Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Is Flirting?

Recently, I described a brief encounter I'd had to a small group of men and women. The interaction I described took place in the morning and the man with whom I interacted was maybe 20-25 years older than I am. I summarized what we both said in this little scenario that lasted about 5-10 minutes.

After my description, many of the people in the room said it sounded like I was flirting with the man, to my great surprise. I couldn't believe they would think I would be flirting with some old white-haired gentleman older than my father before breakfast. But, even after I expressed these thoughts, the group maintained that it seemed like a flirtatious encounter nevertheless. I described the situation myself, so it wasn't as if someone else was misrepresenting what happened.

The main thing that made me bawk at the flirting "accusation" was his age. There were other factors, such as the time of day, my grumpy mood at the time, our vastly different clothing, etc. But I was mostly aghast that they would think I would be coming onto such an old man. Then, a few moments later, I admitted that I actually DO flirt with someone that many (if not all) of people in the room knew (although I did not mention him by name). I made this comment to jokingly point out that I KNOW WHEN I'M FLIRTING, and I know when I'm NOT flirting. Soon after that, I realized that the intentional flirtation example I gave involved a man about 20 years younger than I am. Ironic, isn't it? So maybe age isn't such a big factor in the flirting equation after all...

Also, maybe MY perception of whether I am flirting is not the only consideration, as there's another party involved.

So what differentiates flirting from being friendly or cordial? One might argue that the intentions behind the interactions are what matter. But I admit to flirting with people with whom I don't intend to become intimate. Maybe I am just in a flirtatious mood and someone looks good to me, so I will give them a very special smile. I would count that as flirting.

Sometimes there is an attraction that cannot / should not be acted upon on moral grounds (i.e., marital status, one of the parties is drunk, not wanting to "ruin" or complicate a friendship, you work together, etc.). In this case, flirting would be a substitute for acting upon these private feelings. So the intention would be to flirt but go no further.

What about frequently complimenting your restaurant server? Is it flirting? Is it flirting when you tell someone with a new motorcycle, "That's a hot bike!" while appreciatively stroking the leather seat?

Does sexual preference matter? For instance, if a woman is very friendly with another woman, and both women are lesbians, is that automatically flirting? What if the lesbian interacts with a man in exactly the same way? She doesn't want his body; so is it flirting then? What about straight women and gay men who are close friends and often hug, kiss cheeks, and share private jokes? If both parties know that intimacy will not be occurring, is it still flirting or something else?

When I interacted with the white-haired gentleman, I knew I had absolutely no sexual intentions for him and thus it was inconceivable to me that someone would construe our interaction as flirtatious. But what did HE think? Did he perceive me as flirting?

Maybe it's flirting only if one or both parties involved feel like it's flirting. Is it flirting if neither he nor I thought it was flirting, but the small group of people who heard about the encounter concurred that it was?

What do you think?