Confessions of an Incurable Flirt

Well, with that bit of link-bait out of the way in the title, let me elaborate on a subject that will probably prove divisive – but hey, this is my opinion, and you can submit your own in the comments section, or indeed with a blog post as a direct response. I’m game.

I can’t help but flirt, on and offline. It’s par for the course with my company, and certainly isn’t gender specific. As any of my female Twitter friends would testify (Jess, I’m looking at you), I will use a level of sociable flirtation that helps to strengthen the bond created across what is sometimes an insurmountable distance. This is the beauty and curse of social media – some of my deepest emotions are felt for those who are furthest away, in terms of physical distance and lifestyle. We circulate in this odd sphere of tweets, memes and pictures of kittens, often going for days at a time without speaking to one another, but always able to pick up the conversation again. Though time is as fluid as that continuous stream of information, our friendships remain solid in the words we give to one another.

And believe me, there is no greater pleasure than when a random conversation turns into the sort of back-and-forth you would expect to see and hear at a pub table tussled over with empty glasses. Elbows propped up and sticky with spilt beer. It is harmless as it is humorous when we throw these innuendo-laden lines at each other, before moving on. How apt then, that “flirt” has possible etymological roots in Old French: “fleureter ‘talk sweet nonsense,’ also ‘to touch a thing in passing’… metaphoric of bees skimming from flower to flower”. I can’t think of a more relevant image, except perhaps for a butterfly in my case, all-meandering.

Only last week, I was pulled aside by a lass who works in my local gym. She had observed me pratting around with the janitor, who I have known for some time now and who shares my enjoyment of pricking the dainty upper-class egos we are often surrounded by in the middle of the afternoon – my favourite time to work out, coinciding with many office lunch-breaks. I’ve been on the receiving end of a few snooty comments before, where my very presence in the gym was seen as a scandalous enigma (a woman in the weights area, how dare she!), and the janitor is complicit in my efforts to sabotage their opinions. This usually entails the sort of flirting that had caused the girl to raise her brows and pull me aside.

“You do know he’s married, don’t you?”
“Well, yes. I talk to him more than you do.”

OK, I wasn’t quite as rude in my response, but the sentiment was there to be read on my face as I stared at her. She shrugged, lowering her voice as though we were in some 17th century ballroom.
“Maybe you should tone it down. I mean, what if his wife finds out?”

I did speak up then, to inform her that as I don’t know his wife well enough to comment on her opinion where flirting and friendships are concerned, it would be impossible to say with any sincerity whether she would be offended by my messing about with words. It sounds like something that could be misconstrued as scandalous, but as ever, context is key. I know full well how much this man idolizes his wife, and he knows that after coming out of a long-term relationship and surmounting several other mishaps, I’m not in the mood for anything more scandalous or time-consuming than a bag of white Maltesers. I’d also like to think that if she has any sort of security in her marriage, and an adequate sense of humour, she wouldn’t mind.

The most pertinent fact in this is that when actually attracted to someone, I won’t make it so blatantly obvious. Rather, I become the female equivalent of a shy schoolboy who gets a crick in his neck from staring across the classroom at his crush, only to go eyes-front at the moment she happens to glance over. I will make every conceivable effort not to let someone know that I like them, for fear of rejection. A personal insecurity.

Body language is an essential part of our communication skills. We use paralinguistic features to elaborate on a point or to convey a typical mood, and since the message of genuine attraction is made up of 55% body language, 38% tone and speed of the voice and only 7% of what we say, it’s worth paying attention to when deciding if someone’s flirtation has any significance.

How we choose to read these signs is a subjective matter, and anyone can interpret a message based upon their feelings towards the speaker and the context of surroundings and circumstance. When out with a friend one night, giving him a sympathetic ear after a messy divorce, all the customary flirtation of our platonic relationship was toned right down. Indeed, it would have felt grossly out of place and tactless. Listening to another’s problems – particularly when these involve the breakdown of what was once a pivotal factor in someone’s life – is certainly not an ideal situation for flippant-flirtatious humour, unless OK’d by the other party first.

