and out in 20 minutes. I feel cold. Or I'm in sweats. I want to meet people at dinner parties where I look smashing." Several of her classmates nod.
Another woman--the mother--differs. She believes you can find good common ground anywhere. "I always told my single friends, 'Men don't come to your door. You have to go out and look for them.' But one day I hired a handyman, and when I opened the door and saw him he was gorgeous. When you least expect that, it can happen. I sent him to the store so I could shower and fix my hair."
Another person, a young, good-looking urban professional male, expresses reservations about using the bus as a common ground. Because of the silence. "If you [do the formula] on the bus," he says, "even if everything is going right, everyone else will hear it and it could be embarrassing."
Brown tells him, "That is an added risk factor. But it's smart to take the chance."
She reassures the class that there are plenty of places that can prove common ground; they shouldn't narrow their choices to the ones she's mentioned.
"But let me explain now how to get away from people--before we run out of time," says Brown. "Don't cop out. Don't say, 'I have to make a phone call' and dodge the person all night. They'll order you a drink and you won't come back, and then they can end up being your new client at work tomorrow. It's a small world." Brown advises being straightforward: "Say 'Thank you very much. I've really enjoyed talking to you. But I'd like to mingle now.'"
Brown says she wants to offer a seminar for advanced students. She asks these people to keep that in mind. In Flirting II she'd do exercises in which people could learn how others perceive them.
Raymond, an economist, has taken other classes with Brown and likes the idea of Flirting II. He says he pursues his goals to the "utmost extent," and feels the class tonight will help him with his goal of meeting people. Loren, who formerly worked in commodities, says it will help him "gain exposure to different people, regain friendships, and expand contacts." Tony the lawyer says it will help him break the ice so he can meet more people.
The homework assignment is to use the formula five times in the coming week.
What kind of credentials do you need to teach a class in flirting? "I was a good flirt, and I was asked to teach a class many years ago," says Brown. "At first I winged it. By the time I taught my tenth class, I didn't want to be there. This was all of me." She felt exposed and vulnerable. "I hated it.
"But then I did a lot of research and wrote a book and went on Phil Donahue and Sally Jessy Raphael. Now teaching flirting class fascinates me."
Brown's next class takes place at 5:30 Monday, December 9, at the Chicago Bar Association, 321 S. Plymouth Court. The fee is $65; for more info call the Discovery Center at 348-8120.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.