the f-word

My friend’s Vegas bachelorette party has come and gone, and was I glad to see it go. Not because Vegas treated me poorly — not this time, at least — but because Vegas and I don’t exactly see eye to eye on all the issues.

Vegas wants to stay out until daybreak; I like to go to sleep when it’s still dark out. Vegas wants to get trashed on Goldschlager shots and slushie margaritas in phallic neon vessels; I prefer not to be able to actually feel the air hitting my eyeballs with tiny hammers the next morning. Vegas wants me to pour all my money into slot machines and blackjack tables; I enjoy keeping my cash so that I can huffily complain about having to spend $17.99 on a damn hamburger. Vegas wants lights and music and people and entertainment and go, go, go; I need space and quiet and thoughts and real unfiltered experiences. Vegas wants to rip my clothes off right now; I’m inclined to put on some Al Green and take things slow. 

And let’s not even talk about the number of jokes about face tattoos I heard before I left.

So I was apprehensive. Vegas had treated me poorly before, most notably a handful of years ago at yet another bachelorette party, when I had to be rescued from a bathroom stall which I had locked myself into, crying, then proceeded to punch the poor bachelorette in the arm and go to sleep on a table (heed the dangers of alcohol, children!). I’m surprised anybody talked to me during the rest of the trip. Not this time, though. This time was going to be different, I said to myself.

That red aura you see? That's all the SEX. Definitely not an Instagram filter AT ALL. Just sheer, unadulterated sex.

And it was.

This time, I was tucked in bed by 4:00 every morning, mostly sober. No waking up to tales of my stupid, embarrassing antics from the night before. Nary a hangover in sight. By Vegas standards, I was practically grandmotherly. I just needed hair slightly tinted blue and a roll of tickets to the early bird buffet, and I could have hung with the over 60 set.1

Good, right? Okay, great. Post over! Thanks for coming out tonight, folks.

But no. Nope. Sorry, you’re not getting off the hook that easily. I came here to talk to you about something I watched a lot of while in Vegas: flirting.

Of a group of ten fellow women, only one was single, and another was getting divorced. But even among eight women in long-term relationships, the flirting barometer was through the roof. They flirted with strangers, they flirted with each other, they flirted with inanimate objects (that poor coffee table may never fully recover). One night a faction of the group somehow found a genuine Navy sailor (being that it was Vegas I initially assumed the poor dear had gotten separated from his Village People musical performance troupe, but no, he was the real military deal) and convinced him to give the bachelorette a dance, and from there he began dancing with most of the rest of the group. The sailor took a liking to one gal in particular, and he started getting a bit… handsy. I tried to rescue her but she brushed me off. “It’s okay,” she shouted at me over a throbbing club track. “I won’t let him do anything. It’s just that I’ve been with my partner for nine years. I need this.”

Do we all truly need flirting?

My instinct is to say yes. I like flirting, in theory. I like the idea of it. I like knowing I can turn a head now and again. I like knowing that there are people who still find me attractive. An attendant once passed me a note from a young man a few rows back on a half-empty plane. “If you’re feeling bored, come sit by me. 26A,” the paper read. I kept it and use it as a bookmark and I smile every time I see it because a stranger liked me enough to go to the trouble of passing me a note. How flattering is that? Plus then I got to choose whether or not I wanted to talk to him. There was nothing compulsory or awkward about it.

Which is good because I don’t like flirting in practice. My big problem with flirting is that I always feel deeply uncomfortable while it’s going on, because I’m trying to figure out when is the appropriate time to blurt out “I’m married!”2 Tack onto that the supposition that if a stranger is making the effort to pay you attention, the subtext is that it’s conditional and that something is expected in return. 

Sidebar — On Saturday night I got to hear the worst DJ of all time deliver this gem of a line: “Just because you buy a girl a drink doesn’t mean she owes you something. Two drinks, that’s when she owes you.”