Normally so open and tactile, my friend was instead folded over like a piece of sad origami, all hugged elbows and lowered chin. His smile came as a tight bow; it didn’t reach his eyes. Of course, I kept telling myself he was grieving, but the niggle wouldn’t go away that he might also want me to Shut the Hell up and Bugger Off with the (to my mind) helpful prompting questions. He had made it clear he wanted to talk the whole thing out of his system, but still. Better safe than sorry.
When I mentioned this to him, after a few minutes of silent thought, his response was more typical of his nature.

“It’s bloody cold, and you’re hardly warming me up tonight.”

Well, really. But it lightened the atmosphere somewhat, and normal service soon resumed when he informed me that he intended to get me stone drunk, to be carried off to Gretna Green.

I reserve this “safe” flirting for happier times, when the mind is light enough to give and take innuendo without the dark weight of a hangnail-meaning. It’s for this reason too that I won’t flirt with anyone who I know has feelings for me, which I can’t return. It’s only fair. I know that feeling of crossed-wires, of misinterpretation. It is another facet of my personality, easily hurtful for those who observe me long enough to give a damn, that I will flit (flirt?) from one situation to another, one heart to the next, capricious and sometimes heedless of those left behind. I could tell them that I know this feeling all too well, the dark bullet-hole in the chest at being left behind. As a child, most of my nightmares involved being left out of something important. But I never mean to cause harm to anyone; I just want to know the world, and it is so very large and seemingly endless, full of things to grab my attention and pull it away…
I would ask for time travel, if granted one wish. The ability to be everywhere at once for those I care about.

I have a tendency to fall for those I know as the “teachers” in my life – the ones who make an impact and influence my beliefs, opinions and choices. If my life could be seen as a rail line or road, it would have key turning-points where I came into contact with these men who I fell in love with – the ones who changed me forever – in that strangely dense-oddly light way that is associative with something outside of reality but is silvered with respect. Each time it happens, I know damn fine that I will never have them, and thus will remain free and single, while holding them up as my examples of how to live, to be.

Well, one exception was my recent ex partner, but then, our circumstances were more compatible. There wasn’t the chance of a lawsuit.

A male staff nurse was one of these, in my time as an inpatient. A man who made me feel like a human as opposed to a patient, in one of the darkest times of my life. He was married, as they so often are, and on my wavelength. We talked about things outside of the hospital environment, and he made that world seem appealing again, worth fighting to regain. Still, while he teased me in that careful way of the professional dealing with a patient who is a friend, there was the silent understanding that nothing would come of it. And rightly so. I cause enough trouble, it seems, wherever I go.

I owe him, as I owe so many of my “teachers” – one of whom was in fact a teacher in the sixth form block I attended for further education after hospital. One of the binding features for all these individuals, is that they left their mark on my soul. Most of them will never know the difference they made to one frightened, lonely girl-woman, struggling back into the light of life after illness, trying to find her place in the world while running barefoot across its face. That’s just as well. Some secrets aren’t for sharing, and besides, it’d probably just cause embarrassment or pain.

There are days when I feel like a “good” person, like I have merit and justifiable opinions to share; that I have gone some way towards helping others, or have affected some positive change or another (usually where writing is concerned.)
Then there are the days when I feel so rotten to the core that I must take myself away from others, in case I do them harm with words. These baleful hours are, regrettably, part of my nature too. They don’t seem to stem from depression, for that is an apathy of Self, a black nothingness that lies in direct contrast to Shock / Mania, which is white. On these days, it is best that I keep silent and still, at least mentally. I won’t have a kind word to say to anyone, and will viciously hammer my Twitter timeline with whatever has grabbed my attention, jumping in a frenzy from one topic to another as a means of distraction from the turmoil in my head.
(By the way, if all these references to mind-colours is confusing, I recommend reading this information on synaesthesia.)

Sad to say, if someone happens to be caught up in whatever I am feeling on these barbed-wire days, they might suffer the consequences. I have woken from nightmares and flashbacks of the abuse which occurred in my teens, and been so out of sorts during the day that a single act of flirtation – from either gender – can be misread as a direct insult to my independence and a desire to control. Anyone who tries to give me a shoulder-hug will find my spine could cut their fingers. I have walked out of a room simply because I felt intimidated by the presence of so many people – men in particular. This was on a bad day, when all of their faces, thoughts and opinions felt cloying; when I literally could not move for all the bodies around me, and it seemed there was no escape. Elbows out, I made that escape, much to the annoyance of others at the conference.

