It’s the 21st century, and most of us like some romantic and sexual freedom. This includes flirting! Most of us want to be able to talk openly to people we find attractive, and enjoy the fun of flirting and romance. Many of us are tired of a repressed culture that discourages romance and prevents men and women from talking to each other. Flirting feels fun, freeing and exciting! But this is only true if both people are enjoying the flirtations. You may be having fun, but for the person on the other side- it could be a different story. Kumuthi, an engineering student, narrates a story of a classmate who took a liking to her. “He would keep staring at me, following me and winking me and doing things that made me feel uncomfortable. We were not friends, and even if we were, such behaviour would be unacceptable.” When Kumuthi finally confronted this classmate, he said: “I was just flirting with you! Why are you making a big deal out of it? I thought pretty girls like to be flirted with.”
This statement sums up how many people, especially men in India think about flirting. But remember- just because a person you find attractive exists, or walks, or looks at you or even talks to you, this does not mean that they want you to flirt with them. And blatantly flirting with someone who doesn’t appreciate it, can be uncomfortable, or even amount to sexual harassment in some cases. So how do you know if the other person is into you? How do you know if your behaviour is fun flirting, or plainly inappropriate?
- Do you have power over the person you are flirting with? As in, are you the boss, teacher, mentor, professor, or employer of the other person? Avoid flirting or making romantic advances is such contexts. Having power over someone makes it really hard for them to say ‘no’ or reject you. In most cases, flirting with a student, employee or mentee would amount to sexual harassment.
- Is the other person severely intoxicated/ has impaired decision making? Wait for them to sober up. Alcohol, drugs or extreme emotional instability affects decision making powers. For flirting to be appropriate, the other person has to be in a position to clearly understand that they are being flirted with. They also have to be in a sound state of mind, to choose if they want to flirt with you or not.
- Are they politely nodding/ smiling at your advances, but not responding? They might be uninterested but afraid to say no. Many people are afraid to reject people who flirt them. They may be scared of the other person becoming angry or violent. In such cases, you can make it clear by saying “I’m enjoying talking to you like this, but if you don’t appreciate it, you can absolutely tell me.”
- Watch out for the tone while you flirt. Maybe someone was flirting with you, but stopped after you brought up something sexual? Ask if you made them uncomfortable, apologize if you did. Continue with the lighter flirting if they are ok with it. “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought up kissing so soon, I’m sorry. I would still love to go on a date with you, would you be interested?”
- No, maybe, I don’t want to, I don’t think so, I’m not interested, I’m not available, I have to go now, I don’t think I’m free– you can interpret all of these statements as a ‘no.’ If someone is responding like this to your flirting, then stop immediately. Don’t persist after that or be pushy.
- Be aware of your body language. Don’t be too aggressive, handsy or do things that make the person feel objectified/ sexualised. For instance, don’t grab or pull anyone, or stare at intimate parts of their body. If you are ogling someone, or following them relentlessly, they will feel uncomfortable.
- And finally, if you are really not sure if someone is enjoying your flirting, the best thing you can do is ask! You can be polite and tell them that you’re interested and ask them how they feel about this. Along with this, make it clear that they are perfectly free to say no. The safest policy is always to ask!
Flirting is lots of fun, but at the end of the day, it has to be empathetic too. You have to pay attention to the other person’s needs, wants and body language, and form your flirting around that. Flirting is a unique exchange between two people, it can’t and shouldn’t be one-sided. Make sure both of you are equally involved and are having fun. If you aren’t sure how the other person is feeling, just ask them!