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Les Liaisons Dangereuses?: What is flirting, and am I doing it?
February 10, 2012 6:28 AM   Subscribe

What is flirting? And am I doing it?

I'm an extrovert (ENFP on the Myers-Briggs typology, if you put any stock in it), and really enjoy people. I love meeting people, connecting with them on the various planes we have in common, and having deep conversations with them. Over the years, I've been accused multiple times of being charming, forward, a tease, or a flirt - sometimes I've been told this directly, and sometimes it's become clear because the man in question acts as though I've made a come-on. I have always been very surprised to hear my behavior characterized in this way, as I do not intend this motive, and also I believe that I behave in the same way with both men and women, of all ages. Obviously I've never watched myself, but the following is my best attempt to describe objectively my conversational style:

• I make eye contact pretty frequently in conversation, and tend to hold it, to show that I'm listening rather than looking around at other conversational options.
• I smile often and sometimes laugh in conversation. I also get really excited and animated about topics I'm into.
• I'm confident, and will often introduce myself to people I don't know at big mingles, or when out and about (e.g. in line at the post office; at a mulled wine intermission at a church carol service). I'm rarely (if ever) intimidated by the wealth, class, intelligence, etc., of the person with whom I'm speaking, and assume an egalitarian stance.
• I listen intently to what the person is saying, and ask questions. I'm not feigning this interest; I do it because I'm genuinely interested in most things, and enjoy hearing what the person has to say. I also think it's respectful to focus on the person you're presently engaged with, conversationally.
• The conversations I have with friends are often intense, in a good way. We'll often do dinner and then just chat for a few hours about politics, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. Mostly I discuss these topics in the abstract, because I'm deep down a private person. So while I might converse fairly extendedly about my views on sexual ethics and the hookup culture, I don't talk about my personal sex life. But often the conversations are very intense and sparky - not intense or sparky in a sexual way, to me, but I suppose the male friends in question could interpret it differently [see below].
• I'm verbally playful, and gently tease (when I know the person as a friend). Sometimes, this is to protest something offensive while attempting not to stop a group conversation mid-stream, - e.g. if a friend of mine makes a sexist comment, I'll call them out on it but in a teasing way rather than changing the whole course of the conversation to make it a referendum on their comment). But it extends beyond this: I just find engaging with others in a playful way to be fun.
• I'm not sure whether this is relevant, but I'm very comfortable with my body, and wear clothes that I'd consider classy but fairly tight-fitted (think Boden or Brora jersey dresses). I don't show tons of cleavage, but sometimes show some (Just to explain my rationale: I'm a C-cup, and spent too long as an Evangelical teenager wearing modest clothing and still being hit on, and then angsting about whether or not I was leading my "brothers in Christ" into sin. I learned through this that I can't control others' reactions to me and my body, and trying to do so makes me self-conscious and unhappy; thus I don't have the desire to completely disguise the fact that I'm female while in public. This post describes it well).
• Things I DON'T do include touching the person I'm talking to (that's reserved for people I'm romantically interested in or involved with). Also, my playful banter doesn't usually turn sexual, unless I'm single and with old friends.

I guess what I'm wondering is:
1. What is flirting? How does it differ from being a good listener and a fun conversationalist?
2. Am I flirting, with the behavior described above? Which aspects specifically are flirtatious? I don't want to come across as flirtatious, or a tease, but charming is fine. If I am being the former, how specifically should I tone it down in a way that still allows my personality and preference for playful interaction to shine through? Essentially I'd like to come across as friendly, playful, and engaging, but without it having sexual over- or undertones.
2b. Also, is talking extendedly about sex in the abstract with male friends flirtatious (e.g. to use the example above, having a long conversation about sexual ethics and the hook-up culture, but not talking about your own sex life)? Is this inappropriate when in a relationship with someone else? Can something be flirtatious with a male friend when the same gesture/topic wouldn't be with a female friend? The good friends I've had these sorts of conversations with have often told me I'm a flirt, but (it transpired later) that they had a crush on me, so I'm not sure is attributable to the conversations specifically.
3. The accusations of flirting have especially been while I've lived in England. I'm wondering whether some of it is a cross-cultural misunderstanding - i.e. that Americans tend to stand closer to their conversational partner, make more eye contact, smile, etc., and this is perceived by some other cultures as being forward, or flirtatious. My [female] professor here in the UK remarked that I come across as "warm, friendly, and confident, like all the Americans I've met". So, how much of this is cultural difference? (This has happened in America too, however, so I don't think it's all explainable by this.)
4. Most of the accusations of flirtation etc. have come from men - and specifically, mostly from male friends that it turned out later had a crush on me. Could it be that I'm not actually behaving any differently than anyone else is, but they're reading flirtation onto my behavior because they fancy me? I know that when I've crushed on others, I've wanted to interpret every word, gesture, and look as a confirmation of their interest in me, when in reality this was often not the case.

Sorry about the long post; I wanted to be as specific as possible. I've seen the "how to flirt" AskMeFi questions, but I think this is rather different, and more specific. Any ideas you have about any of the above would be most appreciated!
posted by UniversityNomad to Human Relations (47 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Flirting is subjective. But so many people are uncomfortable in social situations that simply being comfortable can be perceived as flirtatious. This doesn't mean that You Are Flirting or You Are a Flirt, only that there's a ton of people out there that are so starved for any kind of seemingly genuine social attention that the merest hint of it can be quite captivating.

This means that wanting to "come across as friendly, playful, and engaging, but without it having sexual over- or undertones," may not actually be possible, sad to say.

Look, you sound like a nice, pretty young woman. A significant subset of men instinctively interpret friendliness, playfulness, and engagement as signs of sexual interest, particularly when they come from nice, pretty young women, even where you haven't any such intentions. See your point 4. I'm not sure whether or not this is a Bad Thing, but it's certainly a Thing, and there isn't a ton you can do about it. It says far more about their social and emotional immaturity than it does about you.

I will say though, that a lot of people have hard staying disinterested when sex is a topic of conversation.
posted by valkyryn at 6:39 AM on February 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Based on your description, you sound confident and friendly and interested in people. Those are attractive qualities. People are going to be attracted to them. If you are also some combination of available, average-or-above-looking, young or youthful, and female, you can expect a certain amount of unwanted(?) male interest. You don't state your age, but I am going to guess early twenties.

