It seems to me that, broadly speaking, there are two main approaches to 'flirting'.

The first - which i'll call "type 1" - is flirting-as-an-end. In this approach, it's assumed that the flirter isn't actually interested in sexual and/or romantic interaction with the flirtee. Also, in my experience, there's typically an enjoyment of ongoing ambiguity about what is actually being suggested by the flirter.

The second - which i'll call "type 2" - is flirting-with-intent. In this approach, it's assumed that the flirter is trying to "sound out" the possibility of sexual and/or romantic interaction with the flirtee, possibly in an ongoing way. Ambiguities are expected to be gradually resolved, in the direction of either "yes, there's mutual interest", or "no, the feeling isn't mutual", as the process continues.

If both the flirter and the flirtee are both coming from the same perspective about flirting, there's probably not an issue. Type 1s have some fun, and type 2s are able to get involved in sexual and/or romantic interactions, or move on.

When type 1s flirt with type 2s, however, problems can arise. Say a 1 starts flirting with a 2. The 1 is assuming that the 2 "knows" that it's just a bit of fun. The 2 is assuming that the 1 is perhaps actually interested in them. So the 2 might then respond in a way inviting a more direct expression of interest from the 1. But the 1 isn't going to be any more direct, because for them, such a removal of ambiguity removes the point of flirting. Unless the 2 simply asks directly, "Are you sexually and/or romantically interested in me?", the exchange could go on for a while, with the 1 continuing to have fun, but the 2 wondering "Am I simply being toyed with here? What's this person playing at? Are they enjoying stringing me along?" And if the 2 in question is someone that's been prank-flirted1 with in the past, they're more likely to feel hurt when they discover that the 1 was "just having a bit of fun". Such hurt might not have been the 1's intent, but the hurt could be inflicted nonetheless.

i'm not sure there's any resolution to this problem, or at least no easy one; the only suggestion i have is for both types to be aware of the existence of the other type, and keep that in mind when initiating and/or responding to flirting.

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1. As i've blogged about previously, "prank-flirting" is where person A flirts with person B with the explicit intent of mocking them. "Hey, I'm interested in you! HAHAHA no of course I'm not - who would be attracted to you, your dork / nerd / geek??" i myself have been prank-flirted with on a number of occasions.


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