Do you enjoy flirting? Good; I thought you might. But have you actually done much flirting lately? I didn’t think so.
It used to be that flirtation was common, almost obligatory, whenever men and women got together. At one time, everyone wanted to emulate the suave, lighthearted repartee and easy laughter of the movie stars of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Although I came of age when a new, more “primal” type of actor was emerging---Brando, McQueen, Eastwood, Bronson---I always liked to picture myself as a tuxedo-clad Cary Grant, engaging the beautiful-but-feisty Katharine Hepburn in elevated conversation at a fancy dinner party.
But younger generations of moviegoers haven’t had many Grants and Hepburns to imitate; in movies and in life, this isn’t the golden age of sophistication. On top of that, several decades of sexual harassment laws and office-conduct codes have created the widespread---if erroneous---impression that anything bordering on flirtation is offensive, actionable and, cause for dismissal.
There even seems to be a basic confusion in some quarters about what flirtation is. A website catering to twenty-something men recently offered some “flirtation tips” to its readers. Every one of them was nothing more than a lame pick-up line (“Are we near an airport, or is that my heart taking off?”). Cary Grant must be rolling over in his grave.
But if flirtation is not the same as a pick-up line, and, if done properly, shouldn’t be something that’s offensive, what exactly is it? The classic definition is that flirtation is “attention without intention”. That’s a clever line, and there’s some truth to it, if by “intention” we mean the intention of having a romantic or sexual relationship with the person we’re flirting with. But I tend to believe that there is always some intention involved in every human interaction, especially those involving the opposite sex. I think that intention is, in most cases, to test and validate our attractiveness.
We all like to feel we’re attractive. We all like to feel that---regardless of our age, weight, or marital status---we still have that certain something that appeals to the opposite sex. This is nothing to be ashamed of; on the contrary, it’s proof that we’re still alive. And flirting is something that allows us to feel alive in that way, without complicating our life or threatening our marriage (unless, of course, we’re welcoming complications or looking for trouble).
The essence of flirtation is charm, and charm does not necessarily require advanced conversational skills. It does, however, require the ability to “read” the other person accurately. If one person is clearly not in the mood to flirt or be flirted with, an attempt at flirtation is not only a waste of time, it can backfire badly. (Flirtation can be offensive, and in workplace situations unlawful, if it’s excessive, overly persistent, or blatantly sexual. And I should point out that, if a woman initiates the flirting, a man will usually interpret any sexual innuendo as a come-on).
But if you pay close attention to the other person’s facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, you should have an educated guess as to whether the other person is comfortable with flirtation. Even if he or she is initially, you’ll have to keep paying attention to make sure you’re not going too far. But if there seems to be a tacit agreement to flirt, go for it, and enjoy the moment. But don’t try to keep it going artificially; flirtation, like so many other pleasures of life, is evanescent. It shouldn’t be forced. But the beauty of it is that it can almost immediately be exercised again with a different partner, without guilt on anyone’s part.
There is also, for unmarried people, a long-term benefit from flirting. A common complaint among mid-life singles is that dating is anything but fun. Everyone seems so determined to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past that first dates are often the equivalent of legal depositions, with long lists of probing questions demanding to be answered. Someone skilled in the art of flirtation should have an advantage in the dating world. He or she ought to be able to keep things light, keep the conversation flowing, and simply enjoy the person’s company without imposing unwanted pressure (and perhaps deflect those probing questions without seeming evasive).
And, for married people, an occasional flirtation with someone other than one’s spouse can actually improve marital communications. Too many married couples communicate in grunts and monosyllables, or limit their topics of discussion to bills, chores, and other necessary-but-dreary matters. Wouldn’t it be refreshing for a married couple to actually flirt with each other once in a while?
It might be best, though, for married people to sharpen their flirting skills on occasions when their spouse is not present. What you think of as perfectly innocent may not seem so to your spouse looking on from across the room. And you certainly don’t want to flirt so shamelessly that your spouse is embarrassed. But, then again, maybe it’s not the worst thing for him to be reminded---in a subtle way, at least---that you are still attractive. He just might start flirting with you, if only to keep the competition away!
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Divorce lawyer and mediator, relationship coach and counselor, former dating service owner, Jim Duzak has been called the “Attorney at Love.” He is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University and Boston College Law School, and lives in southeastern Arizona with his wife, Sandra. For more information go to http://www.attorneyatlove.com/ or visit Jim's Blog - www.attorneyatlove.blogspot.com/