Please don't flirt with me, sonny
March 23, 2012 7:52 AM   Subscribe

How to kindly discourage flirting in a pen-pal context? Military perspectives very welcome.

I've been sending care packages to (unknown to me, but not anonymous) deployed troops, as part of a Support Our Soldiers effort. Usually I don't hear back, but sometimes the guy wants a pen-pal. Great, I'm happy to correspond with somebody, if it makes their day a little better. However, though I am old enough to be these guys' mom, sometimes they flirt with me. I don't like that.

I get young men being (a) gallant and/or (b) indiscriminate -- OK, I was a young woman once. But I'm not one now, and flirtation from someone my son's age makes me feel slimy, as if my motives for doing this thing are called into question. Like I'm some would-be cougar preying on these poor lonely 20-year-olds.

Noooo, squick, not me. I just picture my son in a deployment situation, and how much that would suck for him, and I want to do for these guys what I'd do for my boy, in case their parents can't, or won't. Send them movies and candy bars and a nice letter from time to time. Show them they matter to someone. Lay up some good karma for my son, maybe.

So while I know how to discourage flirting in real life, in all its myriad gradations between a puzzled look and pepper spray, I don't know how to strike the right note here. The maternal note. The firmly but kindly maternal note, that doesn't make the guy feel stupid, or like he can't keep emailing me if he feels like it.

Please note: these guys know my age, my adult kids' ages, and have seen my picture. If that didn't do the trick, I really don't know.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you've got to be direct. Guys (especially lonely guys on a deployment) might not take a subtle hint, especially via email. I'd say something like, "Let's keep things above board here, soldier/airman/sailor/marine. I'm old enough to be your momma, so no flirting, or I won't feel comfortable writing back. Now about those camel spiders..."
posted by Rock Steady at 7:58 AM on March 23, 2012 [11 favorites]

I'd try to make light of it first, something along the lines of, "Now son, stop that, my name isn't Mrs. Robinson and I don't want my manfriend thinking I'm leading soldiers on." Maybe even replacing his name with "son" would help subtly change the tone. If that didn't work, then I think you're going to have to go with direct like Rock Steady says.
posted by smirkette at 8:12 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

"I'm happy to be your penpal, but honestly the flirting makes me uncomfortable and I'd be thankful if we'd just have these letters be friendly but not 'friendly', you know?"

Be honest. You're not Daisy from Downton Abbey. You won't make them feel super dumb and if their motives are generally friendly, then all will be okay. If their motives are super fillthy, you'll lose those guys, but they're not people you'd want to stay in contact with anyway.
posted by inturnaround at 8:16 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

And on second thought, I would be even more direct, and instead of saying "no flirting," I'd customize it to whatever the exact problematic content was -- "no asking about my underwear" or "no talk about your junk" or "keep the porno in the barracks" or whatever, as the case may be.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:17 AM on March 23, 2012

Absolutely be direct. You don't have to be unkind when you're direct. I completely agree that the more specific you make it, the better. The clearer your expectations, the easier this will be.

Don't apologize for telling them not to flirt or say icky things. Tell them what is off-limits, explain the consequences if they do write about those things, "When you say _____, it makes me feel like you're flirting with me, and I'm not going to continue writing to you if you keep talking about that. I just wanted this to be clear. So, anyway..."
posted by MoonOrb at 8:39 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Points for the casual reference to Downton Abbey. I'm trying to think of things you could write about yourself, real or fabricated, that would kill their epistolary libido, but that's path fraught with both danger and hilarity.
posted by mecran01 at 8:40 AM on March 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Perhaps part of the problem is that they have seen your picture? Unless it is an inherent and institutional part of the care package sending or pen-pal finding process this might be a flirty seeming gesture to keep in mind with future soldiers.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:18 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have a male partner or son? If so, they could add a friendly line or so at the end of the emails you send. Doesn't have to be anything about the flirting, just saying hi. I think if you make it clear a man in your life is also participating in these letter it would kill it dead most of the time.
posted by cairdeas at 9:35 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the male partner suggestion. It may even be worth inventing a male partner if you don't have one. A white lie may be the best way to smooth over a difficult situation.
posted by Maastrictian at 9:47 AM on March 23, 2012

Have you ever included a note with the initial package that included something like you've said here? "I just picture my son in a deployment situation, and how much that would suck for him, and I want to do for these guys what I'd do for my boy, in case their parents can't, or won't." Maybe rephrased a bit, but I think if they see you are specifically picturing them as temporary surrogate sons from the very beginning, that'd put a little squick in their game.

You could also send packages to female soldiers.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:49 AM on March 23, 2012 [22 favorites]

I like tchemgrrl's advice. Additionally, don't feel slimey about getting attention from these young guys!! I doubt they're questioning your motives. It's because there's been this whole... how do I politely phrase this... adoration of attractive older moms within the popular culture as of late.

I'm assuming the flirting they're attempting with you is kind and flattering and meant to indicate that you're a desirable woman, not an attempt to secure a date upon their return. If that's the case, stating "thank you for your flattery"once in an email and ignoring other flirting is enough. If they start sincerely trying to make a play for you, then (after laughing hysterically) send them an email letting them know that it's just not going to happen.

If they're actually crossing the line from attempted flattery to sexual inappropriateness, then delete the email and don't write them back again.
posted by vivzan at 10:52 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you should go full out Mom on them and treat it as them trying to be gallant to an older lady so they have a gracious excuse for their behavior.

Oh "insert name here", you don't need to flirt with me. It's sweet but I'm definitely old enough to your mama since I have a son your age and it's making me feel like a pervy old lady so please stop. If they don't stop, strike them from your mailing list. I also 2nd the idea of including some female soldiers. I imagine it's hard being a female soldier in a mostly male war zone.
posted by stray thoughts at 5:57 PM on March 23, 2012

« Older Cat with a UTI and possibly stones?   |   So, no Synthroid for me. Now what? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.