Is your question "am I a flirt?" It sounds like you might have some significance surrounding the term itself. Like you think it might be bad to be a flirt.

If you're in the age range I have guessed, I think this is what's happening: you are beginning to explore the fact that you have power in your appearance and in how you interact with others. Maybe you are even enjoying that power. That's fine and good.

But you might be finding that your power has unintended consequences -- it turns men you thought were your friends into men who are crushing on you. Maybe this bothers you because a) you end up losing the friendship; or b) you feel like maybe you are leading these men on in an unfair way without meaning to, or both. They are calling you a "flirt" and you are worried that's a bad thing.

You're all right. You are right to have your power, and you are right to explore it. But also, your power -- like mine and like everyone's -- can be dangerous if you don't learn to use it responsibly, to respect it.

My guess would also be that these men are about your age. By calling you a flirt and making it your fault that they are crushing on you, they are denying their own agency, their own power.

I wouldn't worry about the label too much. With time, you learn what works for you, and so does everyone else. You'll lose a friendship here and there along the way -- we all do -- and be wiser for it. I would maybe tone down the "hookup culture" talk a bit, until you are really pretty sure that everybody is comfortably wearing their Friends hat.
posted by gauche at 6:53 AM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eye contact, "being a good listener", and not being reserved and British will make many British guys think you are into them.

The traditional solution to this problem is to drop a mention of a partner into the conversation as soon as possible.

Talking about sex in the abstract is not flirtatious but may well cause people to get slightly hot under the collar in your presence, creating some association in their mind between that feeling and your good self.

If you want to be perceived as less flirty, you could try consciously including several people in your conversation at once, rather than zoning into one person at a time. If your attention appears to be equally divided between people it's harder for one of them to get the wrong impression.
posted by emilyw at 6:57 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the answers so far - much food for thought! I suddenly thought perhaps I should elaborate on the discussions about sex, gender, religion, politics, etc. I'm a grad student, and the intersection of these things is effectively what I'm doing my doctoral dissertation on, which means I think about these issues a lot. Probably doesn't change whether or not it's appropriate to discuss it with male friends, but for me these are academic as well as personal interests, and I'm used to discussing them freely with my supervisor and in grad seminars, so I may not have my radar as finely tuned into wider social norms in terms of loaded discussion topics.
posted by UniversityNomad at 7:00 AM on February 10, 2012


1. What is flirting? How does it differ from being a good listener and a fun conversationalist?

There's a blush of a difference between having an outgoing personality and being flirtatious. Literally. If you cause yourself or the person you are with to blush - intentionally or otherwise - then you are definitely being flirtatious.
posted by three blind mice at 7:01 AM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


The conversations I have with friends are often intense, in a good way. We'll often do dinner and then just chat for a few hours about politics, religion, gender, sexuality, etc.

In most contexts, except with close friends, when two heterosexuals of the opposite sex go out to dinner and have an intense, animated conversation for a few hours, it is commonly called a "date."

I think this is less about whether you're "a flirt" and more about whether you're engaging in social behavior that's commonly coded as "dating." Do you go up to someone you don't know at a party, chat him up, and then he asks if you'd like to get dinner where the two of you have an intense conversation for a few hours? The guy is interested in dating you and interprets the intense conversation the two of you have as "good chemistry."
posted by deanc at 7:04 AM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm interested in what people have to say about this. I'm very similar to you (seriously, I could have written most of your personal description), have been described as a "nice, pretty, young woman", and have never been accused of being flirtatious when I wasn't trying to be. Only two explanations for our differences come to mind at the moment:

1. Do you have very feminine mannerisms? (e.g. Rachel from Friends) One way I flirt is to make my gestures and actions more feminine. If you're naturally that way, you could be appear to be flirting all the time.
2. I call guys "dude" and "bro" a lot. I also touch people more, but in a boisterous way - I shove people, clap them on the back, shake them and give them bear hugs.

tl;dr - what valkyryn and gauche said, plus you probably have a fairly feminine vibe that is inherently attractive and flirty.
posted by michelle lightning at 7:05 AM on February 10, 2012


Oh, I'm ENTP in the myers-briggs typology, if that helps you make sense of things.
posted by michelle lightning at 7:07 AM on February 10, 2012


And -- not to be crude, but -- "do you want to go over my dissertation? It's about sex, gender, religion, and politics" is practically a proposition in and of itself, in more than a few contexts I can think of.

I don't mean to say that these are not legitimate and valid areas of study, nor that there is anything wrong with you for choosing to study them. Go you! But one of the reasons these topics are interesting is because they are charged, and they can elicit surprisingly strong reactions from unexpected quarters, so to speak.
posted by gauche at 7:18 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you've got a close female friend whose opinion you trust, ask her this question. She might some insight that you don't see and we can't.

Unfortunately, friendliness is often mistaken for flirting, especially if the friendly person is attractive. If that's just how you are, there might not be a whole ton you can do.

It might help if you tone down the playful teasing, since that's often a move used by flirters. You can still be banter-y, but make your quips general rather than aimed at one person. And don't be afraid to just call people out when needed: if you soften the blow with playfulness, they'll think you're just playing along. Practice conversing without so much wit, or segueing between banter and seriousness; you can keep the tone light, but removing the playful conversational strokes will make things seem less flirty.

And in groups, practice giving equal attention to everyone. You probably already do this, but just making yourself aware of it can help.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:19 AM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am old and ugly and married now, and do not have this problem any more. But I remember my horror at age 19 when I learned that, due to an awful lot of the same factors you describe (but not the boobs, I've never had any of those), I was being perceived as a flirt. Who was flirting with people. People with whom I had no intention of flirting. I asked some friends about this, and was informed that the eye contact had a lot to do with it. I took that as the explanation, because I have seriously never been *that* good-looking. This resulted in several years of me never making eye contact during conversations at all. It probably shouldn't have, but it did. I was pretty socially illiterate, and had no idea how else to handle it. I still cut away my eyes when a musician happens to glance my way during a concert due to a couple of Bass Player Incidents from around this time. (Though now that I'm 32 I could probably stop that, as I don't think anyone is interested anymore.)

