Why do I want to talk about this today? Well, it keeps coming up in recent convos I’ve had and articles I’ve read. Flirting is suddenly everywhere (except not actually directed at me—which is inevitable as I spend all my time locked in a solitary computer-driven daze … wait, does my dog eyeing me from his perch on the couch count???). Anyway, it’s made me wonder about it—and since we’ve had a bit of a heavy week, maybe we need to flirt with each other a bit and have fun and giggle and stuff.
First I read this article by a respected older writer about his natural male tendency to eye young beautiful girls and all the attendant guilt that comes from that. I think his final point is (my paraphrasing-interpretation here): Flirting/looking is a good thing, it feeds the cycle of human connection, we would all be worse without it, it is harmless, and it is spiritually beneficial (spiritually beneficial? um…okay…). All valid points, but I couldn’t shake the sad urge to tell him that the waning years are equally hard on both men and women: in other words, while women realize they are getting fewer and fewer of those sexy glances as they age (and possibly missing them), I’m sorry to say (admit) that being gawked at by men also usually follows the age scale: hot young man flirting/looking=exciting; old man=not so much. And this brings up an important point—there’s a HUGE difference between wanted attention and unwanted, isn’t there, even though all of this attention falls into the general sphere of “flirting”.
I can’t remember the last time I flirted. And yet I cherish the many engaging, close, and interesting relationships I have with men who are not my husband. I’ve never been a big flirt (outside my marriage). I’ve always preferred to keep my relationships in the realm of “harmless fun”. Luckily for me, I don’t remember a time when this approach created a conflict, where I couldn’t just assume we were, you know, buddies hanging out. I never had to draw an actual line. If there was ever intent there on his side, I don’t actually “know it” because I refused to see or acknowledge it. But then, I never had to deal with anything very obvious or aggressive.
Recently several of my beloveds have been the recipients of some serious flirting… and all of them have been uncomfortable with it. They described to me that moment when “harmless fun” suddenly seemed to veer into “oh, shit, he might want me” territory (this isn’t a post about mutually attracted adults … because that’s a whole other kind of flirting!). Suddenly, my beloveds felt uncomfortable and self-conscious. They wanted to know what to do. In each of these cases, they truly valued these friendships, wished they could continue unharmed, and were looking for ways to manage their sticky situation. What did I tell them? …Oh, I hope you don’t lambast me for this… I told them to keep having fun. To stay firmly on their side of innocent and honest engagement. To ignore the magnetic pull of unwanted desire. Because it’s not a black hole into which you must be sucked. Just because someone wants you doesn’t mean they get to have you. You shouldn’t have to “guard” something (your affections) that you have no intention of giving. For them to “have” you means there must be a mutual attraction. (I hope I don’t need to qualify this by acknowledging that there are some people who take this sexualized attention far too far and must be stopped cold and short, however that means.)
My advice to my beloveds was in the realm of “ignore it and it will heal”. That said, I also added that they shouldn’t fan the flame by blatantly flirting back, and if there were ever an admission of strong/real feelings, then they might need to add a good ‘ol, “This is never going to happen,” or “You’re a great person, but I don’t feel that way,” and continue as they were. And, yes, I even include flirting in professional situations—in fact, the workplace is probably the most commonly rife arena for the innocent and not-so-innocent flirt, isn’t it?
In my optimistic version of the world, I like to assume that we can continue a lovely, positive, and innocent connection with flirtatious people until a) they get the message that this is as far as it goes, b) they back off, and c) any unrequited feelings (having never been stoked) fade and eventually all is back to “normal”.
So this is where I open the door to you guys. Tell us your awful, wonderful, exciting, scary, interesting stories about flirting. Did I give my friends bad advice? Is it possible to treat unwanted flirting as something harmless? And does age figure into this discussion at all? It would be great to hear from both sexes on this one because, of course, all of these points apply to both.
Deb: This is such an interesting and tough subject to nail down. One man’s or women’s flirt may be another’s every day behavior. I can never judge it until I see it firsthand. Someone can seem benign and yet have a come hither gleam in their eyes and then someone else can seem all “out there flirt” and have no such intentions. Again it is subjective, isn’t it?
But I do know this. I am not a flirt. Or shall I say I am not a serial flirtist. I do not flirt as my social M.O. I do flirt plenty with my husband like Barb with hers, but I do not flirt with friends and acquaintances. I like to proudly wear “In A Relationship” on my demeanor. I think it’s fair play. If I were flirting it would (to me) be an indication that I was looking for something else, be it sex or be it a mate. Which I am not. So I don’t.
I will admit that I do get flirted at. And given that the flirter knows that this flirtee is taken, I find it distasteful. I am not judging your advice to your friends, Barb, because I don’t know the flirters or the flirtees or their intention and I totally agree that we should be who we are regardless. But of course I cannot SEE how your friends are acting so I can’t make a blanket statement about it. What they describe as casual conversation may indeed be sending a message. Or their attitudes may be totally innocent. I know mine is. All the time. I am very touchy with everyone, men and women, but not in a sexual way and I am a story-teller and a question asker. So I never have to change who I am because there is no way one could misinterpret my intent. However, when I get the come on vibes that don’t quit, I admit that I shut it down. Because the way I look at it, if you are coming on to a happily married person who is clearly not flirting with you, you deserve the “excuse me, I just need to use the powder room” ruse.
PS Not that it makes any difference to Deb's point, but I (Barbara) do want to add that all of the peeps I mention here are single. But still ... not interested. Now we wanted to leave you on a high note with this little opus of overt flirting--from us to you. (Thank you, Sean'a, for this bit of loveliness!)