The Guide to Flirting: an analysis

June 10, 2012

my normal approach is useless here.

There’s a discussion going on at The Blog Roll at the moment about flirting. No, about this guide to flirting specifically, although it seems to have raised up a whole heap of fascinating hydra-heads about the nature of flirting itself. Being a bit late to the party, I’m reading the article now and cringing as I go. It’s- a multifaceted beast of many backs.

Let’s see. There’s an evolutionary talkthrough at the beginning about how flirting is as natural and necessary to our existence as sex. There’s the conviction that until now, elitist ivory-tower know-it-alls have been jealously hoarding these secrets from us, but the article-writers- that is, the saviours of mankind- are now conveying to us this expert advice so we can have more sex. There are lines like ‘making their first attempts at mate selection’ and ‘Flirtation at this level is harmless fun, and only the stuffiest killjoys could possibly have any objections’.

Brilliant. Because namecalling and broad-sweeping judgement makes for a More Mature Article. And Britain and North America are designated as ‘Puritanical cultures’. Under what sky are the US and UK puritanical? What era is this person writing in? I might agree that North America during the time of the Puritans was puritanical. I will not agree that this is currently the case, unless the article-authors are currently residing in an Amish village and have sent this Definitive Guide to the internet via pigeon.

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Pause here for a Very Important Point.

I would like to note that while this post exists in order to perform a somewhat blow-by-blow Readthrough Rant of Incredulous Horror (RRoIH) of this Definitive Guide, I do mean to examine specific ideas and conclusions inherent in it. And I certainly mean to dissuade people I know from taking this as a definitive guide to Relationship-Building or Ways in which to Seek a Potential Spouse, which was an intrinsic idea underlying the discussion on the Blog Roll. (Christians, yes.)

This is clearly, clearly not the point of this article. Christian spouse-hunting is not the crux and climax of this piece. The point is, in fact, stated at the beginning: it is finding someone to have sex with, whether on a short or longer-term basis. It is Mate-Locating for the Good of the Species. And since mating generally rests on the principle of the propagation of the species via frequent and widespread sexual activity in order to ensure the chances of one’s genetic code continuing- i.e. the more sex you have with more people, the more likely it is that your genes and the human race in general continues- this guide is, in fact, giving you formulaic methods in order to increase your chances of widespread babymaking. Which is a terribly incorrect thing to say, I realise, but it is also an underlying principle of the article, if one accepts the first few paragraphs about evolution.

So if you’re reading this Definitive Guide to Flirting in order to Find A Lifelong Spouse, Christian or otherwise, you’re looking in the wrong place. The entire intention of it is aimed in the complete opposite direction: how to signal sexual availability, in order to have more sex.  Preferably with more people. If that’s what you’re looking for, then yes. This is probably relevant, aside from other issues I have with the idea that relationships can be formulated (see xkcd.com image up top) and that there are easily quantifiable methods of manipulating human interactions for best results in your favour. Which begins in a place of enormous selfishness. What can I get out of this relationship?

But that examination must come in another post. Back to the RROIH.

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I’m less than a quarter-way through this article and I already want to toss it in.

But wait, there’s more! Unspecified tracts of scientists have recently claimed that women have a special ‘diplomacy gene’ men lack, making it Perfectly Okay for men not to work on their social interaction skills! It’s not genetic! It is clearly not possible to change! We are all helpless victims of our genes!

I’m really beginning to find fascinating similarities between the things our genes are blamed for in contemporary Western society and the things Fate has mastery over in Ancient Greek and Roman plays. Fate by any other name is- evolution, perhaps? The word Evolution seems to be used in this article like some presiding fairy godmother. Or simply the next new thing in the pantheon of Fate-deciders, more commonly known as gods in the centuries preceding this one. People always want some Great Big Irrevocable Reason as to why things happen; why they can’t do what they want to do, why this person gets more and that person dies, why these people suffer. Evolution as Religion? Perhaps. Contentious subject? Yes. Topic under discussion at present? No. Back to point.

