Awhile back when I was moving through passport control at Stansted, the immigration officer asked me what I wrote about. It took me half a second to remember that now I note ‘Writer’ as my profession rather than ‘Medical’ on the immigration form. It took me another half a second to decide how I was going to tell him I wrote about sex and love.
“Uh…I write about love and relationships for an online magazine.”
“Can you give me some advice?” he asked, as I pressed my thumb against the fingerprint reader.
“Be who you need to be.” I found myself oddly emphatic and leaned toward this man and locked eyes with him. He was handsome in a bald Englishman kind of way. He looked down to stamp my passport.
“But what about the needs of the other person and the kids?” He locked eyes right back and I felt a little flush to my face.
“Yes, well, then there is the negotiation. We might need to go out for a beer to discuss this further.”
The officer chuckled, handed me my passport and I bid him goodbye, wondering if I had crossed a line by flirting with a man who could decide whether or not I could re-enter the country. That got me to thinking more about flirting as social interaction and the risks and benefits that entails.
I once dated a man who really knew how to flirt. He’d lean in to speak, took genuine interest in what was being discussed, would give compliments easily without being obsequious, and knew just when to graze a knee or brush an elbow. And this is only what I observed from across the room.
Watching my lover flirt with someone else didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. We had a good thing going and were unafraid to talk about our attraction to other people. What was particularly lovely was seeing the reaction from the women with whom he flirted. It made them light up as well, and that actually made me happy. Who doesn’t enjoy the non-threatening interest of another person, especially if that person is attractive? But what we all could learn to do better, is give and receive erotic attention without believing that it must lead to anything more than mutual verbal pleasure for a short moment in time. I also don’t believe that flirting means our partners think less of us, though it’s a good idea to understand that from each other before you set out.
Erotic power resides in us all, but learning how to use that power takes practice, especially when the intent is not to go home with this person. Flirting needn’t be a genuine or duplicitous appeal to have sex with someone. It can simply be participating in a conversation with erotic undertones. The online journal The Book of Life has written a wonderful article called ‘Why Flirting Matters’ which explores all the ways flirting can be a life skill that contributes to becoming a better person all around.
“Good flirting is in essence an attempt, driven by kindness and imaginative excitement, to inspire another person to believe more firmly in their own likability, psychological as much as physical.”
A good flirt will be able to establish boundaries without needing to cease their imaginative rapport. For instance, a good flirt can make reference to his girlfriend, even point her out across the room, while continuing to engage in a conversation with someone he thinks is hot. When we flirt, there’s a sensual energy present, one that reminds us of our own likeability. It bridges divides that make sex inappropriate, such as workplace hierarchy, a large age gap, or an encounter with an authority figure. It is powerful for both people; the flirter for practicing charm and making a connection and the flirtee for feeling desired – which can squash, if only temporarily, the trash talking gremlins that reside in our brains and tell us too often that we’re not desirable, good looking or interesting.
However, traditionally we’ve been admonished not to flirt with other people if we have a partner, as this is could be construed as a form of infidelity. Only a conversation with your mate will help you decide where your boundaries lie and whether flirting crosses a line. But how about we view flirting in a positive light, one that illuminates the qualities that we admire in each other and can remind us of our appeal without that being a judgement on how deeply we’re in love with our partners?
Of course there’s bad flirting: Brushing up against someone provocatively in the office break room; writing too many suggestive emails online before you’ve met someone; grabbing a woman’s pussy if you’re Donald Trump. (Please, my dears, don’t get flirting confused with sexual assault). There’s also flirting with the real intent to have sex and becoming aggressive or angry if that overture is rebuffed.
But the kind of flirting I’m curious to cultivate is within the day to day interactions we have with other people, even if we’re not attracted to them. You could say this is basic friendliness. But when you do it with a person who may be sexually attracted to you, your friendliness packs more power. I flirt all the time at the grocery store checkout, turning on my American twang that I learned in North Carolina. It makes English men swoon and turns an otherwise dull activity into a zingy exchange. I’m always looking for a little zing to my day, one that won’t get me into trouble if school pickup is in fifteen minutes.
So try thinking about flirting as an affirmation of erotic energy rather as an invitation for sex. Develop wisely the way you interact with new acquaintances. The next time you walk into a party with your lovely spouse, give them a kiss, tell them you love them, then both go unleash your erotic power and positive regard towards your party mates. Chances are, after an evening of being good flirts, all that imaginative excitement is going to turn into some very good sex.
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