Flirting is something that comes naturally to me. In fact, it comes naturally to almost all the people I know. I rarely mean anything truly serious about it, but apparently my intentions are frequently misunderstood. In this, I’ve gotten many responses to flirting that have, shall we say, warranted unwanted attention.
As far as my experiences go, flirting has two forms. That which is meant to convey a serious interest in the other party and that which is just another way of talking with your friends. Some people are very good at picking up on which kind of flirting is indicated but most people, it seems, are not.
I should note, before hand, that when I use flirting in this essay, I primarily mean being friendly. Friendly people get drinks for their friends. In my group, friendly people give each other back rubs. Getting a hug is normal. Expressing sympathy and empathy with your friends is friendly. I realize that this will vary with individuals, but I want to be clear that flirting, in my experience, is a natural part of friendship.
My best friends and I flirt non-stop. The funny thing about this is that we’ve had many different people assume that we were lovers because of this and we were both deeply surprised to find out that. In fact, we’ve never once slept with each other. Hell, we’ve never even made out with each other! It has become a running joke yet never cease to amaze.1
But we know each other very well and we know where all those hidden barriers between serious statements with intent and those that are meant harmlessly and because it’s fun to flirt with people you care about. Unfortunately, my habits with this friend, and several others with whom I share such a comfortable relationship, mean that sometimes my serious attempts at flirting fail badly or my platonic flirting is taken as serious.
Given that I am a gamer wife, there’s this unspoken agreement that I’m not really on the market. But as soon as I start that platonic flirting, things get quickly confused. Since I usually game with my spouse present, most people assume it must be platonic flirting because if it wasn’t, he’d react, right? And since he thinks it’s funny, it’s harmless! This is usually the least harmful situation. The assumption is that I cannot be seriously flirting if my spouse is present. Given that I so rarely seriously flirt, this works out fine for me. A dirty joke isn’t taken as an invitation, it’s taken as a dirty joke.
But every now and again I get a guy who just doesn’t seem to get that logic. Who believes that out the entire gaming group that I’m flirting with, I’m only seriously flirting with him. And then the awkwardness starts.2
Again, this seems to break down into a dichotomy. The first is the guy who can’t take a hint when others (often including me) point out that there isn’t anything serious there. The second are the guys who listen and back off. Obviously, the second group isn’t the problem here so I’m going to skip over them.
So let’s say that I just made a dirty joke about a guy’s character and my character. The table winces or chuckles, as appropriate, but the guy across the table leers. I have been subject to unwanted advances because of supposed “signals”. Usually they wait until I’m by myself in the kitchen, or my spouse has wandered off. I’ve been pulled into laps, I’ve been hugged quite inappropriately (often taking advantage of the social norm in the group to hug people, but sometimes their hands wander…), I’ve been asked startlingly personal questions because, well, if I didn’t want this, I shouldn’t have been flirting. I’ve had the unwanted behaviour continue at the table, although often more subtly. I’ve had guys use their characters to enact out their interest. And trust me, that last one is super disturbing if you’ve ever seen it.
And it’s all done on the down low. See, I’m still a gamer wife. So I’m still attached. There are repercussions if we’re seen. This means that when I tell my spouse that another gamer is making me uncomfortable, they are never there to see the things that make me uncomfortable. And yes, sometimes the group becomes more vigilant, but often, I just become more withdrawn. It’s nothing. I’m just imagining it. It’s all in my head. He’s like that with everyone, it’s nothing special to me. I’m overreacting.
If I don’t want to hug one person, it’s better not to hug anyone to avoid singling them out. Tell fewer lewd jokes, don’t want to put more fuel on the fire. Be polite but cold. Rebuff the guy gently so that no one else notices. Because in the end, it falls back to drama. The fear that it’ll be seen as my fault, and not theirs, is often much worse with simple flirting then obvious creepy things.
Because if I didn’t want the attention, I shouldn’t have been flirting. If I was uncomfortable, I should have been clear and stopped them in the beginning. By not immediately responding and altering my behaviour, I was encouraging them. I was leading them on, being so flirty and friendly.
But being clear doesn’t always work. I have one acquaintance whom I have repeatedly turned down3 but their flirting often tramples over my boundaries and they won’t back down. They still keep trying. They keep telling me things that I don’t want to know about them. Probably because the logic is that I’m just shy due to being a gamer wife. I need to be coaxed out my relationship. I need encouragement. It’s not possible that I’m being made uncomfortable or that I don’t desire them.
It’s like the second that I’ve opened that door a smidge, some people assume that they can waltz right in and put their shoes on the table. And if it weren’t for the whole drama part of it, this would never be an issue. Yet drama lurks around the edges for the unwary, telling us that we just need to smile and play nice and let these guys down gently.
So over the years, I’ve become less friendly with certain groups. I only flirt and am truly friendly with a small group of people because I already know they are safe. I don’t trust much anymore. Both for fear that I’ll be misunderstood and mire myself in drama but also because it’s hard to avoid internalizing that blame.
Next week, I’m going talk about attributing work and granting of credit. By which I mean how much of my stuff is attributed to me and how much to my spouse. And in a similar vein, how much credit am I given for his accomplishments.
- The funny thing about this is that we’re both women. And since most people will assume you are straight from the get go, we must both be giving off crazy signals. I’m still baffled. ↩
- And no, I don’t know why it’s always been guys. Probably the whole assumption of heteronormativity. Hee. I just got to use heteronormativity in a post. I r smrt. ↩
- No thank you, I’m not interested. That should be clear. And yet. ↩