Flirt (v): to court triflingly or act amorously without serious intentions; play at love; coquet. Flirt (v): to behave as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions.
Disclaimer: I am writing from a female perspective. This means that everything I say here is influenced by my experience as a woman in flirtatious situations. I do not claim this to be the experience of all women, or any of the claims I make about men to be fact, as they are merely the fruit of observation. I hope this is a springboard for thought and self-reflection on your relationships with the opposite gender, with the goal of making them as healthy as they can be, whether they be romantic or not.
Now let me be clear, I am not about to rant against flirting. I find this definition true, but only in certain circumstances. When wanting to show genuine romantic interest in someone, a little bit of flirtation can go a long way, and in these cases, is a really good thing. It can make your intentions clear, and calls for a response from the other person. When flirtation is not being used for the sake of such clarity, however, it creates problems.
In flirtatious friendships that are not actually moving in a romantic direction, the flirtation sends mixed signals. In the simplest of cases it can leave one person wondering what the other’s intentions are, while in the worst it leads one person to begin investing emotionally more than what is proper for the relationship. This confusion can lead to the relationship becoming a distraction. Not only do we forget to focus on other people and opportunities in life, but we also end up distracting ourselves from the person we are so confused about. When the situation takes up excessive amounts of thought, we spend less time thinking about and appreciating the person we are so concerned about our relationship with.
The other problem with flirtation in the dictionary sense is that it takes the meaning out of genuine flirtation. If we accustom ourselves to sending flirtatious signals when we don’t mean them, and frequently receive insincere flirtations we are soon unable to flirt and recognize flirtation authentically. When flirtation is frequently used as a means of having fun or seeking attention, whether consciously or sub-consciously, we atrophy our ability to show romantic interest in someone.
While we look at this, it is important to keep in mind that the intentions of the flirtation often change the way it manifests itself. Genuine interest ought to include taking interest in the other person, where they come from, what they do, why they do it, what they like, and what they don’t like, while flirtation for it’s own sake takes an interest in the flirtation itself. This makes it easier (not easy) to distinguish between the two in ourselves and help us to evaluate our intentions.
Do you like spending time with that person, even when they aren’t paying attention to you? Even more so, do you like spending time with them when they are paying attention to others? Does your laugh feel genuine when you are with them? Do you find yourself wondering more about them when they talk? When you show them attention are you more concerned about how they receive it?
Or, do you want others to notice when they make you laugh? Are you uncomfortable or frustrated when they show someone else attention? Do you ask questions to ask questions? Am I ok with being perceived to be in a relationship even when I am not? When you show them attention are you concerned about how much attention you show them in return?
Of course, there is not a standard definition of which behaviors are negatively flirtatious and which ones are positively so. Each situation must be looked at individually and evaluated. The point, however, is to be intentional in your relationships, to show genuine interest when you are interested, and not to sink into flirtatious friendship when you are not.
In modern society, there is often an idea that young adulthood is a time to enjoy “freedom” in friendship and flirtation. There is a sense that marriage is the time when you end your flirtatious friendships as you move into something more committed. The problem with this attitude is that if you can’t live intentionally non-flirtatious friendships with the opposite sex now, there is no reason to believe you will be able to do so once you are married, or once you enter any vocation for that matter.
This is not easy to live out in modern dating culture, and there aren’t clear steps (other than evaluating your relationships) to tell us how to do so. But living this way is worth it, not only for the future, but now as well. Living this way now means paying more attention to the people around us, especially those of the opposite sex, for who they are, and less for what they can give us, and in doing so, we give them the opportunity to give us more than we could ever imagine. And perhaps you will find you have a genuine interest in one of them, and desire to show them a little more unpretentious attention.