Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Too Much Flirtation?

Oho! My electronic spy tells me that I was discussed on Reddit yesterday. There was a girl with a crush on a discerner, and our long-term reader Irenaeus posted links to three of my saltier diatribes about discerners and seminarians-who-date. The girl was grateful, but another reader was gravely disturbed. "Chip on shoulder" and "bitterly" were words he (I bet it was a he) employed to describe your wonderful Auntie.

Poppets, I cannot blame him. If all you've read of my blog are my thoughts on seminarian psychodramas, you are indeed going to think I am some sort of Miss Haversham, sitting in my faded wedding dress, scheming against men as my ancient wedding cake crumbles before me. But of course I am not. I am exceedingly bitter about academia, but not about men. I like men, and some of them I love. I've been married to a very amusing example for three years. And, as I always say, men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. Life would be sooooooo boring without them, especially the attractive ones.

"How much flirtation is too much?" I demanded of my husband last night.

"That's a girl question," said B.A, hedging.

"Aw, come on."

"I don't know," said B.A. "Maybe when someone says, 'So when are you going to leave Seraphic for me?', there has been too much."

"Oh!" I said, nonplussed. I hadn't been thinking in terms of B.A.'s flirtatiousness but of mine. I ruffled through my mental filofax of B.A.'s female acquaintance for a moment and felt satisfied that there was no need for alarm. So far no woman has shot death ray glances at me or, worse, gazed at me with brimming, envious eyes because I am Mrs B.A. No. Instead women laugh merrily at his jokes and groan at his puns and ask me if he is always like that and how I can stand it, etc.

Such good-hearted griping is in the tradition of Scottish banter. Scottish banter is related to flirtation in that it usually expresses liking of a person while also provoking their attention and making them laugh. In our Sunday crowd, it is apparently good form for husbands and wives to make jokes at each other's expense. B.A. says that this is perfectly normal for Scotland. I am not so sure of this, but it seems to be normal for our crowd, which is, um, composed mostly of Single people. B.A.'s theory is that when husbands and wives insult each other at parties, they are assuring everyone around that their marriages are rock solid, etc. Meanwhile, it is not just me being picked on at dinner parties, and nobody banters with anyone they aren't clearly fond of. We beloved foreigners at the table just have to work out how to banter like Scots.

Banter is insults that aren't really insults and statements that are more amusing than true; flirtation is come-ons that aren't necessarily come-ons. Both are difficult arts, and both can go horribly wrong. The good banter artist or flirt knows when and when not to banter or flirt, with whom not to banter or flirt, and where to draw the line. The best banterers and flirts can get away with murder, by which I mean that they can say what they like, to whom they like, and everyone laughs, and nobody gets mad.

Generally I save my most over-the-top remarks for my husband and my younger female friends. Same-sex 'marriage' is legal in Ontario, so before my marriage I occasionally implored an engaged pal to leave her fiance and marry me instead. Now I occasionally tell B.A. that I am leaving him for X or Y. I just take sheer delight in saying such outrageous things, knowing that my hearers will not get mad but merely laugh or think of something equally outrageous to say in response. B.A. is particularly good at this game.

Sadly, my tolerant younger female friends are now far, far away, which leaves just B.A. and the more tolerant of my men friends. And, frankly, it is much easier to hint that my men friends are terribly, terribly attractive than to jokingly abuse them. My rule is that the men friends actually have to be attractive. Life's too short to flirt with ugly men. And too dangerous to flirt with strangers. Or married men. Or men who might take me seriously and pity B.A. for having such a ghastly wife.

Oh well, enough about me. What do you think? How much feminine flirtation is too much? Is it charming for elderly or middle-aged women to flirt with younger men, or is that creepy? Is it charming for young women to flirt with middle-aged or elderly men, or is that unfair? What sort of men must one absolutely not flirt with? Are there any expert flirts out there? Give us the benefit of your wisdom.

21 comments:

healthily sanguine said...

I think the type of flirtation has something to do with it. Verbal flirtation, or banter, can almost always be in good order. It's the EYE contact or BODY language that can be a bit dicey, and in my opinion is a no-no.

sciencegirl said...

I never really flirted with anyone I wasn't attracted to, so I have to say I'd be in the "no flirtation outside of marriage" camp. I banter sometimes, and that's more like treating guys like my brothers. I'd find it odd and disturbing to watch extramarital flirting, not cute or charming. I also dislike negative humor directed at friends and family.