A situation can turn sour when put in the context of memories and mood. Had I been in a better mindset, without the chill of flashbacks from the night before, I would no doubt have flitted about the room accepting the words of others into my world, if not always to agree with them then at least to listen and appreciate their opinions, balanced against my own.

A return to equilibrium is usually brought about by solitude, distraction in reading or some other leisurely pursuit, or (as is often the case with me) a bloody hard workout, in which I can thrash out whatever emotional riot is taking place inside. Then the endorphins kick in, and I will be sweetness and light once more, able to accept the innocent touch of others, covetous looks sometimes thrown (yes, I know how big-headed this sounds and do apologise, but I’m not deaf or blind) and the awful puns. It’s about not kowtowing to a victim mentality anymore. I want to have fun, to engage with people, without feeling as though I’m being hunted – as was the case in my youth. So if I’m lovely to you one day and a bitter-bitch the next, don’t take it to heart. I’m just getting back into this sociability-thing, making up for lost time, watching and learning all the while.

At work, where low moods can sometimes be found hiding in the dark, quiet corners of human nature, a continuous stream of this flirtatious bonding is essential. It will carry us all along towards the end of a long shift. I can stand at the top of a stairwell and listen to the laughter resounding from offices where the innuendo and gags run riot; it keeps everyone on their toes, and I smile to hear them. It is Family, after all – comfort and stability. When a married man or woman flirts with their colleague, it is team mates taking solace in each other’s company.

I have had the privilege of being inducted into that Family unit, which has been nothing short of a godsend these past three years, when all else fell away. I have been forced out of every conceivable comfort zone, and felt so alone that even the tears wouldn’t come; when the inside of my head went white and numb from the shock of what was happening. But friends at work were on hand, with the sort of easy put-it-away distraction of a laugh and a cup of coffee that is as cathartic as a good cry and arm around the shoulders (I had the option of both scenarios, and still prefer the former; it doesn’t bring on a headache to laugh.) Problems are acknowledged and certainly not glossed over – but life goes on. And the way to fulfil this sentiment is with laughter, with sharp wit, or bad puns and the sort of slapstick that frees the mind to feel full of colour again (for me, anyway.)

Flirting is an essential part of human nature. As with any kind of behaviour, it has its own levels of meaning based on the agenda of the participants. To make the assumption that every act of flirtation is a sexual lead-on, that every woman who likes a bit of verbal back-and-forth is a harpy and every man who uses innuendo is a cheat, would be a poor response to the give-and-take qualities of communication and bonding.

And to be honest, I’d give up on talking altogether if there wasn’t a chance to cross words with knives once in a while.

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19 thoughts on “Confessions of an Incurable Flirt

  1. Hang on … they make white Maltesers?

    • raishimi33 says:

      Sure do. They used to be in abundance a few years ago; I’d buy the family size packs for when my partner came over to stay. We’d hang out watching films, drinking wine / cider and ignoring dinner, in favour of these maltesers.

  2. Jessica West says:

    I couldn’t have said this better. And yeah, I see you lookin’ at me. πŸ˜‰ I flirt with everyone. I’m a heterosexual woman, but I even flirt with women. It doesn’t mean I want to jump their bones. If people see me flirting and assume I’m about to jump into the sack with whoever, that means they don’t know me very well at all.

    I flirt as a means to boost my mood and someone elses mood, for the simple fun of it. If someone opens the door to flirting first, I get caught up in the banter. I think most of the people who view flirts as salacious are likely insecure in their own relationships and assume that others are as well. You can tell A LOT about a person based on how they judge others.

    • raishimi33 says:

      “I think most of the people who view flirts as salacious are likely insecure in their own relationships and assume that others are as well. You can tell A LOT about a person based on how they judge others.”

      Yes, very much so. I’ll admit, when I first got back into the dating scene I was so behind my peers, I didn’t have a clue that flirting could be harmless fun. I found certain things on my then-partner’s phone which hurt me deeply. Truth is, I took them out of context and didn’t really know what was going on, so did my usual grim-silence-for-a-week thing, before finally laying into him the following weekend. We were still doing the long-distance thing then, and he was visiting me at the time. It was a horrific 48 hours, but we talked it out – as should’ve done when I first found those things – and got it sorted.

