Continuing on with this group-blogging thing, people are writing about flirting. This is an interesting topic, and not one I know a whole lot about. The discussion started with reading this article, which some of us found helpful and interesting (at least in parts), and some had a strong negative reaction to.
A related topic which I think is also interesting to discuss is the issue of why people date (or court, or whatever you want to call it. Pursue relationships with the opposite sex of a romantic nature. Or with the same sex for that matter I guess.) What are people’s intentions in pursuing such relationships? What do they expect of the other party? How do they convey those intentions, and how are they interpreted and understood (or often, misinterpreted and misunderstood)? What happens when the intentions and expectations do not match? Do the intentions and expectations of one party bias how they interpret the actions of the other?
Coincidentally I have ended up having some interesting conversations about some of these issues with a number of intelligent, thoughtful and insightful friends lately, which have been enlightening and thought-provoking. For a start, I have been reminded how different different people’s intentions can be. I guess everyone has a complex mix of motivations and intentions, and these can change as they grow older and mature. Even over the course of a particular relationship these change, which introduces further complications.
One motivation, obviously, is sex. Stereotypically this tends to be a stronger motivation for guys than for girls, and I expect that this has some bearing on reality — though no doubt the stereotype is also biased by social expectations, where sexual desire is associated with promiscuity, and promiscuity is more socially acceptable among males than among females. (As a side note, I do not think that it is wise for either. But that is not the main point here.) One friend related her frustrations at a number of guys she dated, while being interesting and good guys, being significantly motivated by sex, while she just was not after that, and had quite different things she wanted to get out of a relationship.
Some people are looking for a life partner. They see dating primarily as a stage along the way to marriage. Quite a few of my friends are Christians (as am I), and many of them (though not all) fall into this category. Plenty of other people do as well, of course. Some would go so far as to say that you should never date someone unless you intend to seriously consider marrying them, and furthermore that a high degree of emotional and physical distance should be maintained, that degree of intimacy and attachement being reserved solely for marriage. Another friend recently posted this article from an American conservative Christian website for young people espousing such a view. Well, perhaps I exaggerate a little. A number of my friends hold to this sort of view. I am not sure how wise or practical it is, and I do not think the majority would hold to that extreme.
Some people see dating, or romantic relationships in general, as an opportunity to experiment, learn more about people, and have fun, without ever intending for it to be a long-term thing. They are happy to date someone for a time while knowing and intending from the start that it will not last, and to break it off when the time comes. I was reminded of this by a couple of different friends recently, and while I struggle to understand their position it does not seem uncommon in the wider world either.
Some people want fun and excitement. They are after new experiences, surprises, someone to laugh with, to inspire them, to show them things they had not thought of before.
Some people want someone to care for them, somebody they can talk to about anything and everything. To check up on them, support them when times are tough, and just be there for each other.
Most people, of course, are after all of these things, and many others, in some complex and changing mix. They are by no means exclusive categories, or even all the same sort of category, but rather some of the many different motivations and intentions that people may have. Perhaps you can think of more to add to the list, so by all means post them below.
Problems, misunderstandings and hurt often happens when people go into a relationship with different intentions and expectations. Properly communicating and interpreting them is a difficult problem.
Well, I have just written quite a lot about a topic I have very little experience in! To continue with that, but perhaps add in a little bit of personal experience, we come back to the actual topic of flirting.
Flirting seems to mean many different things to different people, so we have a problem not just of actual actions but of terminology. Some other people blogging about it in this group have described it as being “pleasant and interested”, some as “appearing interested, appearing interesting, being aware of the other’s [dis]interest”. Some think of it as more of a sort of teasing interaction, hinting at interest but then backing away coyly waiting for a reaction, alternating between pursuing and being pursued. Perhaps this is more the feminine side of it, I daresay it tends not to work symmetrically between both sides. Coquettish is another word that comes to mind for this idea of it. The guide which started this whole discussion distinguishes between “flirting for fun” and “flirting with intent”, which I think is a useful distinction to make.
Frith makes the good point that it is often hard to separate “flirting” from “everyday affectionate interaction”, and I quite agree. Another friend to whom I was talking recently described similar issues, where what she considered just ordinary physical affection between friends was sometimes mistaken as an indication of a romantic interest or attraction that was not there. Such misunderstandings are by no means terrible things, but can still be less than ideal. Said friend does tend to be a fairly physical sort of a person (which is a great thing, she gives excellent hugs), but sometimes this can be misinterpreted. Things like dancing, especially styles with close connection like blues, can further blur the lines here. This same friend described it as (sometimes) being “5 minutes of true love then you each go your separate ways”, which I thought it an interesting description (though I probably misquoted it a little). Not to be confused with 2 minutes in heaven. Flight of the Conchords may not be the best source of relationship advice. Though actually, they are probably not much worse than many other sources… but I digress.
A question for the reader here: do you think men or women are in general better at distinguishing friendly physical affection from flirting? Is there a difference?
So perhaps the bigger question is: how does one know whether somebody else is flirting with them? Or more generally, is ‘interested’ in them? Perhaps flirting is being more friendly towards one person in particular than towards other people in general. But in the case of people one does not know very well, how can one find that baseline to compare to? Careful observation seems necessary here. I have been learning lately that I am not as good an observer of people as I used to think I was. Some people are excellent at it though! It certainly seems like a very useful skill to have. And how can one avoid being misinterpreted, if that is an issue?
Oh, I had a random thought in the middle of the night last night: perhaps the imperfect communication is a little like playing 500, where an important part of the game is to find ways to communicate to your partner what you have in your hand and how you intend to play without actually saying anything? You need to work together to give hints to each other, interpret them correctly, and then use that information to win tricks and score more points than the other team… okay, perhaps this analogy does not go quite so far. (Hey, anyone up for a game of 500?)
At this point I would insert a list of examples and ask for you readers’ opinions on which ones were and were not flirting, but I think that might not be wise in a public forum such as this, so will leave that out from here.
To ramble a little more, I wonder also whether we could talk about such a think as ‘anti-flirting’: things people do to indicate to someone else that they are not interested in them in a romantic way, or things which they may inadvertently do which may be interpreted as such. This could include, for example, being careful to keep plenty of physical distance, telling someone that they smell bad, are badly dressed, are not very good looking, or other such things. What examples do you have, of such anti-flirting signals that you have either given or received?
Well that post grew and changed rather a lot from what it was originally going to be. (It is also not very well organised or edited, sorry.) This was partly due to a number of interesting discussion with a few friends recently, which got me thinking more along some new lines. Thanks, people! And let’s continue this discussion, here and elsewhere. It is both interesting in general, and relevant to my interests.
I guess I should finish with a list of other people’s posts on the topic:
I also had another post related to this topic that I started writing back on 10th June, but I will leave that for another post I think, as I had more ideas last night to add to it. In the meantime, comment away!