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Nudge nudge, wink wink. (Part 1 of 2)

In which I dissect (from behind a hazmat suit) the theory and practice of flirting. With illustrative anecdotes.

It’s like a pyjama party on the internet. Pull up a bean-bag and let me tell you about my cats wide-ranging knowledge of flirtatiousness. Like any good pyjama party, I am going to range between doling out ladles of take-with-a-grain-or-teaspoon-or-heck-mound of salt advice, a goodly dose of pontification, and reminiscence at every decent interval on my experience. It should be interesting, don’t you think? Hmm?

And why am I doing this? Because a group of us have been talking about it for nearly a week now and haven’t stopped yet. Because we all have different views and I want to add my two cents. Because some people are genuinely confused. Because I know a little bit about relationships and quite a lot about people.

The great and good Mel Mylvaganam has asked me the following questions about flirting:

  • how can people flirt (and what falls into the "please don’t' do that" category)
  • when is it okay to flirt
  • at which stage in a friendship/relationship

To which I replied “I dunno”, and felt a bit uncomfortable. This is because, well, we’ve all spent the last week responding with varying degrees of heat* to a chance encounter with the SICR Guide to Flirting , a piece of genuine and highly prescriptive analysis of how to flirt with other people. A guide to interaction on the “carefully compares the risks and benefits of the ‘social smile’ in a flirting situation” level of detail. It’s not, really, advice. It’s instructions. On how to, as one friend tartly put it, “insert tab A into slot B”.

Highly specific instructions for dealing with people. This, I think, is what makes me uncomfortable. I have two problems with this. One: it’s dehumanising - instructions for successful interaction, particularly on this level, treat people like things. You manipulate your ‘target’ (actual quote)** like this, pull this lever, smile after 0.758 of a second, and out the other end of the slot machine comes result: date/sex/ego-boost. Two: it’s misleading – people are highly diverse and such specific instructions haven’t a hope in hell of covering all personalities. The guide pays lip service to the idea of diversity, at the same time as giving specific instructions for the number of times to touch a ‘target’ before moving to the ‘next level’ – as if targets are interchangeable parts at a target shop. This is, methinks, hit-and-miss at best. I can tell you that, for example, if some guy started methodically touching me twice each part in a set pattern, as suggested in the guide, I’d break his fingers. The point being, people are too unpredictable for any prescriptive guide to provide user manuals for. You’d have to have 7 billion user manuals***, each one unique. This means flirting with everyone, like any other interaction, is different. It’s individual, and it’s hit-and-miss. To write just one user manual – or to treat such a manual as a comprehensive practical guide – is irresponsible.

That’s one reason why I don’t think I can answer the great and good Mel’s questions.  The other reason is that I have a lot of trouble with the concept of flirting. (This might be why I get some people saying to me “you’re such a flirt, it’s ridiculous, ALL the guys, really?” and other times accuse people of flirting only to have it roundly denied [truthfully or not? History’s a good secret-keeper]; I obvs. don’t have a clue what the phenomenon is). I find it pretty difficult to separate out ‘flirting’ from ‘everyday affectionate interaction’ sometimes. I’m a pretty tactile person. I have a handful of male friends in my bigger handful of friends. I hug them, laugh with them, banter with them, I pay attention (inconsistently) to what they say, we hang out at my place, at his place, at the park, at the shops, everywhere. I’ve bared my soul to them and draped my guts all over them. I’ve gone to rugby games with them, listened to the cricket, and taken them to plays. They dance with me and if they don’t know how I teach them the holds. We’ve snuggled on couches. I’ve slept next to some of them.  Is this flirting?

To be continued... in a second post! read the footnotes in the meantime :)

*Someone used the ‘J’ word. I’m not going to repeat it.

**I’m here going into why girls do not like to be called ‘targets’ in regards flirting. Yes I am generalising. Yes many people agree with me. No that doesn’t mean you can ignore what I’m saying. And I’m saying ‘girls’ because in pop culture and blokey bloke NZ culture, girls come in for a lot of this crap, and also because I don’t really know what it’s like for guys. Sound off if you disagree.
There is a pervasive culture in New Zealand and other places of approaching relationships as adversarial, and girls as tokens to be acquired, notches in the bedpost, trophies to display, etc, etc. A ‘target’ is something without agency, something you use for your own purposes, be they pants-related or ego-related, and, most importantly, ‘something’. Again, a thing and not a person. It also calls to mind the spectacular display of arrogance that is the thriving Pick-up Artist movement. Which no self-respecting woman falls for, and no self-respecting man invokes. So you can shoot your cupid’s arrows all you like, but if you call a girl a ‘target’, quite likely these are the connotations she’ll have. Those are not connotations you want attached to you, my friend. Those arrows will go astray.

***A guy I know was thinking about the possibilities of modelling flirting interaction. Let me tell you right now: it can’t be done love. There are too many variables, the variables all change in unpredictable ways, the influences on the model are myriad, mysterious and random, and importantly, people don’t tend to like their emotions being made into graphs.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 15th, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC)
Some people would certainly think it was flirting.


'I can tell you that, for example, if some guy started methodically touching me twice each part in a set pattern, as suggested in the guide, I’d break his fingers.'

<3. I love you. Please accept my undying hilarity.
Jun. 17th, 2012 11:51 am (UTC)
Re: V.
Your undying hilarity is accepted.
I'd just like to add that if he explained what he was doing in a funny enough way, his fingers might survive. Might.
Jun. 26th, 2012 09:02 am (UTC)
Me too
I can tell you that, for example, if some guy started methodically touching me twice each part in a set pattern, as suggested in the guide, I’d break his fingers.

That's fantastic...
Jul. 3rd, 2012 01:26 am (UTC)
Re: Me too
I can be quite unnecessarily aggressive! :P But yeah, who wants to be flirted with by the book?!

(sorry, who are you?)

Edited at 2012-07-03 01:26 am (UTC)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )