Is my behavior completely wrong?
April 25, 2010 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Alright, so I am 20-something female, pretty outgoing/friendly, and (I think) relatively well-liked. My problem is that I can't figure out the nuances of human interaction. (FYI: somewhat-long question ahead).

My method of talking to people consists of teasing/debating, with a good chunk of sarcasm tossed in (always in good humor). I fine-tune my behavior depending on how well I figure I know a person, on where on the hierarchy ladder they sit, i.e. to my bosses I am serious and straight-laced (though friendly!), to those I know better I joke/tease, and to those I feel even closer to I am physical (hugs, wrestling, tickling). These (and maybe age) are the only factors I allow to alter my behavior (excluding conversational topic choices); I do not take gender, sexual orientation, etc. into account.

Lately I have been told by friends/relatives that what I take as innocent behavior is, in fact, flirting, and that often when I do so, others flirt back. This is on two levels - 1. When I verbally tease people I "kind of" know, and 2. When I tickle/wrestle, etc. people I know pretty well. This leaves me worried that people may be interested in me, and that I am inadvertently and unintentionally leading them on, which I by no means wish to do.

It strikes me as hilarious that I should find myself in this predicament, as I have problems "flirting" with people that I am actually interested in. I am as friendly to them as I am with everyone else (a HUGE improvement over my "be mean to them--->run away from them" style of interaction when I was younger), but can't joke in the same way. This means that I've never been on a date, had a boyfriend, etc., and now have a tendency to feel "weirded out" at the thought of someone liking me that way. I have absolutely no romantic experience whatsoever.

With that background in place, here are my questions:
1. Have I in fact been behaving inappropriately (giving off signals I don't mean to give), and if so, what should I be doing/not doing in order to avoid this?
2. How can I tell if someone is interested (+if possible, available), and assuming I like them, how can I show that this interest is reciprocated?

This has really left me feeling self-conscious lately, so I appreciate any advice you all can give. Thanks everyone!
posted by Sakura3210 to Human Relations (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Behaving inappropriately is case-by-case thing - much as you treat it.

If someone is interested in you, they'll ask you to a one-on-one interaction. They may or may not explicitly call it a date. If you think you'd have a good time, you agree to the date. If you think you'd have a good time but just as friends, you'd state that as well.

In the end, there's nothing wrong with flirting, assuming neither of you are in committed relationships. I'd say you have a pretty healthy way of dealing with things and that your friends/relatives may be jealous of your easy and carefree life.
posted by squorch at 1:10 PM on April 25, 2010

Maybe it's an age thing, or a culture thing, or a personal-space quirk of my own, but I think of tickling and wrestling as something you do with either children or love interests. My opinion:
1.) Stop tickling and wrestling friends, unless
2.) you are showing that interest is reciprocated.
posted by Houstonian at 1:13 PM on April 25, 2010 [10 favorites]

I don't think your interactions are inappropriate unless they make people uncomfortable. I have a few friends that are similar to you in being physical, as well as teasing, but that's just how they act. They are now just in my mind as physical people, or flirts etc. As long as you're consistent I don't really see it as an issue. It's just how you act.

The only problem with this comes in part 2 of your question. If you are flirty with everyone, how does someone know if you are interested in them? l feel like the best course of action would just be to tell them you are interested, subtly or not, and hope for the best. Obviously this becomes more difficult the closer you are to the person, but we all have to take chances every once in a while. I would try to give you advice on how to tell if someone is interested in you, but I'm still trying to figure that one out myself. Good luck!
posted by MaHaGoN at 1:15 PM on April 25, 2010

1. No. Assuming these people haven't complained to you about your behavior, and still hang out with you, they're not following the normal chain of command for identifying inappropriate behavior. I'm not sure I would trust the word of third parties on these situations--that being said, if the people you are doing this with are the people that are talking to you about it, maybe you need to discuss it with them more. If they're getting the wrong vibe from your behavior, it might be worth toning down.

