Things He Says:
[Insert an omnipresent interpretation of my non-flirtatious behavior as flirtatious. There are too many things to name just one.]
Thing She Says:
My parents raised me to be polite. Call adults Mr., Mrs., or Ms. Say please and thank you. Don’t use profanity and don’t put your elbows on the table (ok, those last two rules remind me of a Victorian governess that I would gladly disobey).
Having these values ingrained into my identity dictates my interactions with others. I’ve taken pride in being known as a “sweet” girl throughout childhood and still being kind as an adult in a world full of rude assholes.
But too often this friendly behavior is misconstrued as flirtation.
NEWSFLASH! Just because I’m polite doesn’t mean I want anything to do with your genitals.
Here’s a helpful equation to remember this, easier than the quadratic formula:
Politeness ≠ Flirtation
See, more memorable than
I can’t tell you how many unwanted comments, winks, numbers, inappropriate texts I’ve received from guys who I was only being a nice human being to.
There’s a middle-aged mailman friend who dropped off mail at the office I used to work in. He’s good company, a funny conversation break from the monotony of administrative tasks. When I left, I gave him my number so we could keep in touch and meet for lunch sometime. This past week we were supposed to have lunch, which we’ve had twice in six months—not often enough to show I’m interested in anything more than that. I offer to pay for my meal because it’s cheap food, but he always does. He always calls me “cute,” and I brush it off and change the subject. I’ve always kept it friendly—because I’m not interested—though he’s said things that have made me uncomfortable despite him being a nice person.
Though we were supposed to meet for lunch this week, I sent him a text asking for a raincheck because I’m sick. His reply angered me, made me feel even worse than whatever sickness I have. It made my stomach churn and probably caused my diarrhea (or maybe that was the virus—sorry, TMI). Before I had the chance to respond “Was that a joke? Because I’m not laughing,” he threw in an LOL and apologized.
Like the other things he says, I let it go. He’s harmless, I tell myself.
Until he’s not. I don’t know if he would actually try anything, but I don’t want to find out. This time I shouldn’t have forgiven him. I hope my silence was enough to make that clear.
Chelsea Fagan explains why mistaking friendliness for flirtation isn’t always harmless, even when no harm is intended:
“I will give the men who have engaged in these kinds of uncomfortable, inappropriate acts the benefit of the doubt in assuming that most do not intend to hurt the woman they’re pursuing. But what is clear is that a boundary that has been set in body language, in tone, in clipped responses, is not being respected. A woman being polite and outgoing is perceived, at least on some level, as a wide-open door into which you are free to walk and behave yourself however you choose. If she clams up when you begin following her or insisting on continuing the exchange, you are somehow free to ignore that because of the initial friendliness she showed you. This is not okay.”
To the guys who think I’m flirting with them when I’m just trying to make friends, I’m sorry if you think I’m leading you on. But if I’ve told you that I’ve felt uncomfortable with something you’ve said before, then why do you keep doing it? If you know you’re going to apologize again, then don’t fucking do it. It makes my day turn sour and ruins our beautiful platonic relationship. It makes me afraid of what might happen next, from a come-on to a hard on—neither of which I want to encounter.
But the unwanted flirtation goes both ways, with men in the same predicament. There’s nothing wrong with flirting or being flirted with. But when that trespasses on someone’s comfort level then that’s not ok.
Was it too forward to give Mr. Mailman my number? I don’t give my number out too much, only to people who I plan to meet again. My friends sometimes think I’m flirting, but I’m not trying to get in anyone’s pants. What am I doing wrong?
Yes, I’ll make it clear if I am flirting. You’ll know if I’m DTF. I will touch you if I’m hitting on you, and will apologize for accidentally touching you if I’m not. I need to check myself and see how I come across to people, and make it explicitly known how I feel about them and what my intentions are.
Is politeness so uncommon that “society has reached a point where everyday greetings and helping hands are so rare, they’re now mistaken for flirtation”? Does it take being a bitch for the message to come across that I’m not flirting? But then that might put me in the “woman’s paradox where if you aren’t friendly you’re considered rude and if you are then they think you’re flirting or leading them on.” I’m not being a coquette—I’m just being kind!
Casper the Friendly Ghost isn’t tryna get his invisible dick wet. Can’t we all just be polite to each other without it meaning something more?
Have you had similar experiences? How do you combat the friendly vs. flirting dilemma?
How to tell if someone is actually flirting:
SIRC Guide to Flirting
Ask Dr. NerdLove: What’s the Difference Between Flirting and Just Being Friendly?
Flirting, Or Just Being Friendly? How to Tell, In Person and Online