Calling someone a “flirt” isn’t seen as an insult, but in some cases it might serve as a snide sort of traducing. It’s also not great reputationally at the moment, post-#MeToo. But I would argue that those who have responded to #MeToo by moaning that, “God, nobody is allowed to flirt any more,” might just have flirting very wrong indeed.
Flirting is lovely. I am a flirt. I flirt all the time. There is, for me, a spoken language of flirting, and a bodily one. In conversation, there is something of a frisson to a wonderful, witty back and forth. This is because I find intelligence attractive. I might not be physically attracted to my interlocutor – hell, it might even be a friend, and the idea of hooking up weird – but it’s the thrill of the exercise. I hesitate to say that language is sexy, but also: it is.
I am a big fan of physical contact. Obviously one must be attuned to those who are not so keen (and yes, there are times when it is inappropriate, but again, these circumstances should not be difficult to determine). I live for an enveloping hug. An upper-arm squeeze; a casual knee tap; an arm slung around a shoulder; a wide smile; a hair ruffle; lifting a stray eyelash from a cheek; holding hands; linking arms. This behaviour is second nature to me, with friends, with friendly colleagues, with people I meet at parties who I’m getting on with riotously. Touch is so important.
People frequently see flirting as a prelude to sex. Clearly, the former can very much lead to the latter. But as the above examples show, this is by no means always the case. If I straighten a colleague’s tie and dust off his shoulders, it’s a form of flirting, but I don’t want to shag him. If I’m sitting close to someone, drink in hand, and I gently slap their leg when they make me laugh. Well… maybe I want to kiss them, but other times, that wouldn’t even occur to me.
These aren’t mixed messages. I think I make it pretty obvious whether my flirting is a mechanism to signal sexual interest, or just the way my enjoyment of an interaction manifests itself. And people who know me well, know that I am tactile. The phrase “harmless flirting” exists for a reason. And, at the end of the day – well, any time of the day – who doesn’t want to be flirted with?