Which, you know what? No one truly owes anyone anything, ever. And my personal view is that as long as boundaries are clear, there’s nothing wrong with talking to someone who’s not your significant other, having a drink with him or her, or even dancing with him or her.3

 I’m just too polite, in my experience. I have a hard time cutting people off. Putting my foot down. The single, solitary time I was flirted with in Vegas was when a 57-year old Londoner came over to tell me my dancing was “brilliant.” He then spent twelve minutes lecturing me on Ibiza and how I should really go there as soon as possible. Then he switched conversational gears to Paris, and have I ever been to Paris?, and I should really go to Paris with a boyfriend, or perhaps I could ditch the boyfriend and go and meet him in Paris. And you’d think that this would perhaps be the ideal time for me to laugh and correct him gently with, “You mean meet my husband in Paris!” But no, being that I am painfully inept at small talk and at flirting in general, the most I could muster in reply to his shocking proposal was a feebly noncommittal “Meaaauughh,” which was a sound sort of like the bleating of a goat with a chronic cigarette smoking problem, a goat that should really talk to its doctor about quitting. Fortunately he seemed to get the point, even if I didn’t spell it out in blinking lights and jazz hands, or maybe he became deeply concerned about the damage that could be done to his reputation if he were to show up in Paris with a small livestock animal like me, because immediately after that he graciously pointed out that he was keeping me from my friends at the hen-do and he’d be on his way, then. 

Oooh, he was smooth. I could stand to take a few tips from a charmer like that.

What’s your take on flirting? Are you a giver or a recipient, or both? Are you okay with your partner doing it? Have you discussed boundaries, and if so, what are they?

And, say — hey baby, what’s your sign?


1 True story: I was cutting through a casino at 2:00 a.m. and it was CHOCK FULL of little old ladies happily pulling the levers on their respective slot machines. What? Huh? I was worried. I wanted to put them all to bed. Little old ladies!

2 Maybe I’m showing off my naïveté here, but I always assumed that if I got married that the wedding ring would do a lot of the work of blocking unwanted advances for me. This appears to very much not be the case.

3 True story: I was once at a polka festival in Michigan when a man who resembled Kip from Napoleon Dynamite wrested me from the Beau’s grasp and, with his hand firmly in the small of my back, proceeded to lead me around that dancefloor like nobody’s business. Afterward I felt dizzy and giddy, like I’d been romanced by the elusive King of Polka.

32 Responses to “the f-word”

  1. I am the world’s worst flirt-recipient. I’m less like a goat and more like some kind of weird elusive bird, hovering in near silence and then letting out sharp bursts of HAHAHA! HAHAHA! YARP! YARP! HAHAHA!

    You and I would be great out on the town together. We’d be beating them off with sticks, I’m sure.

  2. Can I join and make it three totally inept flirt-recipients out on the town? I turn beet red and silent. If I’m feeling really on the ball, instead of clamming up I can get out some nervous laughter.

    But! I am the champion of getting “I’m married” out on the table, generally before it needs to be there. Sample conversation:
    Attractive stranger – “Hi!”
    Me – “What a weird coincidence, I have a husband and sometimes *he* says hi!”

    I think not having to flirt any more (except with my husband!), or be good at receiving unwanted flirting, is my favorite thing about being married.

    • I love this. I need to borrow that line sometime. “Wow, my husband usually says hi, like, at least a couple times a day!”

  3. I’m a flirt. Can’t help it! It’s how I communicate with pretty much everyone, which makes job interviews rather awkward.

  4. So I thought the same thing about the wedding ring – until I realized there is a whole subset of men who will flirt with you solely BECAUSE of the wedding ring. I think they are attracted by the hypothetical concept of: “1-night stand with no strings because, well she’s married!” Ugh.

    My husband and I have never really talked about flirting rules, I believe because we both know (firsthand!) how AWFUL we both are at flirting. I’m quiet, which comes off as mean or snobby, and he is straightforward, which often results in accidentally offending what someone is wearing/how drunk they are/how dumb that thing was that they just said.

    I am moderately jealous of your note. I love the idea of a flirty note (the 3rd grader in my is alive and well)! However, I do not love the idea of being stuck on a plane with a secret admirer for an indefinite amount of time with NO ESCAPE! Dude, that ish is giving me heart palpitations right now.

    • YES to the heart palpitations! Oh god, there’s no way I can make flirty small talk for a whole flight but can I just ignore this and pretend it didn’t happen? should I go say something? do I have to smile and nod or something as we are leaving? aaaaahh

    • I had gin with me, on the plane, so I was feeling rather grand about things in general at the time. Plus I was pretty sure the flight attendant would help beat him off if it came to that. And when the plane landed I just got off without looking left or right. I felt a LITTLE bit bad for him that I’d just ignored the entire thing, but I liked that I had an out.