This is mainly to say that this happens to some of us, sometimes. I'm not sure my eyes-off policy really even changed things that much. I think a lot of it does, or at least did in my case, come from a certain naivete about societal boy/girl expectations. Which is not necessarily a bad thing-- not paying a lot of attention to what I consider to be fairly stupid, arbitrary rules only makes sense. There's only so many things you can pay attention to, so why waste valuable brain-space on that? But it is a little weird when you realize years later that that guy whose house you went to after work to watch a movie thought it was a date, and that's why he tried to kiss you, and then never really talked to you again when you said you weren't interested.

To other people, who are more aware of these cues, it may seem like those of us who are not are leading people on. Which, if you're as generally nonsexual in your intentions as I have always been, can feel pretty bad. But regardless, it *does* come across as charming. It's just that you are sometimes charming people in ways you did not intend to be. As I type this I am thinking of Marilyn Monroe's character in "The Seven-Year Itch", at least up until she kissed the guy. If you're genuinely just doing what you do, it's not your responsibility to control the reactions of others.

And one day you will be old and ugly like me, and you won't have to worry about it anymore.
posted by Because at 7:39 AM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Given how nuanced and perceptive you are, I would not put it past you that there is some deliberate element in your actions. After all, the type of attention you are getting can be quite powerful from a woman's point-of-view I imagine.

Something to consider ... Do you have the same mannerisms when talking with women?
posted by Kruger5 at 7:42 AM on February 10, 2012


The "bad" news is that everything you describe could definitely be described as flirting. But if a guy is interested in you, he could find your disinterest a signal. (Attention folks: playing hard to get is usually not an act.)

But I don't think you should change one bit. You sound like a joy to be around. Unfortunately, those blessed with charisma will sometimes attract more than they intend. (My first partner was like this and often just by being nice attracted romantic attention from others and I'm ashamed how often I was a dick to him, as if he was doing something wrong in being the wonderful guy I'd fallen in love with.)

Your only responsibility is being aware you have this superpower and listening to Peter Parker's Uncle Ben (at least the movie version). But that's true, to some extent, for anyone who speaks to anyone ever. If you're having problems with people believing you are leading them on, since you say you aren't doing anything physical, unless you are leading someone on by explicitly saying 'I am interested in you romantically/sexually" and then taking that back, the larger part is on the person who feel led on. (On preview, Because's second to the last paragraph nails my meaning.)

Good luck!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:50 AM on February 10, 2012


Just to reply to some questions people have asked: to the best of my knowledge, I have the same mannerisms when talking with women. I understand the opinion that I might be deliberately doing this in order to enjoy some sort of power, but I really don't think this is the case, even subconsciously. If it is power, I do not enjoy it, and more to the point, I don't believe that it's power that I can wield. A large part of the reason I'm asking this question is that others' responses feel unpredictable to me, so it's difficult for me to accept the narrative framework that I'm some sort of omnipotent femme fatale.

I think Because's suggestion seems very plausible - that it stems from naivete and an unwillingness to engage in social games (e.g. I think all the dating rules and books like "He's Just Not That Into You" are ridiculous). Perhaps relevant is that I grew up very conservative Evangelical, in an environment very dominated by strict gender norms that don't really conform to those of mainstream America, and then I spent 6 years living in Europe. I'm wondering whether all this has effectively broken my social barometer, and what others take in a given geographical/cultural setting as obviously coded social behavior is more ambiguous/fluid to me. For instance, often I'm not sure whether I'm on a date or a friendly dinner with someone new that I've met, etc. Is this something that everyone else is certain of, or is everyone else stumbling around in the dark like me?
posted by UniversityNomad at 7:54 AM on February 10, 2012


I have to say that I share a lot of the same characteristics you described (ENFP as well, btw), and that for a long time my behavior was perceived as more flirtatious than intended (although I definitely intended it once in a while). I definitely used to be more forward than I am now, to the point that I was even accused of being aggressive (an already outgoing and flirtatious person who is trying to flirt can be a bit terrifying and I embarrassed myself a few times, in retrospect.) It has taken me quite a few years (I'm now 32) to figure out where the border between enthusiasm and connecting with people, and being too overt lies.

It may be a little harder for you since your work revolves around sexual topics, as has been mentioned, so you need to put on your grad student hat and be purposefully more professional if you're not trying to use your dissertation as a jumping-off point. That said, in my opinion, I think it's fine to keep discussing your work and I also think it's fine to hang out with male friends and be witty and fill your speech with double entendres, but you may need to practice to find that dividing line. Put another way - if you don't want a response at all, tone it down. If you do want a response, "flirt" away in whatever form that takes.
posted by nekton at 7:59 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure whether I'm on a date or a friendly dinner with someone new that I've met, etc. Is this something that everyone else is certain of, or is everyone else stumbling around in the dark like me?

At a certain point in one's social development, one simply doesn't go out for a "friendly (1 on 1) dinner with someone new (of the opposite sex)" that's not a date. This happens for different people at different times, so there may be a disconnect. It is a bit harder to make these distinctions in school where you're actively trying to expand your social network and the line between social and professional life is much blurrier, so I can understand how there might be crossed signals.

I know a lot of this sounds like "these are all social games that I don't have time to memorize/understand," but it's more along the lines of etiquette and things like "how to dress like a grownup." They might seem like "annoying games and rules," but they serve as a sort of social lubricant to allow people to socially interact without creating an Awkward Moment™ all the time.
posted by deanc at 8:05 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm, what deanc just said is interesting, because I've been out for a lot of friendly dinners or gone to events with "new" people of the opposite sex and definitely didn't think they were dates, so they either weren't, or I am as confused as the poster. I can count the "dates" I've been on on one hand (not counting stuff like going out to dinner with someone I'm already with.)
posted by nekton at 8:16 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are definitely not a flirt. You seem to have boundaries in place. Some people are a bit more reserved than you and that's ok, too. As long as you don't touch others or make conversations too suggestive, you're not flirting.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:37 AM on February 10, 2012


So when you make eye contact with someone, what does it look like? Are we talking occasional glances or prolonged eye contact? Do you look at their face more when they're talking or when you're talking?

Smiling and looking steadily into someone's eyes while you're saying something to them — especially if you're talking playfully, or talking about sex — is gonna read as flirty to a lot of people. During a merely friendly conversation, the eye contact is less of a steady gaze and more like occasional checking-in: "Oh, hey, you're still smiling, you're not confused, you're not totally distracted, all's well with this conversation. Good, I'll go back to looking out the window for another few seconds and then check in again."

