Auntie SparkNotes: How Can I Stop Being a Flirt?
I'm a sophomore and I have a boyfriend. And I really do like my boyfriend, we were friends for a while before we got together and now we have an almost great relationship... except I think that I am a terrible girlfriend. It's not that I feel like he's too good for me or anything; it's actually what I do, and, well.... the way I act toward other guys.
Someone told me that I'm a flirt. But I never actually thought I was flirting, until I had to ride the bus. I sat with a guy, and we weren't really talking at first, but then we started a conversation and I quickly learned that he was really funny, easy to talk to, get along with, etc. And it became frightfully obvious he was flirting with me (yes, I did tell him I was a taken lady.) At the time, the way I was acting seemed innocent. But by the end of the bus ride, realization kicked in... and between the tickling, teasing, and other displays of affection used by first graders, I felt beyond guilty. Its not like we ate face like savage monkeys right there in the seat, but I feel like this is something I should probably be able to control. And if I saw my boyfriend acting this way toward girls I would drop him like a bad habit (hypocritical, I know.) Please help me with my flirtatious problem! Its not losing my boyfriend that scares me, it's knowing the way I act is wrong. Plus getting called a flirt is only a step away from being called a slut.
And heaven forfend that happen, amirite,?! I mean, if there's one thing we should all strive to achieve, it's total acceptability in the eyes of the sort of troglodyte who thinks that a girl who enjoys flirty things—or, even worse, sexy things—is a delinquent hosebeast who ought to be shamed!
...Said Auntie SparkNotes, as she mimed a gun with her thumb and forefinger and then used it to shoot herself in the face.
And before we go any further, let's be clear on one thing: if you're going to change your behavior, it'll be because it makes you feel weird and bad, and not because some theoretical butthead with a brain the size of a peanut might someday call you a slut.
And with that out of the way, I'd like you to start by giving yourself just the teensiest bit of a break. What you're doing isn't wrong, okay? It might be a bit tacky—which we'll get to in a second—but people in relationships are allowed to enjoy the occasional harmless surface-level flirtation without violating the rules of human decency. Being committed doesn't make you immune to the pleasures of a bit of ego-boosting attention from a cute member of your preferred sex, and there's no inherent betrayal in being charming and attentive to people when you happen to be thrown together on a bus, or at an event, or in line at the grocery store.
However! Flirting does become problematic when it's done:
a) under false pretenses (by not telling your flirtee you're taken, for instance, or by misleading him into thinking he has a real chance),
b) with intent to cheat, or,
c) at the expense of your relationship—whether it's because you're neglecting your SO in order to flirt, flirting in order to make your SO feel bad, or pushing the limits of good taste (e.g. overt displays of physical affection, fawning and/or sexual comments, or, to borrow your phrase, eating face like savage monkeys).
And while you're good on the first two counts, it sounds like you might be crossing the line on the third point for Problematic Flirting, in that the touchy-feely tickling stuff needs to stop.
So when it comes to addressing your behavior, start there. Keeping your hands to yourself is a good way to keep yourself safely in bounds—along with avoiding any sexually-charged teasing or comments. (A good guideline for avoiding bad taste: don't say anything to these guys that you wouldn't say to your brother.) Because you're right, this is something you can control. It's just a question of giving up the instant gratification of feeling hot and desirable for the more subtle satisfaction of behaving loyally and decently on principle. And when you feel tempted to give up the latter and go for the former, let the memory of how crappy you feel right now be an easy, accessible reminder of why you wanted to change.
That said, there's just one more thing: a true flirt, the kind who oozes charm indiscriminately and in no one direction, is a perfectly fine thing to be. Great, even! The world needs its flirts—to grease the social wheels, to keep the conversation going, and to make other people feel interesting and attractive and worthwhile. And if you've been gifted with those abilities, don't hide them; share them, with everyone you meet. Because when you use your flirtatious powers for good, the world around you will feel just a little bit brighter, better, and more loved.
Have you ever had to scale back your flirting? Tell us how you did it! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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