2. This site, my life, and life in general is littered with people who are either interested in someone who is unaware or who aren't interested in someone who definitely is. The only reliable way to tell, and inform, is to basically say so or ask. Ask them to go with you (imply alone) for coffee, lunch, dinner, a movie, a walk in the park, or whatever. They're either going to want spend more time with you alone, or not.

Also, I would say being "self-conscious" is unfortunately stigmatized. The people I've had the most trouble with in life were the ones who had no idea how they seemed to the people around them...a little analysis, repackaging, and extrospection is a good thing.
posted by Phyltre at 1:20 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's an age thing, or a culture thing, or a personal-space quirk of my own, but I think of tickling and wrestling as something you do with either children or love interests

Agreed. Tickling and wrestling grown people you aren't romantically interested in is... a little weird. Kinda fun but kinda crazy cat-lady aunt weird. Even as a flirting technique with people you are interested in, it's weird. There are better ways to show interest, like compliments, investment in a conversation, and subtle body language.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:23 PM on April 25, 2010 [10 favorites]

I'm in kind of the same boat. I found out a few years ago that the playful teasing and banter I fall into with people I am comfortable with is flirting. Who knew? Like you, I was both unaware that people read it that way, and also not any good at doing it when I actually meant it.

For your first question, I doubt you are leading anyone on. Flirting is normal and fun and it doesn't have to be leading to anything.

As for the second, the only thing I know of that helps is getting more comfortable being around people in general. It takes practice. If you like someone, ask them to do something with you. Start a conversation. Get to know them, and you'll be more comfortable, and maybe end up flirting with them too.
posted by Nothing at 1:28 PM on April 25, 2010

Having been told similar things, what I don't get is why, if someone was flirting with you, he never would ask you out. See, if someone was flirting and interested in you, then it would result in him asking you out on a date. If he doesn't, that means he's too shy or he isn't interested enough which down the road may lead to complications. So I don't get it either, but nothing you're doing is wrong and if no one is asking you out, it's not because they aren't interested, it's just that they aren't interested enough which helps you steer clear of being in a relationship with a guy who enters it with so-so or lukewarm feelings and the inability to be proactive.
posted by anniecat at 1:34 PM on April 25, 2010

Though, I'm not into physically hugging/touching people other than small animals and my husband, so I would never do that. I'm just talking about the flirting/letting ppl know you like them etc stuff
posted by anniecat at 1:37 PM on April 25, 2010

Tickling and wrestling people other than your significant other? To me, that is entirely inappropriate for anyone out of middle school. I'm guessing that it might leave you coming across as immature and socially inept, which would turn off potential suitors but perhaps you'd still fit into a "fun buddy" category.
posted by halogen at 1:45 PM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

Unfortunately for all the sanguine young ladies out there, teasing, tickling, wrestling, etc. behavior can and very often is taken as flirting by the recipient. I have watched young women of my acquaintance do this, totally innocently, and seen the problematic results.

Here's the deal. If you aren't romantically interested in someone, it's best to keep your hands to yourself, and keep your banter a bit more distant (at least with the opposite sex.) If you ARE interested in someone, make eye contact, smile, be friendly, and go ahead and tease them, pick lint off their shoulder, etc. But I wouldn't do the tickling/wrestling thing anymore unless it's a child or your (future) boyfriend.

Maybe this will help. Imagine someone of the same age as you engaging in whatever behavior you are considering with, say someone you like. If you feel jealous, there's your answer. *wink*
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:48 PM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

If a woman engaged me by tickling/wrestling, I would think a.) she was definitely expressing romantic interest and b.) she's pretty weird.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:52 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The way you've described your approach to social interactions sounds very strategic, like it's coming from logical decisions you've made instead of how you really feel about a person. I think that may be creating a disconnect between the way you are perceived and the way you think you're being perceived.

A suggestion, try cultivating awareness. Hang out with a really close friend. How do you feel towards them? How do you want to show it? Ditto on somebody neutral, ditto on a stranger.

