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Should Not Mean But Be | 2010 | All Rise

06.15.10 8:51 p.m.

Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.  

-Landrum Bolling


Flirting: a Retraction

The dinosaur doesn't get that I don't want to flirt!

There was a time not long ago when I was, by my own description, an ungodly flirt. At the time, I played it off as innocent, as letting someone know that I did care about them in the most convenient language I had available.

But it wasn't wholly innocent. At that time, I was in a relationship. She had a busy schedule that did not involve me. Even when she was present in body, her mind focused on what tomorrow and the tomorrow after that required of her. So I flirted because I needed an outlet, I needed to know I was still capable of being attractive to someone.

When something inevitably did happen - specifically that she fell for one of her friends with whom she was spending more time given their mutual devotion to a sport - my illicit flirtation isn't what saved me from devastation. I found someone I hadn't known a month before, not someone for whom I idly bit my lip or offered compliments on the edge of impropriety.

Flirtation when in a relationship can't be impeccant. There is always an edge of "how far am I going to take this? Are you going to stop me? Am I?" If the person with whom one is flirting in the unscrupulous type, willing to forsake their relationship or committed only to the idea of their pleasure, you are letting them know that you are leaving your bedroom door open a crack should they wander by. And when they do - because they will - you feel that you have only yourself to blame for leading them on.

Years ago, there was a new friend with whom I flirted. Even then, I could tell that it was more than trivial to her, but I felt faint flirtation would solidify our friendship. She had a boyfriend and I, a girlfriend. The flirtation wasn't much more than friendly for me, but she took it as significant. Our friendship ended within two weeks of our meeting, with her faking tears on my lap in a mall parking lot so I would hold her. I was revolted with the whole situation and knew my sin in it. Even now, I remember this as one of the most spiritually uncomfortable situations I've ever experienced. I've known others who thought they were safely flirting until the other participant tried to force the situation to its crisis. Why else would they have baited the hook if they weren't going to fish, to coin a folksy phrase? They couldn't be happy with their partner if they acted like this, right?

I am grateful right now that none of my friends are flirts (there have been times when all were) because flirting forces the other party into unnatural roles: stiff discomfort or reciprocating and escalating despite what one might independently want.

In college, I played Lysander in a production of A Mid-Summer Night's Dream. As part of my role, I had to spend a lot of time rehearsing affection and kissing with the actress playing Hermia to the extent that my then-girlfriend Kate could tell with a kiss what scene I had been practicing (Hermia smoked and used perfume). Hermia was pretty, but was not my type at the time and I was in a relationship. Still, owing to the fact that I spent the beginning of the play with my arms around and lips on Hermia, I can't deny that I felt warmly and protectively over a woman I otherwise would not have. My heart didn't care why I was pretending, it produced the requisite fondness. When Hermia came onto me off-stage (was her heart trying to aid justification too?), I reacted badly, realizing how groundless my unmentioned warmth toward her was. (Specifically, I threatened to bite her tongue should she make good on her promise to stick it in my mouth during one of our stage kisses opening night.)

So it is with flirting, an attempt to recast someone into a more intimate role. If they refuse this attempt to influence their behavior, they can't take a joke and are joyless. If they don't refuse, they have to keep momentum and surrender to their heart seeking consistency with their actions. Implying to someone that you consider them sexually is intrusive, even when it is welcome (as flirting ought to be but rarely is).

Of course, it no doubt helps my disinclination to flirt both that I am content with my partner and that no one in my social sphere (or former celebrity crushes) gives me that full body tingling. Pegging my abandonment issues for what they are squashed a lot of that urge. Instead of smirking reassurances out of every comely woman in my sightline that I still qualify as a prospect, I find what I need inside myself and do not harass strange women or patient friends. At least for me, flirting was only about the object of my attentions in an incidental way, because it would have been silly to flirt with a vacancy. Instead, I flirted with the space around them in hopes I could cement them there a little while longer.

I no longer need flirting to tell someone that I care about them. It turns out that simply telling someone I care about them is more than sufficient and the honesty of it tends to mean more than cloaking my truth in the clothes of attraction.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job.

last watched: Aeon Flux
reading: Swann's Way
listening: Damien Rice

Should Not Mean But Be | 2010 | All Rise

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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