Our Town: Flirting

Dr Tom Ferraro
"To flirt or not to flirt, that is the question"

Odysseus, ‘the man of twists and turns,’ attempted to make his way back to his beloved family in Ithaca with the protection and guidance of Athena, the Grecian goddess of wisdom. Athena counseled Odysseus that the Sirens, the enchantresses of the sea, were a grave danger to any sailor who succumbs to their sweet voices. Odysseus was instructed to fill his oarsmen’s ears with beeswax and to chain himself to the mast of his swift black ship in order to withstand their temptations as he passed by their island.

Odysseus lived nearly 3,000 years ago but we now live in modern times and it would be ill-considered to fill one’s ears with beeswax or to tie oneself to one’s desk in order to avoid the temptations of beautiful women. We’re all subject to the temptations of flirtation for this is a part of human nature.

I must confess I am myself a novice at the art of flirtation but in the name of learning and knowledge I have decided to embark on a week of flirtation in order to find out what works and what does not.

Granted I was hesitant to jump right in so instead I prepped myself by going down to my local Minuteman Press and ask the staff what they knew about flirting. I started with the owner a young robust handsome Italian-American. Surely he would have some words of wisdom for me. I have known that Italian men have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ when it comes to charming the young ladies.

When I asked him what he knew about flirting he quickly remarked “Oh nothing at all. I’m a married man. See my ring.” I immediately could see I was barking up the wrong tree so I turned to the graphic designer who responded: “Why don’t you tell us about how many women you flirt with doc?”

Once again I was coming up empty so in a state of exasperation I turned to the ink smith who said, “I have a few female friends but I don’t flirt with them.” I asked him to define the difference between friendship and flirting and he said, “flirting is when you are looking for something more.” Clever response.

As we four continued to chat about flirting in walked a beautiful young lady and I included her in the conversation by asking how often each day does a pretty young woman like herself get flirted with. She cryptically said “I wish” which left me thinking that if she were telling the truth then I could surmise that beauty is very intimidating to approach.

After a while, I said my goodbyes and off I went to the post office to do some serious flirting. I was hoping I would see a particularly cute blonde haired young lady to try out some moves. As my luck would have it she was there behind the counter and my opening line was “Ah, there she is the princess of the post office!” She looked at me strangely with kind of a wry smile and asked, “I’m not sure that’s a compliment?”

I was flustered so retreated into my journalist role and said, “Oh you see I am doing a column this week on flirting so I want to ask you a few questions.” She flashed me a sweet smile and said “Wow, okay, good subject. I think flirting is when a guy will give you a compliment or try to get you to laugh. They can’t look like they’re trying too hard.”

I began to worry about my ability to flirt since my sense of humor is so bad that when in graduate school I resorted to doing my dissertation on humor in order to learn how to laugh.

I don’t recall how the conversation veered off of the flirting subject but she mentioned something about age and I remarked, “Oh why would you be worried you’re only in your early 30’s anyway.” To which she laughed and said “Why thank you. You see that’s flirting.” Alas, I had inadvertently come upon a nice move. What is more pleasant than to talk to a pretty woman who laughs at a remark that you make?

Sigmund Freud established the edifice of psychoanalysis based upon libido or our sex drive. Current research indicates that both men and women will think about sex frequently throughout the day. Marcel Proust once wrote that “flirting is like saying a silent prayer.”
My guess is that we all have a few favorite people to flirt with because it makes both parties feel so good. One of my more attractive patients who has been an actress in her youth explained that pretty women are flirted with every day but mostly they ignore the advances (much like Odysseus was told to do by Athena.)

Freud believed that love and sexual attraction are among the most powerful forces in the universe. When we flirt we are tapping into that force and some can manage the feelings better than others. Flirting is fun but challenging and difficult to do well. One can try and if the flirtation is well-received one feels good. If one is ignored one feels bad but no real damage was done.

I think my little experiment on flirting went okay. I found that most respond well to a kind word, a smile, some eye contact, and a compliment. Such a simple form of behavior but surprisingly tough to master. You can also try a wink if you have good muscle control.

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