My friend Tina should teach classes in the art of flirting. She has mastered the subtle toss of the hair, the more-than-friendly, yet less-than-overt, touch on the arm and can size a guy up and instantly determine whether to go with a sultry, smoky voice or an innocent schoolgirl voice. If she could bottle the alluring way she makes her eyes sparkle when she talks to someone with whom she’s flirting, she would be a millionaire. The funny thing is she claims to not realize she’s doing it. See, Tina’s been happily married for 8 years.
I’ve been known to chat up a cute cashier or banter with a bartender but, adoring wife that I am, I’m not sure whether I would call what I do flirting. If I truly thought I was, I’d have to ask myself the question: is it okay to flirt with someone else when you’re already in a committed relationship? Furthermore, considering Tina’s mastery of the flirt and the fact that there’s just no way she’s not aware she’s doing it, it begs the next question: why is she doing it?
Why do we eat chocolate? Why do we drink wine? Flirting, like chocolate and wine, has been shown in PET scans to excite the areas of the brain that release feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and beta-endorphins. Further studies show that when you are flirting and focused on someone, the connection through eye contact releases another warm and fuzzy hormone, oxytocin, also known as the ‘love’ hormone. In short, flirting physically feels good due to the very science of the brain.
In addition to those fun chemicals firing through your brain, flirting can also be a re-affirmation of your sexual ego and your feeling of attractiveness. It’s no secret that in a long-term committed relationship the honeymoon period with all its racing heartbeats and romance typically transforms into a more comfortable period marked by sweatpants and frozen pizza. Sure, there is a new joy in that kind of stability and connection with your partner, but I doubt your old sweats from college are releasing any endorphins in your partner’s brain. Getting a little reminder that you are still an attractive person can beef up your ego and inspire you to toss the old sweats and get a little bit of that Honeymoon back.
Is It OKAY?
I guess the real question here would be: to what level are you flirting? Is it just a wink and a smile here and there or do you entertain fantasies of actually acting on the flirt, particularly when things are not going well at home? Fun and games can quickly turn to sour grapes for your relationship when you let things go too far.
Another friend of mine, who I’ll call Rebecca, had an ‘innocent’ flirtation going on with a supervisor at work. It seemed to be going great for her, she looked forward to going to work, she started exercising so that she could buy cute new work clothes; she was generally in a great mood. At first, this overflowed into her home life and all was well.
Then…the business trip. Rebecca and her supervisor were asked to host a booth at a trade show far, far away from both of their spouses. This, unfortunately, coincided with a rough time financially that Rebecca and her husband were going through, which was adding to a little bit of stress in their relations at home. All it took was one too many cocktails after a ‘business dinner’ one night on the trip, and the flirting went a little too far. Perhaps needless to say, this misstep affected her professional life and her home life. While she did finally leave her job, she is still married and they have moved past the incident.
The moral of the story is that you must examine why you are flirting outside of your relationship and whether it’s something you can control. Another question you might ask yourself is how would you feel if the shoe were on the other foot? What if it was your partner who was flirting with a friend or co-worker? Or the cute girl who works at Trader Joe’s?
We’re only human, just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean you’re blind to the attractiveness of other people. Cutting off that part of yourself can, in fact, lead to resentment in the relationship. The best way to combat the drama that could result from outside flirting is to have a firm grasp on the level and stability of commitment you share with your partner.
The bottom line is that it’s all about intentions. Flirting should not be a stand-in for communication with your own guy or gal. You and your partner should have a conversation about your relationship and talk about boundaries that are comfortable for both of you.