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.