Why is 'micro-flirting' trending, and is it really just for shy people? Relationship experts weigh in.

Thumbnail credit: @ask_kimberly via TikTok, @functionspace via TikTok, @venibun via Twitter

A new and more subtle form of flirting is gaining popularity among social media users. So-called micro-flirting has become an increasingly discussed topic on platforms like TikTok and X, as more creators and self-described dating experts are weighing in on the concept and whether it’s primarily used by shy people.

According to data obtained by Google Trends via PositivesDating.com, an online team of relationship experts, worldwide searches for micro-flirting have increased since the beginning of 2024. The “not-so-obvious” flirting tactic, characterized by arguably ambiguous cues, is forecasted to rise in popularity through the year based on volume search data.

On Jan. 10, Kimberly Moffit, a self-described relationship and dating expert who is widely known by her TikTok handle @ask_kimberly, posted a video outlining three signs that the guy you’re into is likely micro-flirting with you.

“Micro-flirting is the number one method a guy is going to use to flirt if he’s shy,” Moffit says, before adding that micro-flirters typically “test the waters first to see how you’ll react,” single you out in a crowd and talk in a way that seems as if they’ve been practicing what to say.

Other TikTokers describe different forms of micro-flirting, including certain emoji-based reactions on social media posts.

Casting a wide net with low-effort engagement

Sabrina Zohar (@sabrina.zohar), a dating coach in San Diego and host of the podcast Do the Work, spoke to Yahoo News about the micro-flirting trend. While some creators have emphasized how it’s a way of flirting for shy people, Zohar argues that it may have more to do with insecurity than anything else.

“Micro-flirting to me just sounds like someone who’s insecure and is afraid of rejection/putting themselves out there so they give a little to see if the person reciprocates,” Zohar said.

According to a 2021 report from eHarmony and Relate, a company that offers relationship counseling services worldwide, 60% of men have reported feeling insecure when it comes to dating, citing rejection, followed by their age and appearance as contributing factors.

It’s important to also note, Zohar added, that “making dirty jokes” doesn’t always equate to the purest of intentions. The so-called tactics attributed to shy people, she continued, coincide with behaviors shown by “unscrupulous” individuals.

“Could they be used by shy people? Absolutely! But one creator specifically uses ‘sexual jokes’ as an example and, yes, someone more shy may not be overtly hitting on you, but just because it’s ‘subtle’ or ‘micro’ doesn’t necessarily mean this person has intentions that are [different] than someone who is overtly sexual about things,” she said. “Conversely, it’s imperative to recognize these tactics are often used by unscrupulous individuals [to] cast a wide net with these low-effort engagements en masse to many women to see what bites, the difference between intentionality and someone playing solely a numbers game.”

‘The art of approaching people…is avoided at all cost’

Rather than show interest in an overt way, micro-flirters give cues that can be difficult to detect or decipher, according to nss G-Club, an online magazine. This, Zohar believes, is less effective than just being yourself.

“We’ve lost the art of approaching people, meeting in the wild, and rejection is avoided at all costs by so many,” Zohar continued. “A lot of people are terrified [that] if they put themselves out there it’ll be a disaster, so they micro-flirt to test the waters.”

She added, “I would suggest anyone who’s incredibly shy to flirt in whatever ways work for them, but I wouldn’t recommend all folks adopt micro-flirting. Instead, I would suggest working on self-confidence and flirting authentically by being yourself!”