Honestly, though, the attitude towards clothing that you describe here:
I'm a C-cup, and spent too long as an Evangelical teenager wearing modest clothing and still being hit on, and then angsting about whether or not I was leading my "brothers in Christ" into sin. I learned through this that I can't control others' reactions to me and my body, and trying to do so makes me self-conscious and unhappy; thus I don't have the desire to completely disguise the fact that I'm female while in public.
is a good one to take towards social interaction too. Do what you can to minimize misunderstandings within reason — but recognize that you can't control other people's responses to your personality either. Some guys will accuse any reasonably friendly woman of being a tease, just like they'll accuse any woman not wearing a burlap sack of being a tease. It's entirely possible that they're the ones being unreasonable, not you.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:46 AM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Dating" is a foreign concept to most young UK folks that I've met, until the point where they are single parents with no spare time, at which point they fall back on OKCupid. People's perception of what's a date or not probably depends on their age, their background and their familiarity with US TV.

To my mind, a UK university is the least likely place to find people "dating". Instead, you'll find them starting friendships in the normal manner, hanging out, flirting a bit, proposing various one-on-one activities, flirting some more and then jumping in the sack once it's pretty clear that both parties are interested. So, I guess the way you act probably does mimic the student mating dance... or should I say, the student mating dance mimics the way you act. That's deliberate, because it gives "plausible deniability" to flirters.

To avoid the student mating dance, just disrupt the escalation by not hanging out one-on-one with anyone you suspect of being interested, or not hanging out in a private place with them.

As soon as you say "thanks for the coffee, but I won't pop in to see your etchings, I need to get back", they should get the point.
posted by emilyw at 8:55 AM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just to chime back in about this:

I suddenly thought perhaps I should elaborate on the discussions about sex, gender, religion, politics, etc. I'm a grad student, and the intersection of these things is effectively what I'm doing my doctoral dissertation on, which means I think about these issues a lot.

A wise man I know from college once said "Studying with girls is the biggest self-deception ever." He's not far wrong.

Talking about those issues in a one-on-one setting with someone of the opposite sex is, as gauche put it so well, "practically a proposition in and of itself". Talking about those issues in a formal academic setting, or an informal group setting? That's just lively conversation that even a semi-mature person wouldn't read much into. But over dinner with just one other person? Unless there's a pretty explicit reason to the contrary, most people would consider this a date, and make-outs are presumptively on the table.

The fact that you're an academic and they presumably are too doesn't change this. I've spent time doing academics at the graduate level, and can assure you that lots of people, particularly in those settings, consider intellectual discussion sexy. The fact that you're talking about your academic project is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant.
posted by valkyryn at 9:13 AM on February 10, 2012


"4. Most of the accusations of flirtation etc. have come from men - and specifically, mostly from male friends that it turned out later had a crush on me. Could it be that I'm not actually behaving any differently than anyone else is, but they're reading flirtation onto my behavior because they fancy me?"

Ding ding ding ding! My experience when I was single (and I am more reserved and less outgoing that you, it sounds like, though I get excited about things) is that (at least some) young men of a certain age think EVERY woman who talks to them wants to get in their pants. I was often taken aback to hear later that "so-and-so said I was flirting with him" or whatever. One dude, when I was discussing some homework with him, said, "I want you to know I don't want to sleep with you." I was like, "Uh, that was creepy."

Anyway, what fixes it 100% is getting engaged/married. My behavior didn't change at all but suddenly nobody misinterpreted it any longer. When people KNOW you're permanently unavailable, they stop interpreting warmth and friendliness as romantic/sexual interest. It was such a damn relief to have that weirdness done with.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:22 AM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just read this
posted by MangyCarface at 9:42 AM on February 10, 2012


This is a probably useless answer, but if you really truly believe you are being falsely accused of being seductive by men with whom you are merely being friendly and interested, it's on them. (And they mean seductive. They're saying flirty to be coy or because they don't know what that means.)

I am not particularly attractive or outgoing and am certainly not open and I have been accused of being "into" men when the only reason I continued the conversation was because I couldn't believe they were really that stupid/pigheaded/wrong. And I am talking about cases where mutual friends forwarded emails saying ha ha, Dumb Schlub thinks you want him and asked for your number, ha ha ha.

There are many men with various self-esteem issues. For many of them and the ego-beasts alike, it does not take much to make them feel wanted.

My advice is to continue being friendly and warm and open and be ready to set a firm boundary when you need to. (Also, never touch men unless you know them well enough to know they'll take the gesture as intended.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:55 AM on February 10, 2012


This sounds familiar to me, too. I think one boyfriend said that what was particularly attractive was I was interested and really listened to what others (men) said. I am very curious about almost everything. Someone could talk to me about their job sorting carpet lint and I would be fascinated. Boyfriend was a geek and used to getting the brush off from women, so someone who was involved and animated in a discussion was very attractive. So it sounds like when you are discussing the topics that matter to you, you really connect with people.

For a while I tried to lock it down. How horrible, accidently being a flirt! How do I stop it?? Like you, I don't touch people I have no interest in. The cues between my flirting/friendly behavior seem obvious to me, but my personal history would suggest that others don't feel the same. I found a comfortable midpoint that I operate from, but my dial goes to eleven and I never really get to crank it up.

The older I get the more I realize this is a problem on the man's side, not mine, and what they're projecting on me and how they want to interpret my behavior. My responsibility is to have good boundaries (like yours, above) and be kind and clear about enforcing them when someone misinterprets. I realized underneath my fear of being seen as a flirt was really my reluctance and fear of turning people down - "hurting" them. I thought if I could control how my behavior was interpreted that I would not have to hand out gift bags of miserable to perfectly nice people. You like me! Have some soul crushing rejection! Thanks!

