Once it's finally safe to take the masks off, not only will people breathe easier, their social world will also expand. After months of sheltering from coronavirus, people may have forgotten the meaning of some of the signals that others put out at parties, bars and everywhere else where people used to get together. Some recently published research may help: one team claims to have uncovered some of the secrets of flirting and shares them with us.

Much, if not most, flirting is done by nonverbal cues. Mistaking them can have far-reaching consequences, from the pain of rejection all the way to a ruined career. If people understood flirting cues better, a lot of misery could be avoided.

Some women in the study were more effective at conveying a flirtatious cue and some men were better at picking it up, just like in real life.

“Across our six studies, we found most men were able to recognize a certain female facial expression as representing flirting,” said the study’s co-author, Omri Gillath, a professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. “It has a unique morphology, and it's different from expressions that have similar features — for example, smiling — but aren't identified by men as flirting expression.”

Some women in the studies were volunteers, while others were professional actresses. At times they were given specific instructions on how to pose for the men and at others they were asked to ad-lib, drawing from their own life experiences, such as when they sought to get attention from a man in a bar. Some of the women were more effective at conveying a flirtatious cue and some men were better at picking it up, just like in real life.

There was one expression that nearly all men agreed meant flirting. It's a four-part look, with the woman’s head tilted slightly to the side, chin down but eyes up, gazing at the intended target and, of course, there's a slight smile.

A smile alone is not enough, however. People often smile just to be polite.

As with any nonverbal cue, opportunities for misunderstanding abound. Men who think they are god's gift to women, or just hope to score, can interpret almost any look as flirting. Women may jump to similar conclusions. People starved for affection also may manufacture cues where none exist.

People who have had very little romantic experience don't always know what to look for or how to read the signs. This study should help them judge another person's intent a little better. It may also help save them a good deal of grief.

It could even add a little romance to their lives.

The studies appear in the Journal of Sex Research.