There are plenty of references in the Scriptures where flirting (in the sense of showing an interest) is seen as being a blessing or a curse. Deuteronomy 6 tells us anything can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how it is utilised.
In the case of flirting, the story of Boaz and Ruth is an example where flirting proved to be a blessing, whereas in the situation of David and Bathsheba it proved to be a curse. In some sense flirting is a wonderful creative gift whereby young men and young women have exercised successfully down through the centuries.
Now the New York magazine have expressed concern in this heightened era of sexual openness that what men may construe to be a gentle flirt is nothing more than a friendly smile, a conversation ....
Catherine Reilly writing for Daily Life deconstructing all of this, says: polite human behaviour such as smiling, laughing or even being interested in a conversation are enough for a man to think, "Yeah. She wants it."
Reilly notes that this makes sense, that if one gender (females) are raised to be overly courteous all the time (and be overly courteous when they are attracted to someone) ... well. Things are going to get a little 'blurred', shall we say."
It's called 'sexual over-perception' explains Reilly. Everything and everything, even being ignored, as adjudged as "she wants it". 'Sexual perception' is at the core of this difference and why social media sites such as tumbler have become well utilised where none of that is necessary – two people of different sexes meet for one thing. Sexual perception is simply not on the agenda.
Reilly comments that the "gender inequality" theory is essentially the story of men's misplaced entitlement to women and their bodies, from which we have our social norms, which dictate that men do the chasing while women cross their legs and look away hoping like hell it doesn't register to him as non-interest.
One of the psychology courses I undertook at seminary, almost 40 years ago, still applies today in Western democracies from what Reilly's research has found, that women are taught to doubt, first themselves and then the love of anyone else. This a truly important statement as even the most beautiful young women in appearance tend to have huge hangups relating to low self esteem and a lack of perception as to how gifted and accomplished they really are.
Our Press Service International (PSI) young writer program illustrates this in the personal communications as an older gentleman I have with many of the young women writers. They are in my view wonderfully gifted, bright, smart but as Catherine Reilly points out through the research, many with a lack of self esteem and recognition as to how very talented they really are.
Fathers are supposed to continually compliment their daughters as I do my own three adult daughters and the outcomes are those self same outcomes - you're in trouble if you don't compliment your daughters, you're compliments are treated as non-real compliments because that's what father's do. Then if you don't compliment daughters, you're in equal trouble for not complimenting them.
(I'm told by more heartier theologians than me, that 'pink lies' are okay – a pink lie is when your wife comes home after being at the hairdresser - if want your tea - and you might think the hairdresser did a very ordinary job - you tell a pinkie. You think I'm joking!!)
Catherine Reilly highlights all the dangers. One of these is any man in a supervisory role with young women – and give some form of complimentation for good work, clever achievements, pleasing writing. Where is a fine line drawn in this 'supervisory role' of professional compliments to a 'perception of flirting'. Goodness me, we're in troubled waters here.
In my case as an editor, I will often jokingly pre-cursor a comment to one of the young women writers, with "do I need my lawyer here when I compliment you on ...... " It's a valid question if you follow the do-gooders - one does need a lawyer to say the obvious!
Society has the pendulum swung to one end according to Susan Patton – who is all over this like a rash calling it double standards and out of touch. Patton says: "Any young man on any college campus who is accused of having sexually assaulted a woman starts from the position of being guilty until they can prove their own innocence."
Where do we go from here with flirting?
Is there such a thing as Christian flirting? I wonder? I doubt it. The act of flirting itself is an expression of one person showing an initial interest in another. The classic television examples of this are the Miss Marple series set between WWI and WWII in Britain (as just one of many examples) where a look, a smile, a turn of the head, is all that is required.
Such an initial expression of interest is then tested by both parties as to whether there might be a possibility of an ongoing courting relationship and then on towards a longer term future, or, on the other hand, a simple meeting of two people that goes nowhere.
More modern cinematic and television expressions of flirting tend to be a countdown from the time they make that first acknowledgement to the time they end up with their gear off and "at it" like rabbits. That's not flirting in the classic sense of the word, rather it's a make believe excursion into soft porn dressed us as family entertainment.
Is flirting fun? Yes.
Is flirting safe? Yes.
Is flirting in our human natures? Yes.
But, can what one person reflects as flirting be misconstrued? Yes.
Is flirting tricky? It can be.
But as Susan Patton says, Be sensible.
There are two people involved here, not just a man. It's an old tale but many young women 'glad eye' young men only to find themselves in compromising situations and certainly not taking Susan Patton's common sense advice about being sensible and not being 'drink as a skunk' or 'high on drugs'. More court outcomes are recognising this. Equal responsibility.
Today in this article I am not discussing those small % of men who exercise sexual abuse and rape over vulnerable young girls and women who have found themselves in situations unplanned. Nor am I discussing how some women utilise their sexual titillations over men to cheat, steal, honey traps, espionage and the like.
Nor is this article referring to the many younger men who flirt outrageously with elderly widows in the churches - complimenting them on their hair, their complexions and the amazing cream that handles the more demanding skin, their new outfit and such fun-filled humour which they enjoy and which ensures they feel as a part of the faith community.
The fine line
This article is specifically addressing the classic comprehension of flirting.
Where then - is the fine line drawn? Wasn't it Paul the Apostle who said whatsoever things are lovely and pure .... think on these things. Is flirting in this category? I would like to think so for those who follow Jesus.
In a sense flirting is the start of a professional relationship in courting which then has two possibilities – mutual respect in friendship or to the next level of regular dating. This is Bible (101).
Do I still compliment my daughters. You betcha! Do I still sensibly compliment female young writers. That's part of my professional responsibilities. What of 'dad jokes' – most tell me their father's 'dad jokes' are worse!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html