So I had to face that and accept the responsibility for telling people no. I mentally practice giving very nice rejections so that when I get in a situation, I'm in control. The other person is in an awkward place and if you can brush over an incident like it's no big deal, most people will be grateful and follow that lead. It helps to stop thinking of yourself as gawky/unattractive/whatever and accept that people will like you and look for opportunities to connect to you. Know when to allow it and when to discourage. Other than that, I think being guilty for my natural personality is a waste of time.
posted by griselda at 10:08 AM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ever read one of those "how to know if she's coming on to you" pieces in a male-oriented magazine? The message, basically, is "if you think she's attractive, she's totally into you and desperate for you to make the first move." Legs crossed--she's into you. Leg's uncrossed--she's into you. Touches her hair--she's into you. Flips her hair out of her face without touching it--she's into you. Speaks with a high, girly voice--she's into you. Speaks with a low Lauren Bacall-y voice--she's into you. Makes eye contact--she's into you. Looks down demurely--she's into you. Etc. etc. etc.

Men are actively trained to be utterly clueless about what women are trying to tell them about their sexual availability. If you start dressing "modestly" and avoiding eye-contact you'll have men talking about how you're deliberately trying to seduce them by acting hard to get ("the signs were so obvious!! She hit eight of the ten 'Sure Signs She's Into You' in last month's FHM piece!"). So just be your obviously charming self and be ready to say "Thanks, but no" a few times.
posted by yoink at 10:55 AM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you'll check my posting history you will see my answer to a lot of how to flirt questions is the same. Smile, make eye contact. This is exactly what you are doing. So yes, I think you are flirting.

Think of it this way. It hurts to be rejected. It especially hurts when you feel like you were just minding your own business, someone started flirting with you and when you made a move you were shot down. We live in a society where, like it or not, the man is tasked with making overt gestures of interest to get the ball rolling. The more people take in how that structures social interactions, the better.

The fact that you are getting the same reaction from a number of people should be a real clue. And if their reaction troubles you, think about changing something so that they don't react that way to you.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:11 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are also issues of context that are important. Certain environments have the expectation of flirtiness occurring. If you're giving a seminar and someone comes up to you afterwards to ask you about your work, and he interprets your responses and post-seminar conversation as "flirting," then he's just deluding himself and violating some social boundaries. If you're at a party or other social event and introduce yourself to a guy you've never met and intently chat him up, and he asks for your number and you guys make arrangements to get together later in the week, then, yes, that's generally what people would consider a "flirtatious" interaction. School, particularly grad school, is one of those odd times when your social and professional life are so closely intertwined that it can be hard to tell the difference and hard to separate the two.
posted by deanc at 12:53 PM on February 10, 2012


One thing to be careful of is touching people too much, especially stroking their arms/legs/hair/face and lap-sitting. This could push non-flirting over the line into flirting and annoying others (especially the SO of that person whose lap you're sitting on!).
posted by meepmeow at 1:15 PM on February 10, 2012


You're not flirting. Flirting is intentional. People flirt because they want to start a relationship, or toy with the idea of having a relationship, or have a slightly dangerous duel of wits (Benedick and Beatrice flirting), or to manipulate someone or... in any case, that's not you. People may think you're trying to start a relationship but...

I learned through this that I can't control others' reactions to me

Bingo. You could wear a burka and talk about nothing but needlepoint and lots of men would still think you're flirting with them. ("she's a girl! talking in my general direction! it's true love!")

You shouldn't have to disguise the fact that you're female, or avoid eye contact, or avoid intense conversations with interesting people but doing those things will sometimes make people think you're a flirt. You have to choose whether it's more important to you to express yourself as you really are or to protect yourself from the judgmentalism of others. Maybe sometimes the need to protect yourself will win out. You shouldn't have to choose, but you do. Gender relations in our society are more than a little messed up.

For what it's worth, every time you do express who you really are our society will become a little less messed up. When I was just starting grad school I had a colleague who I thought was flirting with me (eye contact, an engaging conversationalist, intense conversation, open about her sexuality, even touch-on-the-shoulder sort of physical contact). As I spent more time with her, I realized that she interacted with everyone that way. "Oh," says formerly conservative me, "that's a perfectly normal way for men and women to interact. Admirable, even." In that way, I became part of the better society that she was already inhabiting.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:30 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thank you everyone; your comments are extremely interesting! Deanc, I think what you're saying is true about the very ambiguous nature of grad school, and how the social and professional are confusingly entangled. Ironmouth, I appreciate what you're saying about eye contact and smiling being general signals of romantic interest, and how that interplays with what is generally considered the man's responsibility of initiating. I was wondering whether you could elaborate on what specifically you're advising. Obviously you don't know me personally, but would you have any general suggestions? Are you suggesting no smiling and no eye contact, even if I find you interesting as a person (but not a potential romantic partner)? If a woman found you interesting and wanted to get to know you as a friend, how to you would she signal this (as opposed to romantic interest)?

To give you a sense of my usual M.O. for initiating a romantic relationship (as opposed to merely a friendship: because of the confusion I detailed in my question, as well as my desire not to be presumptuous, I generally assume all encounters to be platonic unless I'm otherwise informed, usually verbally and explicitly, and follow this same procedure myself, using the word "date". So, if I were interested in dating a guy that I had been interacting with in a friendly way, I'd say something like: "Hey X, I've really enjoyed getting to know you, and if you're interested, I think we should go out sometime on a date-date, like an actual date." And then we're all on the same page, and he can either eagerly accept, or say something like "Ummm, I like spending time with you but I want to keep it to friend dates, kthnx". As I mentioned above, it's very possible my social barometer is broken from being exposed to too social norms of too many different cultures, which is why I find it much easier to be explicit (obviously I'm very much Ask rather than Guess!). Or it could be that since I'm in the humanities and study people (essentially), I am only too well aware of the staggering variety of human behavior and its interpretations, and with this in mind have difficulty pitching non-verbal behavior in such a way that I'm confident that I'm reaching everyone accurately...
posted by UniversityNomad at 1:53 PM on February 10, 2012


Your usual M.O. is great. Unfortunately it solves a different problem than the one you are discussing here. Your usual M.O. creates what I'm going to call a True Positive on the Great Matrix of Pre-courtship Knowledge: you know you are into them, and they know that you are into them. It does this by correcting the condition of you being into someone and them not knowing (what I'll call a False Negative).

What it doesn't do is solve the problem of the False Positive, which is the condition of you knowing that you are not into them, while they think that you are, in fact, into them. And it is this condition which, unless I am mistaken, has been the subject at hand.