      Context is part of it, security in oneself and a partnership is the other. I was lacking in all three. We were in the very early stages of the relationship, and I was still quite unwell. Certainly not the person you know today. How we made it out of those turbulent times, I’ll never know. We forgave each other a lot πŸ˜‰

      Back then, I thought his moral compass was skewed. Truth is, I didn’t know enough about the world – or human nature – to put things into perspective. I know now, oh so much more – sometimes wish I didn’t. But the experience of the past five years has adapted my mindset, and I can finally flirt / banter with friends in a way that was alien to me in my teens, when I felt so insecure and hunted that everything came across as a threat. I wanted to stay pure as possible, so any references to sex / sexuality made me feel deeply embarrassed, hurt and too adult. Anorexia answered a lot of these things.

      Anyway. This turned out to be a longer ramble than expected. But I knew you’d get this, Jess darling. You were a pivotal force behind it. I can’t believe how well this article has done. It’s been a long, exhausting day, but I’ve been buoyed by the genuine answers that people have given – especially that debate in the middle of the day. It’s been fantastic.

      Luv ya x

      • Jess West says:

        It’s amazing how alike we are in some regards and how very different in others. But I definitely get this.

        Luv you too, liebling! β™₯

  3. Freda Moya says:

    Okay I waded a little into the mini pitchfork debate which ensued on Twitter but 140 characters isn’t enough really!
    Anyhow I wanted to respond to your post when I read it as I completely get this whole thing. Flirting through words, particularly with the opposite sex, I think as you do is an innate human quality. Some of us just do it more than others or perhaps are just more open to it than others.
    The harmless type 1 flirting (banter as I often call it) is necessary (I feel at least) to make everyday life more fun. Blimey, if someone warned me away for doing this every time I flirted with a man in this way I’d never be able to speak to any of them again! It is harmless fun. Mostly.Though my friendliness (not even flirting I might add) has been misread by some men I’ve encountered (possibly ego got in the way) and they came on to me as a result. This is where I believe men and women often differ but that view could open a whole new can of worms.
    If this type 1 flirting turns to what I’ll call type 2 flirting (by which I think meaningful looks, light touches etc are employed, we all know the stakes are raised and then you either reciprocate or back off and make intentions clear.)
    Like you I do not flirt AT ALL with men I know may harbour desires towards me which I have no intention of reciprocating. Even the type 1 banter flirting because if you have feelings for a person, any tiny word or look can be misinterpreted.
    I went for a drink with an old work colleague the other night. When we worked together we flirted a lot through banter and even do on Twitter from time to time. It is all completely harmless and he did it with others too. It’s just his nature. However when we went for a catch up drink the other night where there was no one else around there was no flirting to speak of because I think we both inherently understood that when at work it was harmless banter but if either one of us did it whilst out together on our own it might be misconstrued by one or the other. I don’t fancy him and wouldn’t want thinking otherwise. Similarly I think he feels the same.
    I guess the whole thing is a minefield in many ways, but I am certainly never after anyone’s husband just because I have a bit of banter with someone. I’m also not egotistical enough to assume if a bloke is flirting with me with words he automatically fancies me.

    I think some women also despise other women who flirt with men, because essentially they are jealous they aren’t doing it or indeed can’t do it themselves. It’s word sparring. Not everyone (and controversially I will say mainly women) has the verbal skills to spar effectively.

    Raise your pitchforks everyone! I’m quite known for my sweeping generalizations on gender, though I know they don’t apply to all! And on that note I’ll slope off….
    Great post though Rachel. Enjoyed it a lot πŸ™‚

    • raishimi33 says:

      …”there was no flirting to speak of because I think we both inherently understood that when at work it was harmless banter but if either one of us did it whilst out together on our own it might be misconstrued by one or the other. ”

      This is really interesting. I do exactly the same when actually with someone in person. It’s easy enough to flirt / banter when there is the distancing effect of a screen – this is why Twitter appeals to my introvert nature so much. In public, or even just one-on-one with someone, I’m far more toned down. Nowhere near a prude, but certainly less gregarious, just because I need time to watch someone and learn their inflections, mannerisms etc. The flirtation comes about when a good deal of trust has been exchanged, and even then there are limits. I have a male friend, very dear to me, who I flirt with on and offline – we go out for drinks together sometimes, and I have to be so careful, because I’m aware of his longterm relationship and am at great pains not to jeopardize it. I’ve caused too much pain to people already, especially last year, when arriving on Twitter and building up a group of friends caused some wires to be crossed. Had we known each other face-to-face, I wonder if things would’ve been the same.

