love these days

The Best Way to Flirt in Isolation

Illustration: By Stevie Remsberg

Recently, I watched my roommate hold the bottom of her phone to her mouth and half-whisper something into it, grinning from ear to ear. She was sending an audio message to her crush — a woman she started seeing right before the pandemic separated them. It’s their new thing, she said, and it’s way more fun than texting.

With many of us separated from our friends, co-workers, crushes, and loved ones right now, text messages, video chats, and phone calls have become our primary modes of communication. In March, hanging out virtually felt kind of novel. But three months later, it has mostly lost its charm. Texts, now a constant stream of our most innocuous thoughts, don’t feel as sexy anymore — even if they’re explicitly sexy. We’ve run out of clever, gossipy things to say over the phone, and Zooming feels like a chore.

What if there was a way to talk to someone, though, that felt special and spontaneous? That combined all the best qualities of a text message, phone call, and video chat and eliminated the worst? Audio messages — those brief recordings you can make on your phone and text to other people — aren’t new. In the Before Time, sending one was often an embarrassing accident, and receiving one shocking at best, cursed at worst, like one of those Howler messages in Harry Potter. A particularly aggressive audio message from a real estate agent once swayed me against looking at an apartment. But now I think the real shock is that I hadn’t figured out how to properly use them sooner. I’d welcome any audio message in isolation. They sound thrillingly intimate, specifically when the person on the other side is a crush.

“Something about audio messages just inherently makes it feel like you’re telling a secret,” said my roommate, who has asked to be quoted as Flirt Master. Because of their intimate nature, she’s only been sending them to her crush (not me, ahem), but the subject matter varies. Her crush poses a provocative “Question of the Day,” for example, such as: Forks for fingers or spoons for toes? And she sends her answer back. Coming from a love interest, even the most mundane (and weird) audio messages can sound flirty and maybe lead to a more X-rated exchange.

Why not just pick up the phone, you ask? “What makes audio messages different from a call is that they don’t require any small-talk niceties,” Flirt Master explained. You can really think about your answers. “And they’re better than a text message because you hear the person’s voice,” she added.

Like video chats, audio messages are also performative, causing your heart rate to go up when you send one, but not so much that it feels like work. They’re less of an affront than an unsolicited FaceTime, and more focused; you’re not spending the whole time looking at your own stupid face. Plus, no one can take an incriminating screen shot. (iPhone audio messages disappear two minutes after you play them.)

The only audio message I’ve ever sent was a clip of me doing a bad Charli XCX impression, but I decided to give it a go this week. I was nervous. I did a few takes, maybe leaning a little too hard on the “flirty” voice. “I’m writing about sending flirty audio messages,” I said to a guy I was also seeing before the pandemic separated us. Gotta start somewhere, right? Understandably, he was caught off guard, but also curious.

Clearly, I’m not as natural as Flirt Master, so I called up another expert, Eileen Kelly, a millennial sex educator and host of the podcast Pillow Talk for advice. Below, her helpful tips on how to take an audio message from flirty to sexy in isolation — and not alienate your crush.

How to Send a Sexy Audio Message

1. Get comfortable. Find a private space. “You don’t want to be sending a sexy audio message with a car honking by in the background,” says Kelly. “That’s going to take away from the vibe.”

2. Start slow. Think of it as foreplay. Phrases like “I wish we were together right now” or “I wish I could kiss you” are good ways to start, she explains. “And then maybe more detailed, X-rated stuff can come later on.”

3. Be descriptive.“It’s like writing a story or painting a picture for your partner,” says Kelly. “It’s all about the details, like I wish your lips were on mine. Or, I wish your hand was going down my back. It’s the small things that make it sexy. You want to send them something that they can close their eyes and visualize.” She recommends reading to see how the pros do it.

4. But keep it short. “It’s not a whole erotic story,” says Kelly. “You want to induce a back-and-forth” and build up some sexual tension and energy.

5. Speak naturally. “That can be a major turn-off,” says Kelly. “I’ve heard from partners and guys that I’m friends with that someone who watches a lot of porn might all of a sudden become an actor in the bedroom, in a way that feels unnatural, like they’re putting on a show.”

6. Don’t overdo it. The point of an audio message is that it feels special. If you find yourself sending them back and forth constantly, or rambling on, you might as well just pick up the phone.

The Best Way to Flirt in Isolation