Flirting has a bad name. Too often, it seems a supreme form of duplicity, a sly attempt to excite another person and derive gratification from their interest without any corresponding wish to go to bed with them. It looks like a manipulative promise of sexual affection that, at the last moment, leaves its targets confused and humiliated. In our sadness, back home alone after the nightclub or the party, we may rail against the flirt for ‘only’ flirting, when it had appeared there would be so much more. But this kind of pattern represents only one, unedifying and regrettable possibility around flirting. At its best, flirting can be a vital social process that generously lends us reassurance and freely redistributes confidence and self-esteem. The task is not to stop flirting, but to learn how better to practice its most honourable versions.
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