      You articulate yourself so well, and so thoroughly. I’m very glad to have you as a friend here. Hopefully one day we can meet for drinks too, and see if that rapport passes muster in the “real world” (this always makes me laugh when people use it in sincerity, as though Twitter is some kind of alternate reality where feelings and thoughts don’t truly exist.)

      A wonderful response. I’m grateful for it, and that debate we engaged in today. Really made my afternoon x

      • Freda Moya says:

        Ha! Yes well I have a blog post planned myself on the dynamics of Twitter soon! I find it fascinating. It’s not different to the “real world” in terms of how group dynamics work I think anyway. It is easier as you say if you are introverted to “speak” though. I don’t find I articulate myself nearly as well verbally so thank you for saying I do heer thoroughly. I just need time to think, digest, order. And the same goes for flirting as you say. I have to get the measure of someone. I have had some terrible experiences though, none which I would detail here, but yes, who knows, both been in the UK wouldn’t make meeting for drinks impossible, unlike so many of my other friends on Twitter!!

        I love having like minded people to chat to and interesting blog posts to read. Keeps the sanity button on! So thank you too Rachel. x

  4. We all definitely have our coping mechanisms, whether because people stifle us or because we’re afraid to be alone or because something awful happened to us. Or sometimes two of the three.

    When it comes to flirting, I feel like I have no idea how. That description of a bee flitting from flower to flower? Yeah, I feel like the proverbial bull in a china shop, stomping on the plates and glasses and making a big mess of things. So maybe I can flirt or maybe I can’t, but I could never point to a specific behavior and say, “Hey, I’m flirting.”

    However, I have learned to be friendly. I used to be painfully shy up through college, feeling awkward and hating any small talk. I worked hard on it, and now I’m good at talking to stranger (even if I don’t love it), and I like to go out of my way to make those awkward people feel comfortable. And maybe I’m better at it because I used to be so shy. Or, who knows, maybe I’m not. But I do try. πŸ™‚

    • raishimi33 says:

      ” I like to go out of my way to make those awkward people feel comfortable. ”

      This stood out for me in particular. The fact that you make the effort, you don’t linger on the shyness but move away from it and work to help others in a similar mindset. You probably make a heck of a lot of people feel good about themselves without even realizing it, and to be honest that’s what flirting is about, for me anyway. It’s about boosting someone’s ego, paying them compliments where applicable, taking credit where it’s due – it’s all back and forth, and some are better at it than others. It’s taken me years to gain enough trust in people (in general) to even talk to them openly. I can tell you now, even three years ago I couldn’t have engaged in the discussions I had about this article in so open a forum as Twitter; in fact I wouldn’t have been able to write it in the first place. We come along in our own time, and some people will always be naturally retiring. Which is just as pleasant company as those who are noisy (like me, sometimes).

      As for speaking to strangers, that again is a trust factor, but not just in the public – in yourself. To have enough faith in your own voice, your opinions, and to be able to voice them – that’s taking a big risk (especially considering how vile the world can be sometimes, so snide and spiteful.) Never underestimate how powerful your voice can be, your convictions – you might influence someone’s perceptions without even realizing it.

      Keep talking. Tell the world what you want it to hear. And when it comes to flirting, above all things, just have a laugh πŸ™‚ x

  5. Graham Milne says:

    My wife teases me often about my “twitter girlfriends.” I suppose a lot of that interaction could be deemed flirtatious, but like Jess says, it’s about spreading positive feelings and having fun. I love the banter too as I find it a boost to creativity. Something is triggered when you’re in the midst of a snappy, flirty conversation, and words begin to flow. Obviously there’s a connection there.