The kind of humor I enjoy is the absurd -- think Eddie Izzard rather than oh, any of the nastier comedians who spend all day cracking the same crude jokes and insulting politicians.

I work with a couple of English people, and their sexually charged, often nasty and cutting humor is one of the only things that makes me occasionally dislike my job. If their humor is like Scots humor, I wouldn't try to emulate it.

Morgan said...

Agreed on verbal vs. nonverbal flirting. Verbal is nearly always ok among people of good will, in my opinion -- as long as you're fairly certain that neither party has some sort of smoldering crush that will be fanned into flames when flirtatious attention is paid. If there's doubt about whether flirtation will lead to unwanted attention or hurt feelings, then it ceases to be socially acceptable.

As far as older women/younger men and younger women/older men, I think it's just fine, but in those situations it's especially important to stay away from non-verbal flirting, which gets creepy quickly.

Within groups of single friends, flirting outrageously and bantering playfully without regard to who's actually dating whom helps keep things light between everyone. Of course it can go wrong, but it's great fun when it doesn't.

TGWWS said...

I stick to one rule: Don't flirt (at all! ever!) with single guys ... unless, of course, you're open to them becoming interested in you. Your married friends ... your engaged friends ... your in-long-term-relationships friends ... much older men ... fine. With anyone else, it's just too dangerous.

Incidentally, I don't quite get Seraphic's distinction between "flirting" and "banter". In my book banter is a subset of flirting, one particular kind of flirtation. Is that just me though?

Irenaeus G. Saintonge said...

Haha, I wondered if you might be pinged when that came up. It's not the first time I've referred someone to your blog when something like that comes up.

The OP of the thread replied a bit later and told me that she was reading your blog and was finding it really helpful. :) I consider my work to be done. You really are a tremendous resource for people with those sorts of issues.

Seraphic said...

Well, banter here is too often between men and men and between women and women to be properly called flirting. Scotsmen will rib co-nationals who are compete strangers, and expect them to be able to hold their own.

I saw a really good version of this at a gate in Toronto's Pearson Airport (Air Transat to Edinburgh), after one friendly bloke was outed as having upgraded his seats. The mirth of everyone around that he had upgraded his seats was particularly Scottish and he was given a very hard time indeed.

You can find fictional examples in George Macdonald Fraser's McAuslan stories.

Seraphic said...

Thank you, Irenaeus!

Seraphic said...

By the way, what do you girls mean by "non-verbal flirtation"? Do you mean stuff like pinching people? What about dramatic eye-rolls and swooning? No swooning?

okiegrl said...

I wouldn't flirt with someone you don't know well, as that can lead to awkward situations if the other person doesn't realize it's all a joke. In conservative Catholic circles like Seraphic's, extramarital flirting (banter) seems to be taken as a grand joke, no harm done. That is not the case in more secular circles, where affairs are quite common. Long story short, knowing your audience is key!

As an aside, I don't think banter is the same as flirting. Flirting can take the form of banter sometimes, but guys also banter with each other (not flirting.)

I'd totally flirt with older men, and my BF occasionally flirts with older women, all in good fun. Caveat- older means our parent's age! The older lady receptionist even gave my bf a picture when she retired. ;-) Again, it goes back to knowing your audience. The receptionist just thought it was nice to have a guy pay attention to her. I don't think many women get over liking male attention! :-)

Seraphic said...

I don't either. Major karmic brownie points for young men who bother to flirt with old ladies.

TGWWS said...

OK, a follow up question, then. If one is young and unattached, and "bantering" with another young and unattached person of the opposite sex, is that (or how is that) distinguishable from (a form of) flirtation?

Jam said...

In my family (broadly speaking) I think your "banter" is referred to as "teasing". There are "teasers" and "teasing families" and sensitive and/or straight-laced people have to be careful not to take it to heart. When I was a sensitive and/or straight-laced child my mom would warn me ahead of time or else comfort me afterwards by observing, eg, "those Larsons were always such a teasing family!"

Which reminds me, entirely tangentially, of another piece of family vocabulary: "that girl's a worker" - always a term of strong approval. I'm not a teaser or a worker, alas. Anyway.