And the problem is that -- without being impolite and presumptuous -- it takes two people to correct or prevent the False Negative, and you're not both of them. You could, as noted above, wear a burqa and continue to be the subject of unwanted male attention.

I understand the opinion that I might be deliberately doing this in order to enjoy some sort of power, but I really don't think this is the case, even subconsciously. If it is power, I do not enjoy it, and more to the point, I don't believe that it's power that I can wield. A large part of the reason I'm asking this question is that others' responses feel unpredictable to me, so it's difficult for me to accept the narrative framework that I'm some sort of omnipotent femme fatale.

I want to address this point because I was one of the people using the term "power" and I do not want you to think I was being uncharitable or criticising you. I completely believe you when you say that you do not wish to have this power. I did not mean to suggest, and do not suggest, that you are either omnipotent or a femme fatale using her wiles to manipulate unthinking young men for your benefit or amusement.

What I wish to suggest is not that your desire is disingenuous, but that it is unrealistic. We all have a certain amount of power in our ability to persuade, to charm, to threaten others. Even a seemingly simple act such as entering or leaving a room is not without semantic content. You don't have a choice about whether to have this power: your choice is how you will exercise it. But I think you will find it difficult to exercise it mindfully, and in accordance with your own values, unless you first accept that you have it. As we all do.
posted by gauche at 3:23 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Talk with men for a while as you usually do and then change the subject to ask if they feel you have been flirting. If so, ask what gave them that impression.
posted by conrad53 at 3:32 PM on February 10, 2012


Ask a man if he thinks you've been flirting? That wouldn't signal any sexual interest or anything.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:47 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been out for a lot of friendly dinners or gone to events with "new" people of the opposite sex and definitely didn't think they were dates, so they either weren't, or I am as confused as the poster.

Oh god, I've gone on a good number of "accidental" dates and had NO IDEA until he got very insistent about picking up the check, and/or started chasing or pinning me down to make out. I suspect deanc is right about this and that you just can't go to dinner with someone of the opposite sex without "the sex part getting in the way" at some point. You may just think "we're getting lunch as coworkers because we're the only two left here," and he's thinking "I want to nail her." Argh, but probably true. It may just be a good idea to avoid one-on-one time with single dudes if you don't want to go there, really.

I have been there many times. I don't flirt deliberately for shit, but sometimes being a female who is willingly talking to a guy, regardless of my outfit or my lack of smile or anything, is enough for them to think you want them. My shrink has pointed out to me that what I think is just being friendly apparently IS flirting, regardless of gender or intention. I think that's horrifying--what, am I supposed to frown, stare at the floor, and ignore any males in my vicinity if I don't want to boink them and can't claim an imaginary husband believably?-- but this thread seems to be saying that's accurate.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:48 PM on February 10, 2012


A lot of men parse all interest from women as sexual interest. (The reverse may also be true for a lot of women, I don't know.) It's frustrating.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:18 PM on February 10, 2012


At the risk of thread-sitting, let me ask one more question. Obviously, from the various opinions expressed in this thread, there's some ambiguity and/or disagreement about what constitutes friendliness versus flirtation. I very much value my friends of the opposite sex, and am unwilling to sacrifice them on some sort of altar of collective hallucination of social propriety (as I see it). I'd also like to make more male friends (female too, but that's beside the point): my life is fairly nomadic, as a grad student moving between countries and visiting archives around the world, so I'm often in the position of needing to be proactive about making new friends.

Thus I'd be very interested in hearing - especially from those who have said my behavior comes across as sexually forward - what specifically I can do to signal friendly interest rather than flirtatious/sexual interest when I approach a guy. I don't have a boyfriend at present and I don't really feel comfortable lying by throwing a fictitious boyfriend into the conversation (I also feel that this comes across as rather rude - it signals that you *assume* that the other person is interested in you). Similarly, I don't think it's well-mannered or socially fluent to try to clarify things explicitly beforehand ("Just so you know, I'm not interested in you romantically, so our meeting up for coffee is not a date-date, okay?"). Do you agree this is rude and presumptuous? It also seems to rather aggressively take charge of the budding friendship. I guess there's the idea that some have said above about not smiling, making eye contact, or seeming too encouraging/attentive in conversation, but this seems to take the joy out of social interaction. Those of you who say I'm coming across as inappropriately flirty, what specific suggestions do you have to signal to a man that my interest is friendly rather than flirtatious, even if I'm meeting him in a place that might suggest otherwise (a party, a pub, etc.)? And how can I keep this boundary clear as the friendship grows?
posted by UniversityNomad at 5:41 PM on February 10, 2012


Look, part of what you're dealing with is the natural consequence of the fact that pretty much all of the social rules for single people have largely evaporated over the last century. This is good in one sense, because it means that single people can actually interact now, but it's bad in another, because it means that no one knows what the rules are. Or, possibly, that the rules are that sexual attraction and interaction is always an option. This is, perhaps, a lateral step at best.

what specifically I can do to signal friendly interest rather than flirtatious/sexual interest when I approach a guy.

There is no single thing. Not anymore. Not only are people different, so what says "flirtatious/sexual interest" to guy A might not to guy B, but the social dynamics in various communities tend to set a lot of the tone here. If you're in a religious, family-oriented community composed of people from three generations, the dynamics of group interaction are going to be very different than if you're in a secular, academic community composed largely of your generation. Again, not a good thing or bad thing, but a Thing. Sexual relationships happen in both groups, but they're going to have different ways of expressing sexual interest and different expectations for how that's going to play out.

But if my experience in professional school is anything to go by, a sexual relationship is more-or-less a semi-permanent option for most of the people there who weren't already married--and even for some of those who were. It's going to be very difficult to point to any particular thing you can do to change ground rules like those.
posted by valkyryn at 6:41 PM on February 10, 2012


First of all, I think it might be useful to you to check out this and this related AskMes.

Thus I'd be very interested in hearing - especially from those who have said my behavior comes across as sexually forward - what specifically I can do to signal friendly interest rather than flirtatious/sexual interest when I approach a guy

UN: this is tricky. My female friends are generally people that I know socially in academic, professional, or social contexts where dating is "off the table" for whatever reason, either because it was inappropriate, unprofessional, one or both of us was not romantically attracted to the other but there was still an intellectual interest, or because one or both of us were/are dating someone else or simply not in "dating mode" at the time, etc. Usually it's because there is some other binding experience or context in which we formed a friendship.

how can I keep this boundary clear as the friendship grows?

