Sunday, October 30, 2005

The married man's guide to flirting

Some people are naturally flirtatious, and use it as a sort of charm tool both socially and in business. Others use it specifically to seduce, and others have no idea how to execute this finally tuned dance. But should you flirt if you are in a relationship? And if so, just what kind of flirting is OK?

But firstly, what exactly does flirting mean? According to Wikipedia, it is "... a way of treating serious things (such as sexual attraction) with an almost mocking or self-mocking air of ease. It can be either pleasantly diverting or wildly exciting, depending on the context." And "People who flirt can speak and act in a way that suggests greater intimacy than is appropriate to the relationship (or to the amount of time the two people have known each other), without actually saying or doing anything inappropriate. One way they accomplish this is to communicate a sense of playfulness or irony."
Read more here.

OK, so that sounds all well and fine, but that whole bit about flirting suggesting a greater intimacy, should you really be doing that if you have a partner? Surely there are things that people outside of your relationship needn't, and more so shouldn't, know about you?

Friends of mine who have been married for years say that they both enjoy the occasional bit of flirting, because it's a safe way of having some fun outside of the relationship. After being with the same person for a long time, it can be a boost to the old ego to find out you're still attractive to the opposite sex and, if you really wanted to, you could still pull.

I think it's a fine line that one has to keep an eye on, so that you can still enjoy the banter with someone, without it becoming overtly sexual, or worse, tawdry or vulgar. It goes without saying that sometimes a conversation between two people can be more intimate then any actual physical contact, and this is often how affairs start.

Combining flirting with actual physical contact, like a hand placed on the leg or arm of another person during the exchange, is definitely sending a very clear message. Dating experts call this kind of touching a signifier, and combined with an intimate conversation often means one thing: "Your place or mine?"

I enjoy flirting in as much as I like the banter, and I'll be honest, I get a kick out of someone enjoying my company, thinking me funny, interesting, and entertaining. And if they think I'm attractive too - well, gosh, what a boost to my ego. But because I'm in a relationship, I don't want to lead that person to think that I am in any way sexually available. For me at least, this is when flirting crosses the line and becomes seduction.

I once spent most of the evening talking to a gorgeous man, and being a single girl at the time, and admittedly a bit sauced, thought I had found my soul mate. We spoke about everything from favourite books to things that scared us, and there was a very strong physical attraction between us. We were in a busy bar, and without even having kissed him, the conversation between us left me in no doubt that we would be physically compatible too.

At some point, I think it was near to closing time, I heard his name being called out and something came flying through the air towards him. He caught it, and with an embarrassed expression on his face, put his wedding band back on his finger. Apparently, his friend had been using it for some sort of parlor trick during the evening.

I felt as though a ton of bricks had hit me, and was terribly disappointed. What's worse was that this wonderful, smart, and funny guy turned to me and said, "Yes, I'm married, but not very happily." Yeah right - what an original line. And no, I didn't have an affair with him, rather I went home feeling very pissed off, and thought to myself: Married men should not flirt like that. This guy had definitely crossed the line between flirting and seduction, and it left me with a lasting impression of the dangers of this sort of thing.

I don't know what the hard and fast rule is, most likely because there isn't one. But to avoid waking up in the morning with someone's phone number in lipstick on a napkin, and a guilty conscience, it's probably a good idea not to drink too much - which itself is the root of many regrettable actions. I also think it's important to be very upfront about the fact that you are in a relationship, especially if you have a sense that the person talking to you is interested. And it's worth remembering that words can speak as loud as actions, so be careful where you allow the conversation to go.

And finally, and this really should go without saying; never, ever, flirt in front of your partner. This is not because you have something to hide, but let's face it, showing that kind of interest in someone else can often feel like a slap in the face, be hurtful, and is quite simply disrespectful.

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