Next point being: ‘Target’. I- I just came across the word ‘target’ in a guide to flirting. This is beginning to remind me of pick-up artist guides (‘the no-nonsense guide to laying a chick, for beginners!’ ‘if you want a girl to be a loyal, obediant (sic) girlfriend, this is how’!). No. No, no, no and no. No. One day I will go into how awful that is, how awful and completely selfish that isbut right now I’m talking about this particular guide. And I suppose ‘target’ is in keeping with the underlying premise that you are simply following this advice in order to get laid.

And the advice is detailed. There’s a section on eye contact, which is certainly a large part of flirting, but it quantifies it to the point of when you look at the other person in a conversation, how many seconds you do it for, and how often. There’s an examination on how many times you should touch someone (twice) in a specific area before you progress to the next level. There’s vocal quantifiers, verbal identifiers, instructions, examples. Which is fallacy, because it suggests that people can fall into neatly-definable categories and methods of operation. It suggests that if you do this at this exact moment, and this at this exact point, pull this lever and press this button and then type go, instant success will drop out the other slot.

It may or may not be somewhat similar to a guide to sex stipulating that one must approach the left breast first, massage clockwise, and then the right, massage clockwise, continuing for approximately thirty seconds and alternating with anticlockwise rotation within a circumference of three inches every second perceivable instance of verbal agreement. (See attached list of recognised indicators of consent, verbal or otherwise). If verbal agreement is not forthcoming, return to step two. If verbal agreement is forthcoming, after approximately two minutes you may approach the Holy Grail (insert tab A into slot B. See figure 2.1).

I believe this would be the most definitive guide to sex yet. I’d like to write it. I might not be allowed to write it, but I’d like to write it. I may also get into trouble for the above passage.

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What else? There’s a section on listening, which I found decent because I think everyone needs to learn how to listen, regardless of the relationship. There’s a section on posture. It follows most readings of popular-culture body-language analysis; mirroring, closed and open, all that. Those are actually fairly accurate, for a given quantity of accurate; they are things people do, certainly, and the article is careful enough to warn the reader that these are not necessary indicators of sexual availability. There are also warnings for most of the other sections, which suggests sense on the part of the article-authors. Because frankly, your ‘target’ could just be a very friendly person. It happens. I’m a very friendly person. I’m also extremely tired of talking about this Guide. I’m not even going to go into why comparing meeting someone with closing a sale begins to smack of selling yourself as a commodity. Which is what you’re doing, of course.

I will say, however, that the Guide ends with: ‘you are of course free to dismiss this suggestion as hopelessly old-fashioned, sexist, pandering to double-standards, etc. It is not the place of this Guide to make moral judgements about flirting, merely to provide information on the latest scientific findings.’ Which is a morality judgment in and of itself. And then it proceeds to condemn everyone else who might disagree, in continuation with its earlier opinion about the morality of flirting: i.e. it is correct and harmless and necessary for survival. The whole tone of the article is continually on the defensive. Even if I subscribed to the theory that sex was an aim in and of itself, that in fact the whole purpose of a relationship was in order for sex to happen- I’d find the way in which this was written distasteful.

As it is, I’m tired of talking about it, full of chicken korma and moderately sleepy. This has been a detailed review of the Guide itself, rather than a thorough exploration of the concept of flirting- which is, by the way, something I find fascinating- and I really, really hope I never have to read that thing again. Or do this again. I wanted to talk more about flirting. I wanted to talk more about the fallacy of believing that there are easy answers to relationships. The idea that you can be given a Rulebook For This or That and not have to actually make mistakes, which is an essential part of living, not to mention learning and growing. I wanted to discuss whether Christians should flirt at all- I’ve certainly heard opposing arguments on this- and whether Christians can flirt with no intention to marry (my answer: yes, but within limitations. I can already name the people who’d read this and disagree). I love thinking about and exploring these ideas, particularly as a Christian. Flirting, sexuality, gender-relations, singleness. But this is already an unwieldy monster of a blogpost so it’s leaving my hands. I’m done.

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4 Responses to “The Guide to Flirting: an analysis”

  1. Frith Says:

    “Flirting by Numbers: better accomplished with shared sudoku. Anything but this”.

  2. Charlotte Says:

    Hahahaha! Oh Val I love your style! 😀


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