I suppose "too much" flirting is the point at which it makes your close friends and/or significant other unhappy, although of course you have to consider whether people are being unreasonable. At bottom I think flirting/bantering/teasing inherently lends itself to misunderstanding at some point over time, and you just have to deal with it when it happens as best you can. Such little personal dramas are what life is made of.

berenike said...

Life's too short to flirt with ugly men.

Too short to flirt with shy, ugly, fat, spotty, badly-dressed women, I suppose.

Seraphic said...

I very rarely flirt with women at all, really. But if men want to flirt with shy, ugly, short, fat, badly-dressed women, they can go right ahead. Me, I think there is a difference between men flirting with women, and women flirting with men. Different issues, different concerns...

Seraphic said...

Nastiness about Auntie Seraphic, Uncle B.A. and their friends will be erased and the commentator banned for life.

Anonymous said...

I flirt with strangers who give off vibes of being receptive.

Ex: In organic produce store, I was looking longingly at a man's flat of pricey mandarin oranges. We made eye contact and he asked if I wanted one. The look on my face spoke for itself and he tossed me a few. I thanked him profusely and asked if, now that we had a relationship, could I have his truck too? He laughed, I laughed, the onlookers glared and we both left smiling and feeling attractive. Guess you had to be there.

But - public place, outrageous request (if he had actually offered me his truck I would have run and we both somehow knew it). I don't know if that is flirting or banter but I enjoy it with men both younger and older if they look quick witted and confident. And if it leads anywhere, then just say you will b

Sadly for my character, I agree that life is too short to flirt with ugly men. But it's also too short NOT to flirt with the others.

Isabella of the North

crushinonthecalled said...

Hello, it's the girl whom Irenaeus linked here. I know that this is your target demographic is mostly 20 and above, but what advice do you have to give to the hapless highschoolers hit by silly crushes?

Having gone to an Opus-Dei, all-girls school, youth groups at church are some of the only places I can meet boys (not that that's why I go!); they're very nice, really, but how should one treat them? Since we're all friends on facebook, a bunch of them message me often, and I reply. That's alright, right?

Also! What do you say about friends who end up becoming romantically entangled? Would you prefer that, or being courted from the get-go? (Heavens, I have a lot of questions. Sorry.)

Seraphic said...

High school is about learning as much as possible about math, science, languages, arts, history, theology and the world outside your comfy bubble without losing the protections of home.

High school is about learning to be a good authentic friend to other girls and to boys and about training yourself to keep your passions as the servants, not the masters, of your intellect and will.

Adolescence is the first time people really experience the "glamour of evil" and one of the most glamorous of evils is pursuing romantic relationships with boys for the thrills, not because it is time to get married.

High school is not the time to get married. Therefore, I recommend that high schoolers think of each other only as FRIENDS and potential friends, not as potential "boyfriends/girlfriends" or spouses.

The way to act is modestly--that is, remembering that teenage boys are very easily provoked to irrational sexual desires but not taking advantage of this, and not provoking irrational sexual desires in yourself through provocative clothing, postures and conversation.

It is absolutely fine to respond to male friends on Facebook, as long as the conversations are fun and free from sexual innuendo. Keep it light and don't tell all the secrets of your life and all your personal thoughts to male friends. That's information best kept private or shared only with female friends.

Seraphic said...

P.S. There is absolutely no argument for teenagers being romantically entangled. Teenagers do become romantically entangled, of course, and this is (or was) fine in cultures where you have (or had) all the tools you need (or needed) for married adult life by age 16.

But it is a great pity in cultures where to thrive and maintain happy marriages you need the sophistication that comes only with age and discipline.

Romance and courtship are for adults.

Seraphic said...

P.S. I wasted a lot of time and opportunities in high school dreaming about boys I had crushes on, so if all this sounds harsh, it is the harshness of personal regret.

Sarah said...

Married people flirting: It makes me think of my dad. He is the BIGGEST flirt. He flirts with receptionists and waitresses and my mom's friends, and especially old women. By my mom and the object of my dad's flirting, it's met with eyerolling and giggling. For my siblings and I, often with embarrassed groans.

He's a master at it, though. I don't think I've ever seen a woman look creeped out by his flirting. He's also great at banter.

But my mother has a flirtatious side, also, often with men young enough to be her sons, and she too would tease my dad that she would leave him to marry X or Y for some boy that was more of my generation.

But my parents are very much in love with each other, and I think this flirting with other people is actually their way of flirting with each other.