Another suggestion, start having romantic/sexual experiences so you can finally experience the raw energy that usually makes one person tickle another. You might decide to still tickle liberally. Or you may just say, "Oh, that's what tickling is about," and suddenly feel a little weird doing it so much.
posted by dualityofmind at 2:09 PM on April 25, 2010

Hi everyone, thanks for the responses! A few quick notes:
1) The people that I tease/joke with have never expressed any problems with me doing so I would have stopped immediately if they had; I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable.
2) I tend to tailor my actions based on the person. In the case of tickling, for example, I have only ever tickled in response - i.e. I was tickled by that person first. There are people I am around that have never hugged me, and I have, consequently, never hugged them back. Again, I don't wish to make anyone uncomfortable.

Basically, the comments I mentioned come from third parties, and the majority of my group are touchy-feely; I actually became less withdrawn because of them.
posted by Sakura3210 at 2:12 PM on April 25, 2010

Sorry 1 more note: I really don't tickle liberally. I think it's only been to two people in my group (who, again, did it first to me), and in one case when a comment was made, they defended the act as totally innocuous.
posted by Sakura3210 at 2:15 PM on April 25, 2010

Shit, I wish their were more people like you. Life and people can be so boring; it's a breath of fresh air for me to meet someone like you. Ignore your critics and full steam ahead!
posted by telstar at 2:22 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

I tickle and wrestle friends who are not family and/or love interests. I am not talking about causal acquaintances or people I just me. It is just natural for me. But it is true, many people are freaked out by it. BUT there are also a lot of people who are not freaked out by it, and they are usually a lot more fun.

I also tease and flirt. Oddly, I did not realize that people were taking it as a "come on." Again, this is natural for me. If people think it is odd, well what can I do? I also have trouble flirting with people I am actually interested in.

I am not sure how to solve your predicament, since I have not solved my own. But I figured you might like to know that there are other people like you. You sound like fun.
posted by fifilaru at 2:34 PM on April 25, 2010

I'm wondering how old these third parties that are telling you that you're flirting are. I'm 20, most of my friends fall in an 18-25ish age bracket, and I act like that with my friends all the time (I think it's funny that everyone focused on "tickling" and nothing else that you said, btw)- faux-wrestling, lots of hugs, etc. I'm wondering if it could be more of a generation gap thing- I don't know anyone in my immediate group of friends that would tell you that you're being inappropriate or that tickling (for example) is silly on anyone past middle school.
posted by kro at 2:44 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

It depends on who you're doing it to and how they feel about it. A lot of people will take physical contact as flirtation, or at the very least will find it attractive and start thinking of you in a different way. It is by no means guaranteed that it's flirtatious behavior.
posted by Lady Li at 3:22 PM on April 25, 2010

It sounds like you're flirting with these people (and if others are telling you you are, that seals the deal.) But I don't think it's as dire as you seem to think.

I mean, teasing is almost synonymous with flirting. But why should they express discomfort? Flirting is harmless fun for most people, as long as it's not with someone besotted with you. If you can't tell when someone likes you, maybe you could tone the teasing-acquaintances down a little bit, otherwise just keep an eye out for people who start trying to date you.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:05 PM on April 25, 2010

I think there may be an age thing going on here. Teasing, tickling, and wrestling may be the norm for adolescents. In the adult world, this is considered flirting.
posted by meerkatty at 6:31 PM on April 25, 2010

If I saw a girl I was dating wrestling or tickling other guys, I'd have a problem with that. Maybe it's just me, but that might be one reason guys are hesitant to warm up to you. That said, one of my best friends from college was like that and she's married and one of the coolest people I know. Try not being what you described here and see how you feel and how other people react.

