Is it okay to flirt?
In recent years, many Christians have taken up the belief that flirting is inherently wrong. They claim biblical support for this belief from 1 Thessalonians chapter four…
3It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 (NIV)
The biblical case against flirting is said to come out of verse six. The NIV translations says no one should “take advantage” of a brother or sister. The original Greek word for “take advantage” had the idea of “defraud” or “cheat.” It’s the sense that you’ve defrauded or cheated someone by taking from them what’s not rightfully yours.
Christians who believe flirting is wrong say you defraud your brother or sister in Christ when you flirt with him or her. They say this is because you’re sending signals that you’re interested in him or her, but you haven’t actually committed to any substantial romantic relationship. Thus, you’re reaching for their attention but cheating them out of it by not following through with any commitment.
But other Christians believe that showing interest by flirting is a good way to show interest and spark a romantic relationship, especially for women who are typically expected to let the man make the move to initiate romantic interaction.
So is flirting wrong or not?
When Flirting Is Wrong
When Christians began speaking against flirting, they did so thinking of the awful ways flirting has been used. Much modern romance is characterized by each person selfishly pursuing his or her own interests. This often results in people competing for the attention of desirable dating partners and using whatever psychological tactics necessary to succeed. Some people will flirt to gain attention and then withdraw in order to keep the attention by “being mysterious.” All the while, they may have no greater goal then to serve themselves by having a fling or climbing the social ladder by landing a desirable dating partner.
Various Christian authors have written about how they observed, or even participated in, these kind of self-serving behaviors. It’s these kind of behaviors they said defraud a person and are prohibited by 1 Thessalonians 4:6. After all, if the reason you’re flirting is just to advance your social or dating life, but you don’t really have any interest in a long-term relationship with the person you’re flirting with, then you’re defrauding the other person because you have no real interest in developing a long-term relationship. It’s essentially a bait-and-switch: I’m going to act like I’m interested in you, but I’m really only interested in getting what I want.
I agree that this kind of flirting is wrong. Even if we throw out the 1 Thessalonians 4:6 passage, we know this behavior is sinful because it breaks Jesus’ commandment: Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. When you love your neighbor, you don’t want to encourage him or her to become attached to you when you expect you’d just have to break that attachment in the future. You care more about his or her emotional health and pursuit of Christ rather than your selfish desires. So, flirting is wrong when the aim of flirting is to serve your own selfish interests rather than the future possibility of serving the other person in a committed relationship.
When Flirting Is Okay
But what if you really do want to pursue the possibility of starting a long-term relationship with someone? For example, what if you’re a young woman and you know a man with whom you think you’d like to enter a committed romantic relationship? Is it okay to flirt with him to encourage him to pursue you?
Let me start by saying I believe it’s okay for women to reveal interest in a man. Some Christians believe a woman should remain completely silent about her interest unless the man pursues her. I believe that’s neither biblically founded nor always wise. For more, please see my post I Like Him…What Should I Do?
So, accepting that women can reveal interest in a man, is flirting an acceptable way to do it? I say flirting in this case passes the requirement of loving your neighbor because the interest she’s expressing to the man is genuine. She’s interested in the possibility of a long-term relationship rather than her own selfish interests. She’s giving the man opportunity rather than trying to exploit him for her own purposes.
But while I believe flirting is morally acceptable in this case, I still have some reservations…
Some Caution For The Ladies
I don’t think flirting is a consistently effective way to express romantic interest. I was once part of a conversation in which a female friend expressed her frustration with how guys she liked wouldn’t respond when she tried to get their attention by flirting. She recalled five young men in her history with whom she flirted, but none of them responded with any romantic interest. Thinking of one young man she said, “All of my friends around us knew I was flirting, so why didn’t he do anything?”
Two thoughts come to mind. First, — how do I say this without painting all men with a broad brush? — don’t underestimate the capacity of men not to realize you’re flirting with them. I’ve come to realize that you girls are very socially-oriented creatures, who often navigate your social world with subtle behaviors. We men are pragmatic creatures who like to get to the point. Sometimes we just don’t see your interest coming through your behavior unless you plainly tell us…in words. What may seem like obvious flirting to you might seem like friendly conversation to the guy you’re talking to.
I recall one funny experience when I met a young woman through a mutual friend. The two of us chatted through all the typical “get to know you” banter for several minutes before parting ways. I thought we were making small talk. She thought I was flirting with her. She texted her boyfriend, who texted my best friend, who told me about it as soon as I walked into our apartment later that night.
“So, did you flirt with a girl tonight?” he asked me.
“Not that I know of,” I replied with my eyebrows knit together in confusion.
So maybe the five guys my friend flirted with didn’t realize she was flirting with them. Or, maybe they didn’t share her interest…
That’s the second thought that comes to mind. If you reveal your interest subtly, and the guy realizes it but doesn’t feel the same, he’ll probably give you a subtle response: he’ll ignore your flirting. None of us men want to be the guy who says to a woman, “hey, I know you were flirting with me, but I just don’t feel interested.” What if she was really just making conversation? What if she denies flirting? Then we look like the idiot who sees a woman who’s interested in us when she’s not really there. That’s why if you flirt with a guy and he doesn’t like you, I expect him to ignore the flirting, even if he recognizes it.
That’s why I say that if you want to be clear about your interest and receive a clear reply, you’ll have to express your interest in plain English. But that means you may have to hear a rejection in plain English a moment later. Though, you would then have the benefit of clearly knowing where things stand.
Because flirting leaves room for ambiguity and miscommunication, I don’t feel it’s the most effective tool to use to navigate romantic interest. So if you choose to use it, be sure to do so wisely.
Some Caution For The Men
Guys, you might have noticed that, from the time I started talking about flirting being okay, I’ve only been talking about examples of women flirting. Is it okay for men to flirt?
When men flirt, it’s often to test a woman’s interest. If she flirts back, then she probably likes you. That encourages you to pursue her. If she doesn’t flirt back, well, then maybe you’ll only get rejected if you pursue her. Men will use this test in order to try to avoid likely rejection. I see one problem with it.
It’s the coward’s way out.
As a man, Christian culture fully accepts you taking active initiative to pursue a woman. Your role as initiator does give you burden of accepting rejection when it comes, but it also gives you the privilege and responsibility of decisively making something happen.
There’s nothing wrong with conversing with, joking with, or getting to know a woman as a friend. But when the time comes that you know you want to explore a deeper relationship than friendship, don’t take the cowardly way of testing her interest by flirting before risking rejection. Be man enough to clearly express your interest and decisively pursue her. Whether she accepts or rejects your interest, she’ll respect you more for being clear and decisive rather than having to wade through an ambiguous game of flirting. You’ll also build a reputation as a man who’s confident enough to clearly express his interest and decisively pursue a woman. Yes, your reputation will precede you throughout the feminine realms.
So while I don’t want to sit on the seat of judgment and condemn all instances of men flirting, I do think that if you initiate flirting as a man then you need to stop and ask yourself why. If it’s just for the thrill of flirting or because you’re afraid to risk rejection then take steps to build better behaviors.
How has flirting worked or not worked for you? Please let us learn from your experience by sharing in the comments!
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