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There’s a reason why men who smoke are usually better at flirting than men who don’t. Whether or not we admit it, smoking is one of the sexiest things you can do with your hands.

“Do you smoke?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“Oh. Okay. I was wondering if you needed to step out and have a smoke.”

“Nah, I’m good. Why, do you need to smoke?”

“No, I don’t smoke.”

“Oh, okay. Well, why’d you ask then?” Nervous laughter.

“Well, I was wondering if you needed to step out and have a smoke.”

“No, I don’t smoke.”

And we stayed inside, surrounded by people for the rest of the night. There was a point there that was missed that probably had nothing to do with smoking, probably. There’s a part of smoking that blends in so seamlessly with the rest of the game, and it has very little to do with smoking. It’s not just the part where someone asks you for a light and you both lean in. An ex once told me that “It’s the shape your mouth makes when your eyes narrow and you take a drag, followed the part where you turn your wrist. You actually release pheromones when you do this”

I’d be the first to call bullshit on the pheromones. Anyone who’s easily turned off by smoking would notice the smell of burning tobacco before picking up any pheromones. It’s that other part, the part where you turn your wrist to show your hand.  Smoking is usually the closest you’ll bring your hand to your face, unaccompanied by the awkwardness of putting something in your mouth. It’s not like eating, which takes place on a more intimate level that’s closer to brushing your teeth in front of someone than to simply flirting with them. Smoke acknowledges that there’s space to be occupied and a shroud to be lifted.

“If a good-looking human being sits next to you, you take the time to confirm this by looking them up and down between songs. If it’s true, you ask them if they’ve heard of this band. If you can make a successful conversation out of this, then you’re stuck figuring out what to do next.” Someone more familiar will go for your shoulder, someone more suave might touch the small of your back, and no intimacy is lost in the few fleeting seconds you spend there, but it takes a certain amount of skill and timing to take a girl’s hand without assuming too much or having it followed by the awkwardness of “I guess I should let go now.”

You’ve already made eye contact so don’t let that go; the trickier part is to draw someone’s attention from your face to your mouth to your hands, and that is the accidental convenience that smoking affords us. You look at each other, offer a cigarette, and replacing the pack in your pocket your hands are now free to take hers. You only let go when you need to take another drag.

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