Too Afraid to Flirt?

Averil Nunes

In an environment ripe with allegations of sexual harassment and a culture obsessed with morality, is there a politically correct way to flirt?

“Have we forgotten how to flirt?” asked Shobhaa De at the recently concluded Literature Live!
Festival, where she launched her latest book, Never a Dull De. She was echoing a thought that’s gathering ground, especially now, in the face of horrifying stories involving sexual allegations, crimes and harassment, which are creating a climate where men are wary of women, and women are distrusting of men. Whatever happened to innocent flirting?

There is a certain art to flirting — stealing a glance, offering a compliment, maybe even leaning in to a conversation. Don’t lean too far though. In fact, be polite and don’t even look. Or, are we taking things a little too far?

Christopher Whyte, Executive Creative Director at a Mumbai-based event management company is convinced that we’re “just blowing things out of proportion.” Innocent flirting or even a compliment ought not to come across as a threat. The little boy using a catapult to shoot a paper pellet at a girl he has a crush on, grows up; how does he show an interest in someone, without flirting? On the other hand, why risk his reputation, if something is likely to be misconstrued?

Perhaps we’re over thinking. As a wise colleague points out, “When you’re flirting, you don’t really think all this through. You’re just responding to a person, the situation and your instincts”. Which effectively means, the only time we’re afraid to flirt is when we’re thinking of flirting and not actually flirting.

TV celebrity Mreenal Dashraj, loves “the attention.” She gives it some thought, before adding, “Actually everybody enjoys attention, though few admit it. It makes you feel desired. It makes you feel good about yourself. Of course, it all depends on the undercurrents. You can’t flirt with anyone and everyone. ”

“There have been corrupt politicians since the time of Ceasar, deviants have been around since the start of time, but not everybody is out to rape you or pick your pocket. Our justice system needs to improve, no doubt, but we can’t go around riddled with fear. What will we be reduced to? Flirting with friends. Pointless!” huffs Christopher.

“At a societal level, there has always been harassment in India; the difference is we’re talking about it openly now. On an individual level, I don’t think it has stopped people from being themselves,” mentions actress Auritra Ghosh, who grew up in Delhi, watching women being eve-teased on the road, but hasn’t lost faith in men, yet. “You never know, that’s how you may meet the love of your life,” she says.

“It’s a question of maturity and immaturity”, says Christopher, “you should know the difference between a creep and someone who’s just paying you a compliment. Most compliments are sexually baseless. It’s just one or maybe two out of ten guys who may have an ulterior motive”.
Quite a few women may disagree with that.

At this point, you might also want to note that women seem to let extremely good-looking men get away with flirting far more than ordinary looking fellows. “Appearance does matter in some cases but not for the more mature, amongst us. You tend to fall for someone who has stuff above shoulders”, says Satish Iyer, Director-Marketing at Nexsus Techno Solutions Pvt. Ltd, who believes that. “we’re all born flirts”, though today’s generation doesn’t have the patience to flirt.

Mreenal points out, “Our parents would just eye someone they found attractive, we flirt more vocally, our kids, won’t even need to flirt, they’ll just approach someone and say what they have to say directly”. But then again, “What’s the fun if you have to spell everything out?,” asks Christopher.

“Part of the draw is that you don’t really know how interested the other person is”.

While the permissible level of flirting at a social event may differ from that in a workplace, the ground rules are the same. “If someone is not reciprocating, back off”, warns Auritra. What if the person doesn’t back off? “I can take care of myself. I know if I have to slap someone, I will,” asserts Mreenal.

Take a cue girls, trust your intuition, keep those wits and wrists ready to swot away unwanted advances, and flirt away.