    • raishimi33 says:

      “Something is triggered when you’re in the midst of a snappy, flirty conversation, and words begin to flow.”

      Hell yes. I’ve learned more about writing dialogue in the less-than-12-months I’ve been active on Twitter, than I ever could have in the years before, when I hardly spoke to anyone on and offline. So many voices and personal inflections; so many mannerisms, which come through even with the limitation of simple words. Amazing how much 140 characters can hold. I’ve seen tweets that brought a lump to my throat, where pages-long essays left me cold.

      I’ll admit, when I was still with J, we clashed a bit about my time spent on Twitter. But it wasn’t because he didn’t trust me talking to other men; it was the sheer amount of time I spent online. We were going through such hard times, I turned outward for comfort, seeking it in the words of people I came to know and adore on the other side of the world, or only a few streets away, or in the next county. Our feelings for each other were already turning pale, and this exacerbated the situation. I doubt it would’ve mattered so much, otherwise. I know I should have taken more time to focus on him, should have turned inward to comfort him when he needed me most. Such is the way of a fading relationship. I hope I never have to go through it again, nor him.

      All this snappy, flirty conversation … it’s kept me going. Glad to be one of your Twitter girlfriends πŸ˜‰ x

  6. Terry Tyler says:

    I really agree with you. Flirting is light and fun and makes people smile. Problem is, men think it means you fancy them 😦

    With you on the time travel thing, too. It would be the thing I’d wish for as well.

    • raishimi33 says:

      Yes, I’ve been accused of the usual – “cock tease”, “slut”, “harpy”, to name but a few of the less pleasant ones. And that was just the women attached to these guys πŸ˜‰

      But if someone’s already insecure in their relationship, or in themselves, they’ll see what they want to see. Likewise for someone who can’t differentiate between women and sex. We actually do have minds too, and like a decent bit of flirty banter as much as any guy. It doesn’t mean we’re leading them on, only that we’re having a laugh. If I really wanted to show someone I cared, I doubt I’d engage in that kind of thing anyway. I’d be too shy, would care too much about what they thought of me – unless they’d made it explicitly clear that they felt the same way.

  7. John Weeast says:

    Flirting is always a mood lifter and yes, I’m doing it all the time. Sometimes unintentionally, it just comes out that way. Yes, it can be taken wrong, but as a guy I’m supposed to be clueless anyway πŸ˜‰

  8. kwizoe says:

    I agree, flirting can be fun, and make people feel a little special, but like it’s been mentioned, people think it means more than it does. Either, they think you are overtly sexual, or that you want them, when you definitely do not want them. I don’t know why it can’t just be harmless fun that boosts our mood?

    • raishimi33 says:

      “Either, they think you are overtly sexual, or that you want them, when you definitely do not want them.”

      True enough. I’d say it’s about keeping a close eye on what subtext there might be in someone’s words; I’ve noticed that dark hangnail of meaning in someone’s flirting before, and called a halt to it because it was making me uncomfortable. They clearly were taking me more seriously than I’d intended, and it pinged dangerously off my Anti-Control armour. It puts my back up when guys try to take from me – even a look can sometimes get my back up, as happens in the gym every now and then, when I’m trying to work out. I’ll stick my tongue out and swear at them, simply because I’m angry. I want to be left in peace, not feel like I’m being dissected / undressed.

      That being said, on good days when my ego is stoked and I’m rick-rolling on some high or another, I’ll flirt with the best of them. But like I said, the minute it turns too serious, I’m out of there before it can get hostile, as in, “You were leading me on.”

      Nope, dude. That was your ego, hooking you in the nose and the dick.

  9. jabe842 says:

    A great post, and interesting comments. I do agree that flirting is a important component of social interaction, but in my experience it’s easily mislabelled by men AND women. Yes, a standard male response is to read too much into it (I’ve been somewhat guilty of this from time to time) and the flipside of that is that a woman can mistake an equal level of flirtatious behaviour for attraction (wanted or otherwise). It’s a minefield, and as my fellow commentators have implied, it’s unfortunate that everyday flirting can’t be taken on the same level as, say, joke telling or politeness: a pleasant, lighthearted way to bond and to bring a little colour into one’s day.

    And by the way, you all look lovely this evening πŸ˜‰

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