It is generally not expected (or at least is considered a social faux pas to expect) a platonic relationship to develop into a romantic relationship. If he asks, it is appropriate for you to explain to him that the feelings aren't mutual, and he is obligated to take that turn-down with grace.

There's obviously another disconnect going on in this thread: asking someone on a date isn't done because the guy is convinced that the women is interested ("she wants me"). It is done as a means of gauging interest. If you know there's no romantic interest on your part, respond to being asked out on a date by turning him down for a date, but offering a friendly alternative instead.

The thing is that in an environment with a lot of single 20 somethings, the baseline social expectation is that social interactions are going to involve flirtation and probing for mutual interest. Remember how I said some of my female friends are people I know from times when I was not in "dating mode"? Well, people in the 20s on a university campus are generally all in "dating mode."
posted by deanc at 6:18 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you might want to consider turning this situation upside down. From your updates, it looks like you don't flirt. Ever. I was going to ask "how do you behave when you ARE flirting?", but, from your description of how you behave when you're romantically interested, it sounds like you don't actually engage in any dance of body language / conversational strategy when you're actively interested in someone and seeking to communicate that, or, at least, you're not conscious of how your behavior changes when you're feeling sexual energy with someone rather than not.

Rather than dissecting your behavior when you're NOT interested in people, I'm going to suggest spending some time just noticing your behavior when you ARE. Not just the explicit "I'd like to go on a date-date with you" stuff, but the lead-up to that -- are you asking people out cold (with no specific reason to think they're into you?) What signals are you picking up on? What signals are you giving off to the people who attract you?

I'm not asking you to answer those questions right now, just to be mindful of them in the moment. This is meant to be a fun exercise!

Once you know these things, you can apply them in a few ways. If there's a lot of differentiation, it should bring you some peace of mind -- "I know I'm not flirting, because if I were flirting, I'd be doing XYZ." If there's some differentiation, but not a lot, you might find ways *intrinsic to your own natural behaviors* to differentiate between flirting and not-flirting. If there's no differentiation, then you might want to consider experimenting with different behaviors to try to build some in -- not just so that you won't "be a flirt", but also to build that awareness of when you're developing a pre-explicit sexual groove with someone, and to be able to identify explicitly when they're flirting with YOU.

(Do you recognize when someone is flirting with you? That might also be something useful for you to pay attention to.)

In summary: The path to learning to not flirt is learning to flirt. Intentionality is the name of the game.

I am very sympathetic to the "there is nothing a woman can do in public that will not be interpreted as flirting" phenomenon. I once had a guy decide I was flirting with him because I held my checkbook in a way that let him read my name. But there is a distinction between "being a woman in public" and "actively flirting", and my point is to emphasize awareness of how those things are different from the inside rather than the outside.
posted by endless_forms at 10:51 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, if I were interested in dating a guy that I had been interacting with in a friendly way, I'd say something like: "Hey X, I've really enjoyed getting to know you, and if you're interested, I think we should go out sometime on a date-date, like an actual date." And then we're all on the same page, and he can either eagerly accept, or say something like "Ummm, I like spending time with you but I want to keep it to friend dates, kthnx

Why must interest be signaled at all? I don't understand this. In my platonic friendships with women, the women never had to signal interest at all. We just talked a lot and that was that.

Ironmouth, I appreciate what you're saying about eye contact and smiling being general signals of romantic interest, and how that interplays with what is generally considered the man's responsibility of initiating. I was wondering whether you could elaborate on what specifically you're advising. Obviously you don't know me personally, but would you have any general suggestions? Are you suggesting no smiling and no eye contact, even if I find you interesting as a person (but not a potential romantic partner)? If a woman found you interesting and wanted to get to know you as a friend, how to you would she signal this (as opposed to romantic interest)?

Again, there's no need to signal "platonic interest."

Let me get a little deeper into this. When I was younger, like a lot of people I was a bad flirt. On a recommendation, I read a book called Intimate Connections by Dr. David Burns, a very well-known psychatrist, a leader in the field of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the author of the most prescribed therapy book ever, Feeling Good.

What did Intimate Connections say on how to flirt? Smile, eye contact, touching. So I did it. I was totally blown away by the results. Suddenly I went from being a terrible flirt to being an excellent one. I could not believe how effective it was. I told a female friend and she was skeptical. A month later she called me up and said she was blown away by how effective it was and how really attractive men were pursuing her now.

Eye contact, smiling and touching are powerful indicators of sexual interest. They work in ways that are subconscious. Forwardly displaying these signs without care for the consequences is not nice behavior.

And look at the results. Literally your question is "why do guys keep thinking I like them, all I do is intensely chat them up, look them in the eyes and smile at them."

Even type in "eye contact flirting" to Google. Half the articles are from men's sites, as indicated above. But the other half are from women's sites answering the age old questions of how to flirt and how do you know if a guy is flirting with you.

Part of the problem is that humans are frail, emotional creatures that try to avoid rejection. So they rely on these signs so non-verbally, they don't have to hear rejecting words or say them. So while you might have this elaborate way of breaking it down, others are looking for other signals.

So yes, I would stop making a lot of eye contact. It is sending a signal to men that you are sexually interested. People who say it depends on your intention aren't getting the point flirting behaviors are designed to demonstrate attention. Its like saying people should be able to figure out if a shot was fired in anger.

I suspect there's something deeper working here. I suggest a period of self-observation and seeing what you are doing. I also think putting yourself in their shoes is a great idea.

So yes, cut down on the eye contact, smiles and compliments. No need to signal non-platonic interest to a man. Compare how you interact with females you want to be friends with.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:23 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


In case anyone is still reading: I wanted to thank everyone who commented in this thread, especially those who responded to my final question. All the varying opinions have been extremely illuminating, and I will continue to mull them over. Ironmouth, thank you for fleshing out your stance; I have a much clearer sense of your view now. I do deeply disagree with you, in that I believe there exists an essential ambiguity inherent in all social interactions, and I reject the idea that a romantic/sexual framework should necessarily take interpretative primacy over all others. Thus I would regard the code you propose as reductive and imposing a stifling false clarity on a reality that is much less binary and much more fluid. However what you say is thought-provoking and I will happily bear it in mind as an alternative perspective to keep considering, and moreover one that those I encounter may well hold. Thank you everyone!
posted by UniversityNomad at 5:24 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I reject the idea that a romantic/sexual framework should necessarily take interpretative primacy over all others

This has been an interesting thread because, for me, it has fleshed out some ideas about social interaction that I never thought of in detail before, but now I can articulate a little more clearly. And one of them is this: friendships form organically, and romantic relationships are pursued intentionally. You're trying to pursue "friendship" intentionally, which is usually the romantic script. How many times have you ever heard someone say, "From the moment I saw him at that party, I knew I wanted to be friends with him"?

