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!