  5. As a former retail employee, there’s a certain amount of low-key flirting that makes the day go by. I’m pretty good at that. But not real hard-core flirting. One of my former (flirty) retail coworkers confessed to me that he loved being married because he had the confidence to flirt a little and know that nothing would happen. He is a good man.

    In short, I’m a fan. But only in a “haha, you know I’m married” kind of way. The young man and I like to report to each other when we were flirted with during our days. And he likes to tell me when I’m being checked out (which is hardly ever, but every once in a while it happens).

    • Aw, I like this. Sometimes I beg the beau to tell me if he’s been hit on during times we’ve been apart. I love hearing those stories, for some reason.

      • Because it’s a huge compliment to you, that’s why! I love hearing those stories because then I get to smile smugly as I think to myself, “Yeah, but you’re mine. I definitely won that one.”

  6. Flirting. It’s cool. But, like much of anything else in life, I find that if it takes too much effort, then I just leave it alone. A few words and a coquettish gaze in passing, Yes. YES. Those few words can make my day. But anything where I feel trapped (either I can’t physically extract myself from the situation, or the relationship with the person is a bit awkward, so backpedaling is a no-go) just isn’t worth it.

    Himself does it as well, although when he does I’m always pretty shocked because he doesn’t do it often. I find it slightly amusing to watch.

  7. Man, I haven’t done any proper flirting in too long. I like it, as long there’s a clear understanding it’s not really going any further than the here and now and that’s it’s just flirty banter.

    • It makes you feel good, doesn’t it? Man I love a good exchange like that, one that has a solid beginning and ending, and you can walk away feeling like the world’s in the palm of your hand.

  8. I think my flirt response most resembles a cat, or maybe a fox – I try to fly under the radar, distract them with my blond/loud friends, and possibly appear a bit snobby in the process. If approached I try to be accommodating with a few fake sounding HARMP HARMP!!!’s of agreement accompanied by a manic looking smile but really am just looking for any chance to escape.

    With Kristy, we could practically form a walking, flirting zoo! Word will spread of an enigmatic group of women who you might be flirting with but you can never truly know!

  9. My flirt response is the mute deer in headlights. Rapid blinking as I slowly back away. Sadly, the really persistent ones (read: annoying) seem to see this as a challenge. I have been known to hide in bathrooms. For the most part I don’t like unwanted attention and didn’t even as a single person.

    On the flip side, women throw themselves at M all the time. A lot of that has to do with his work (though I like to think he’s pretty hot too), and it’s made us both aware of boundaries and doing what’s important to protect our marriage and relationship.

  10. I really enjoy flirting in theory and in practice, but at extremely low, non-threatening levels…in Vegas especially, where I think lots of people are flirting with intention, I get uncomfortable and try to escape long before most (normal, faithfully married) people would be thinking, “okay, that’s enough.”

    The problem is in my attempts to escape. I very, very rarely actually tell a man I don’t think I’ll ever see again that I’m married (partly because I’ve had enough experiences where that just wasn’t a good enough reason for him to leave me alone); I just tend to want to abandon him somewhere else–foist him on the one single girl in the group, or excuse myself to the restroom and then try to avoid him for the rest of the night. It gets awkward.

    • YES. This is usually my reaction! I had to pull the restroom escape recently, too. I think I just don’t like talking, so I don’t trust myself to talk my way out of anything, so I fleeeee. Awkward indeed.

  11. I. Can’t. Flirt. Also, I repel flirting from others. I seem to have an invisible force field of “Don’t Fuck With Me or I Will Eat You Alive and Spit Out Your Bones.” Or else, I’m the Best Friend and nobody ever flirts with the Best Friend. I prefer to think I’m intimidating, but Tony calls me cute and ruins the whole illusion. Fa. This may be why I hate Vegas.

  12. In college, when I was single I was a HORRIBLE flirt. Not as in I couldn’t flirt but that put a drink or two in me and I would flirt with the WALL. I also probably was an actual horrible flirt because it often didn’t get me much.

    Now that I’m partnered, I still sort of flirt. And I tend to flirt with older men. I suppose because I’m not really interested and there is no danger of anything. Probably also because my quota of young men is mostly filled by my own handsome.

