The next time you see someone who gives out lingering looks and playful remarks to others, you may want to think twice before you label them as a “fuck boi.” In fact, the universality of flirting, from insects to humans, males or females, suggests that flirtation is most likely preserved through the evolutionary history of sexual selection. It has been embedded in our genes, offering a relatively risk-free way to test the opposite sex, exchange information and enhance connection.
Of course, the psychology behind plays a bigger role in the high art of flirting. It is such an intricate act that even flirters themselves may not be aware of why they flirt or what they actually want out of flirting — it doesn’t always have to be sex.
Some causes are based on individuality and vary in different scenarios. For example, an insecure flirter may flirt to increase self-esteem, while a curious flirter may be driven by the exploring motive and may flirt to gauge the interest of the other person. A playful flirter who flirts for fun may suddenly turn into a sincere flirter who is eager to change a casual friendship into a serious, romantic relationship.
The common attribute of all acts of flirtation is its uncertainty — the surprise and the implicit potentiality of what is to come next. It is what makes all acts of flirtation fascinating, alluring and distinct from an explicit sexual request. It opens up a path of consecutive possibilities: “Perhaps they will kiss me; if they kiss me, perhaps I will caress them back …” Georg Simmel, the German philosopher, describes flirtation beautifully as something that “incarnates concession and withdrawal in the playful rhythm of constant alternation.”
But uncertainty and unknowability do not entail the absence of concrete meanings. Sympathizing with the German novelist Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” Roland Barthes writes: “It is meaning that thrills him: he is the crucible of meaning. Every contact, for the lover, raises the question of an answer: the skin is asked to reply. … This is the paradisiac realm of subtle and clandestine signs: a kind of festival not of the senses but of meaning.”
Here we may ask — what’s the meaning of flirtation? What exact meanings do flirters create in each look, each touch and each kiss? In fact, flirtation creates a world shared by the two flirting and by them only. The two flirters together create the meanings that exist in the concrete reality of their interaction.
Therefore, we should not attempt to impose meanings upon the flirtation of others, as the meanings lie solely within the shared world of the two flirters. The quality and meanings of each act of flirtation are bound to the here and now and the characters involved.
Simmel thinks that flirtation can be a prototype for countless forms of social interaction. If we consider things other than those relevant to two members, we shall realize that we flirt not only with romantic motives but also with political or even religious positions. For example, “flirting” is a useful and common tactic in politics — politicians either linger in the state of “perhaps” to have a foretaste of both alternatives or to “attract” their enemies into forming an alliance.
Flirtation is particularly significant and unique in a world where rigid codes of conduct are often applied to human relationships. It is constantly uncertain and in flux. It resists fixed labels or stereotyped views. It defies external rules or imposed interpretations.
And it is for such fascinating qualities of flirtation that we shall consider it an art.
Contact Raina Yang at [email protected].