Also, about the sarcasm, try to avoid it. I used to be really sarcastic, and I think that turns people off too because there's usually cynicism and/or insecurity beneath it. You can be witty and funny without it.
posted by tenaciousd at 9:17 PM on April 25, 2010

I know you don't mean to, but people like you make me incredibly uncomfortable. I usually run into them when joining a new circle of friends or with a friend or SO's relatives. They will usually be the person tickling or wrestling with my SO (grrrr, hands off!) or a teen. It's not outright wrong, but it is awfully uncomfortable. A lot of people do seem fine with it or think it's hilarious though. I'd rather be anywhere else and have often left a social group etc to avoid it. I have never mentioned it outright because I feel like I'm being silly, but hey, you asked here.

I'm not some freaky cold person btw (at least I hope not). I politely hug and kiss relatives on the cheek, and don't run scream when co-workers touch my shoulders.
posted by meepmeow at 9:22 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Again, I don't like making people uncomfortable. I only go as far as that person has with me. And if I perceive there could be an issue - e.g. if an SO would be bugged, or if someone cool with it before has changed because they now have an SO - I tone it down to no more than hugs (if that - I have no urge to antagonize anyone jealous).

As for the sarcasm, it is never directed at people or things they think are important, but rather are overall observations, e.g. "well, that was convenient" - comment regarding a character who died in a movie before he could reveal a huge secret.
posted by Sakura3210 at 9:58 PM on April 25, 2010

I'm not totally sure what your question is, especially as you're getting kind of defensive in the comments, but I'll give it a shot.

First of, none of your behaviors are "completely wrong". You're not actively hurting anyone, and you are free to do what you wish. That said, a few words of warning.

Yes, most people would interpret what you are doing as flirting. I'm a little suspicious that you can fully judge what does or doesn't make people uncomfortable since you didn't even know you were flirting, and plus, stuff like that is hard for anyone to judge.

Personally, I find behavior similar to yours (touching, teasing, sarcasm) to act as an amplifier for my own feelings towards that person. If I even slightly dislike you, or are neutral to you, being touched or teased (or having the same done to someone like my SO) is going to make me not be able to stand you, and avoid events that you attend. If I already like you, it's probably okay. I have similar feelings about people that give out nicknames - if I find you slightly annoying, calling me "Champ" is going to make me find you downright unbearable.

I think you're on the right track by treating others as they have treated you, but be conscious of the fact that they may be flirting. They may not be, but outside observers might still find it flirty. Seeing you "flirting" with another guy might send signals that you are not interested to someone you actually do like.

Finally, don't underestimate how tiresome sarcasm can be. Even if it's about mundane things, it can really make a positive experience (enjoying a cheesy movie) into an exercise in frustration. On the other hand, if others are joining in and mocking the movie, you are in the clear. It is one of those things that you just have to play by ear.
posted by fermezporte at 7:27 AM on April 26, 2010

Fermezporte, thank you for your comment, I like what you pointed out. I hadn't thought about how my behavior might be seen by someone I like but don't know well. I didn't mean to come off as defensive; rather I'm trying to clarify my behavior, as I think it came off that I'm a super-grabby person who indiscriminately initiates contact. I think I explained it best in a PM I sent:

The only guys I am physical with are ones that are like brothers to me (due to their behavior/how long I've known them); I can honestly count them on one hand. I've figured they see me the same way, as they've never tried asking me out, etc., and no one has ever accused me of being flirtatious with these friends. The flirtatious comments have entirely been directed at how I talk with people I know well, but not well enough to be physical with (i.e. where I think I'm just being friendly/jokey).

Thanks again everyone, and really sorry that I haven't explained things too well!
posted by Sakura3210 at 11:14 AM on April 26, 2010

I still don't understand the need to get physical or flirtatious in that way with people. Why do you need to do it at all? What outweighs possibly confusing people and making people uncomfortable? I love touching my spouse and cats (and other cute critters), but feel zero need to go beyond polite hugs and cheek kisses with anyone else. Maybe you crave physical intimacy and are looking for it in the wrong places?

On the other hand I have no problem with sarcasm and verbal onslaughts as long as the person can take as well as they give, and they don't do it in situations where I have to shut my trap lest I go one step too far (like work, relatives of friends etc).
posted by meepmeow at 2:35 PM on April 26, 2010

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