Don't think about your question in terms of, "how can I stop being a flirt?" Think about it in terms of, "how can I be better at making friends?" I have many female friends, but I can count 2, exactly 2, female friends where the friendship started when we met each other for the first time in a social context, exchanged contact information, and went out on a "date" together soon after (this doesn't count exes that I'm still friends with). So from the perspective of, "how can I make friends?" your social strategy is not a good one. Friendships form organically from your acquaintances in your school, workplace, or other activities.
posted by deanc at 5:47 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Deanc, that's a very interesting point, and may actually get to the heart of the issue. I actually often do pursue friendships in an intentional way: I've moved around a lot over the past decade, and that imminent looming feeling of social transience has prompted me to somewhat assertively pursue friendships. Sure, some of my friendships start accidentally and grow slowly and organically, but if I know I'm only going to be living in a place for a year, this is usually not my preference, as it feels to me that I'm only beginning to get to know someone before we part to different continents. So, after an interesting conversation with someone - male or female - at a party or at my college bar or after a grad seminar, I'll decide that I might want to befriend them, I ask them for their contact information, and I email/text them to invite them for a friendly drink or dinner. I get similar friendly invitations (or at least I assumed them to be friendly rather than romantic...). In fact, most of my friendships have begun with these friendly dates, initiated either by me or by the other person. It was my understanding that this was pretty typical among migrant grad populations, but perhaps I'm misinterpreting everything, and this is the crux of the issue! I also think I do tend to view the social scene primarily through a friendship framework rather than a sexual/romantic framework, since I don't participate in casual sex, and for complicated reasons irrelevant to delve into here, I'm very rarely interested in dating those I meet (to be clear: this is a comment on my own idiosyncrasy rather than on the inadequacy of those I meet!). I assumed that most people I meet are similarly privileging a friendship framework over a romantic/sexual framework, since most people have at most only one romantic/sexual partner at one time, but many friends. Hearing everyone's comments has made me more acutely aware of other matrices through which those I meet might be interpreting my actions. I'll certainly be rereading this thread and thinking through the questions raised. Thank you!
posted by UniversityNomad at 6:18 PM on February 12, 2012


I do deeply disagree with you, in that I believe there exists an essential ambiguity inherent in all social interactions, and I reject the idea that a romantic/sexual framework should necessarily take interpretative primacy over all others. Thus I would regard the code you propose as reductive and imposing a stifling false clarity on a reality that is much less binary and much more fluid.

I never said any of that. I'm not talking theory. I'm answering the question of "why do all these guys think I'm hitting on them?"

The answer is that you are basically are hitting on them. You are doing everything I do when I am deliberately hitting on them.

But to take it to the theory level, there is no objective reality anyway. There is no "reality" and no "false clarity." There are only two people with separate opinions. Neither is right. However, a large number of people use a common code to communicate. You can decide to make up any meaning for the signifiers people use in that code, but you're not likely to communicate your intentions very effectively. Since there are real people on the other end, and since highly-charged romantic feelings are possibly involved on their, from an ethical standpoint, I'd ask yourself if what you are doing is hurting people's feelings first.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:52 PM on February 12, 2012


I had, and sometimes still have similar experiences to you. I come from an quiet restrictive Irish Catholic background, spent many years in different European countries before settling in the UK. It's not that your social barometer is broken, it's simply that your a warm interested individual and you genuinely like people. You are fundamentally interested in how people tick.

That is very attractive to many people and the fact that you don't play games with people's heads is very attractive to even more people.
Because you are romantically availible some will assume you are flirting. It's simply a question of numbers.

To me the fact that you specifically said you make lots of eye contact but your are not physically affectionate with people unless you are interested shows that you do actually understand when behaviour transitions into flirting. The fact that some posters here ignored that clue is of itself interesting.

you can't really control the impact your normal behaviour has on some people. I would genuinely counsel against trying to modify your normal behaviour as you will close yourself off from some fascinating life experiences. It's worth putting up with a few people thinking you are flirting with them when there is no indication you are misleading anyone, in favour of the kind of fascinating interactions you will have with the rest.
posted by Wilder at 6:08 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I actually often do pursue friendships in an intentional way: I've moved around a lot over the past decade, and that imminent looming feeling of social transience has prompted me to somewhat assertively pursue friendships.

Let me jump back in here to suggest that this may actually represent your evangelical upbringing coming back into play. A lot of American evangelicals do precisely this, for a variety of reasons mostly having to do with the belief (not unfounded, IMHO), that many people lack substantive friendships, and that the way to go about fixing that is to be intentional about it.

But if both parties don't share that sort of intellectual framework, what you're describing looks like nothing more than an expression of romantic interest, regardless of the gender of the other person. Part of this has to do with the fact the prevailing Western culture seems to think of romantic relationships as a sort of "higher" or more serious form of relationship than "only" friendship, i.e. if a friendship gets really serious, the natural result is always romance. There isn't really any conceptual space for two people, of any combination of genders, to be serious, intimate, but non-romantic friends without the constant suspicion that there's more going on there. Witness the whole "bromance" phenomenon: the idea that two men can be close but non-sexual friends is so strange to modern observers that we actually had to come up with a (terrible) neologism. But, as many have observed, it's really just the latest development of a concept that was described as early as Aristotle.

A lot of Christians, evangelical and otherwise, view friendship and romance as relationships that involve a distinction in kind, not a distinction in degree, a view more in keeping with Aristotle's description (though most non-Catholics and even most Catholics probably wouldn't recognize that). So if you've still got that concept running in the background, you may find that your social interactions go in unexpected directions, as a lot of people don't share them.
posted by valkyryn at 6:17 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


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