    Flirting. I like it. I’ll own it: I’m a flirt. But not a fucking-flirt.

    • Oh! I have flirted with walls before! It never went anywhere, for some reason…

      I always feel like there’s less of a danger with people outside my age zone. It’s just like there’s an immediate sense of “ha ha ha, this won’t ever work, so let’s just have a bit of fun, shall we?”

  13. I’m what one would refer to as a “natural flirt” … when I’m in a particularly good mood, it comes as easy as breathing. BUT, it’s not done with intention. Never with intention (no matter how big of an ego boost it would be to flirt with intention and get a response).

    Somewhere along the line (I swear this comes from working in theater) I became very good at extracting myself from the situation without too much trouble. Blah blah blah, flirt flirt flirt, “I had such a good time tonight, thanks! I’ll see you tomorrow!” (or next week, or “it was good to meet you!” if I don’t ever intend to see them again) and GONE. Everyone ends on a happy note. It’s a skill I hold very dear, and intend to keep well sharpened, just in case I ever end up in an awkward situation.

    What I’m learning I need to choose a little better, though, are the people that I flirt with. MAKE SURE they’re on the same page, and know it’s going nowhere. Just this past weekend, the signals got crossed. A castmate gave me a ride home, and then proceeded to ask me out on a date. I was flabbergasted. I mean, I don’t wear my ring during shows, but I had brought the husband around, and hadn’t paid this guy any more attention than anyone else in the cast. But he didn’t realize that. I consider my discomfort in trying to say no while not emabassing him to be a penance for NOT PAYING CLOSER ATTENTION TO WHAT I WAS DOING.

    Oh flirting. So much fun, such a thin line to tread.

    • Ahhhhhh, yes. I feel like the potential that lines will be crossed kind of scares me away from flirting. I have done it before with some small measure of success, but normally I’m too nervous to even try, so I end up just being the flirtee and not the flirter. I could use to hang out with you and learn a few things!

  14. I flirt a lot. With men and women. Part of this is because of jobs I have worked. I used to joke as a waitress and as a bartender that in order to survive the job you need to learn how to do three things in self defence: how to drink, how to flirt and how to swear. (This might be an Australian thing though, I can’t speak for elsewhere.) I never learned how to drink.

    But I also know when it’s appropriate and when it’s appreciated. And I just realised it’s more that I USED to flirt a lot, when I worked those jobs, not the ones I work now.

    I have trouble imagining you crying in a bathroom stall and then I remember your story from your bachelorette. And I remember we’re more alike than I give us credit for most of the time.

    • How to swear, how to flirt, and how to drink. I think that should be a mandatory course for anyone over the age of 21.

      • I got the swearing thing down! Was shaky on the drinking thing for a while, but then again I didn’t really start until my mid-20s. Could TOTALLY use a flirting course. They should offer these for a nominal fee at community colleges or something.

    • You know what? Knowing when it’s appropriate and when it’s appreciated is a key distinction. It’s what makes it work, imo. I could do better at learning how to gauge that.

      Also, I just have to say that I am wracking my brain furiously over here trying to figure out how you know that story! I don’t think I ever talked about my bachelorette on either blog…

  15. You know, I have had times when I was just being what I would consider a normal level of “nice” to somebody (I’m from the south) and I guess it has been misinterpreted as flirting? In my mid-twenties it happened several times with much older men that I hardly knew. (For example, one was a postal clerk and I bought stamps from him a couple times.) Now, I still don’t think I did anything beyond a normal friendliness, and I know I was dressed appropriately at any time I would have seen these men, but for some reason…. I dunno. It was really disturbing at the time to realize that what I thought was basic kindness was interpreted as me being romantically interested in them. This era was 10 years ago. I wonder if this happens more with younger women? Anyone else been in a similar situation.

    These days (now that I am married), I find it very easy to work in a “Oh, my husband and I….” into a conversation.

    • This used to happen to me a lot as well! Less with older men and more with very awkward guys (read: graduate students) my own age. I think people who are nice but lack some social skills can be prone to misinterpreting friendliness as romantic interest.

      I think this is how and why I learned to bring up Econo Man at the beginning of almost every conversation with a guy …

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