When the topic of flirting comes up in a conversation, many Chicago students tend to exhibit one of two stereotypical reactions: either they will immediately change the subject back to Locke and Rousseau, or they will cover their ears and start humming loudly to themselves.
In order to eliminate this alarming habit, Queers and Associates (Q&A) teamed up with Early to Bed, the female-oriented North Side sex emporium, to hold a lecture last Tuesday on "Flirting for Nerds." It was a remedial social-education class that sought to assuage the fears of the 20 attendees who needed help in making the first move.
Rebecca Steinmetz, an Early to Bed employee who ran the session, adapted the program from a series of talks she had given at her store. "We've had many success stories already," Steinmetz said. "A woman came into the store a couple weeks after she had attended a flirting workshop and said that she had tried to use our flirting techniques with a guy at the airport and she got his number and they went out on a date."
The flirting workshop is just one in a series of seminars being given by employees of Early to Bed at the behest of Q&A. Other topics include safe Internet dating, sodomy, and tantric sex.
Kathryn Stewart, a first-year in the College, decided to attend the session on the spur of the moment. "I saw that they were offering classes on flirting for nerds and sodomy, and I thought, Oh, that's interesting,'" she said. "Also, I suppose it's a good way to meet boys."
Steinmetz isn't shy about revealing her secret to success. "I've had lots of therapy, and lots of practice," she said. Steinmetz, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the motto "Reading is Sexy," said that she can associate with the intellectual nature of the typical Chicago student. "As well as being a sex nerd, I'm a traditional nerd too. The last book I read was on efficient filing systems, and I really enjoyed it," she said.
According to Steinmetz, Chicago students have an inherent advantage over their more self-assured state-school counterparts. "The reason I became a good flirt is because I was a nerd first," Steinmetz said. "It's hard to be a good flirt if you think you're the shit all the time."
A good way to encourage social encounters is through the use of flirting props, Steinmetz said. Tattoos, pets, and unusual clothing items often serve as conversation starters and make "scoring that much easier," she said. One particular flirting prop stands out in Steinmetz's memory: "Once I was on the CTA, and this guy sitting across from me pulled out a yo-yo and started doing tricks with it. And I thought, Wow, what an interesting guy.' It was almost enough to get me to go up and start talking to him," she said.
Before starting the flirting workshops at Early to Bed, Steinmetz worked as a rape crisis counselor, an experience she said she found invaluable when she started selling dildos and giving how-to's on the Kama Sutra. She also works as a pay-by-the-hour matchmaker for Mr. Right Now, a rent-a-wingman service that recently started in Chicago that hopes to pair off the Windy City's eligible singles.
Some students at the workshop said, surprisingly, that they often feel like they come on too strongly and intimidate the object of their affection. "People just always get that vibe from meI guess it's because I make too many innuendo jokes," said John Gabriel, a third-year in the College who helped to organize the session.
The key to successful flirting is to distinguish friendly flirting from flirting with sexual overtones, Steinmetz explained. "Flirting is all about being sincere and making the other person feel special," she said. "Just don't be creepy."
While Stewart said she found the session illuminating, she said she had no plans to attend the future, meatier sessions. "I don't think I'm ready to go to the one on sodomy yet," she said. "I want to gradually segue."
Steinmetz said that she appreciated the fact that different people had different comfort levels when it comes to sex, but that she was ready and willing to discuss the subject with anyone. "I help 90-year-old grandmothers purchase their first vibrators," she remarked. "I'm a sex educator; it's what I do."