Flirting is a challenging concept to discuss because of its inherent subtlety, but I’m going to attempt anyway because I respect the possibility of true love. Flirting is what happens when you’re maybe interested in someone and you want to know if they’re maybe interested in you back. That sounds simple but the actual act of flirting — the way it straddles the line between Just Friends and More Than Friends — is much more difficult to articulate. The online world and the world that exists outside of the Internet are one in the same, but there’s a stark difference between how people interact in the two mediums. In real life, we can understand flirting better based off of body language cues. Because online flirting is limited to a screen, it’s even harder to discern whether or not someone is truly flirting with you.
Due to the reality that we are constantly connected to the Internet, flirting via social media is as common as flirting with someone in real life. The problem is that flirting is already a complex social exchange. Adding another facet to that only makes the situation more confusing. It’s like going on a date without one of your senses; you can’t pick up on body language or social cues or any of the other ways we express attraction to someone. How will we accidentally bump shoulders, elbows, knees? How will we sit too close and smile too much? How will I know you’re crushing on me if I can’t tell whether or not you’re leaning closer to me? How will you brush the hair out of my eyes? The Internet doesn’t allow for any of these adorable moments to happen!
Because of this, we’ve developed an unspoken way of passively expressing our interest via social media that is just as convoluted as real life flirting. There are already too many layers behind the meaning of a flirty compliment, but there are even more layers to the meaning behind a Facebook like. Have you ever liked your crush’s Facebook status without quickly weighing the pros and cons of what this meaningless, innocuous, effortless, online action could mean for the relationship that you don’t have? You can’t do it too often because it becomes too obvious. But if you never do it, then how will they ever know you’re interested? On the other hand, sometimes I like my friends’ posts out of courtesy. It’s virtually impossible for anyone but yourself to ascertain what the like really means.
Flirting with someone is like inhabiting a self outside of the self. Everything you do is even more filtered than it usually is. It’s a performance. You become too aware of yourself. You’re still you, but with the volume turned all the way down.
While I’m much braver behind a screen, online flirting lacks the nuances that real life flirting offers. Words on a screen can’t convey the smiling smirky playful teasing that happens when someone is flirting with you face-to-face. One of the most exciting parts of being near someone you have romantic feelings for is the bubbly electric current, touching and winking and laughing more than normal. I also especially like the double take that happens when you catch each other staring. That can’t happen online because it doesn’t translate well. Flirting with someone on Twitter/Gchat/Snapchat doesn’t make it less real, but it makes the moment less intense. If flirting is like playing poker, flirting online is like playing poker blindfolded.
Flirting is all about subtlety. A few years ago, I told one of my coworkers that he was attractive, not because I was into him but because it was one of those undeniable facts of life. We laughed it off at the time but later I was chastised because, “That’s awkward, Arra.” I’d argue that it wasn’t awkward at all and that everyone likes compliments and that he probably already knew that about himself. But good flirting is just fun and exciting enough that you make the flirtee think that you’re into them, maybe. You can hint at it, but you can’t ever explicitly say it. Otherwise it’s too forward. It stops being fun and you put the flirtee in an uncomfortable situation wherein they have to seriously think about whether or not they want to date you. Good flirting leaves room for doubt.
Complimenting someone on the Internet raises a few questions: How can you tell someone they’re attractive in a non-committal way if they can’t hear the nonchalance in your voice? How will they know you don’t mean it romantically unless you say it out loud? What if they mistakenly think you have a crush on them and they start to act awkward around you because you’re both immature children who don’t know how to communicate?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where or how you flirt. Flirting works best when you don’t overthink it. It’s sweeter when it happens naturally because you’re happy and you care a little bit less about how you’re coming across. Flirting should be about having a good time and telling jokes and teasing. It’s the buildup, the anticipation to something that has the potential to be good.
I know the formula, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten worse at it. I don’t know how to be coy anymore. I don’t want to play mind games because I’m tired after working all day. I just want to cut to the chase. Did you know you can die at any time?!