Is there such a thing as harmless flirting?

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The one hundred kilowatt smile, an intense moment of eye contact, that touch which lasts those few seconds longer than perhaps it would with anyone else.

I imagine most of us have been there at some point. Often characterising the start of a romantic relationship where all is new and exciting, the thrill of knowing you will see the other soon, is enough to have you bouncing through your day.

Isn’t God so good, to make the thought of deep and intimate connection with the opposite sex so wonderful. It is a testament to his generosity that he gives us such joy in getting to know each other.
The way something in our spirit resonates with that of someone else and we catch a glimpse of eternity in the eyes of another human being, points to the truth that we are made for connection.

‘Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”’ Genesis 2:18 (esv)

We long to know and be known intimately and unconditionally, loved and accepted at the very core of ourselves. Just as the nature of God with his three in one (a confusing but beautiful mystery), is in intimate relationship with himself, so we long for it also. It is how God wired us.

‘He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’ Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)

But this desire for connection is misplaced if we don’t recognise that it is, first and foremost, a desire for connection with God.

If we don’t realise this, we make the huge mistake of expecting another person to meet our deepest need – leaving us frustrated, lost and disappointed.
Because no one but God can tell us who we are, or tell us that we are loved, valued and approved in a way that wont let us down. Expecting someone else to do so, to the degree that we need it, is unfair on both of us, for it is an impossible task.
Not to mention the fact that we human beings, whilst wonderful, are fallible and selfish and apt to change our minds and feelings at any given moment. Therefore, if someone were to hang their whole hope, self-worth and sense of identity on us, we would be certain to let them down at some point, and then where would they be? Where would we be?

The great news is that God is faithful and trustworthy, and incapable of letting us down. When we see what He signed up to, and take him at His word, we will not be disappointed.

This being said, when we do meet someone with whom we have a potentially deep connection, provided we aren’t asking them to ‘complete’ us, there is a real opportunity for joy and love.

This is what the dance that we call flirting enables us to discover.
It is the way in which we test the water to see if we can float, the way that we exchange that unnamed understanding that we are attracted to each other and are keen to discover more.
It can be beautiful and exciting, innocent, full of hope and promise. A way of being open to someone, of sharing more of who we are and beginning to trust our softer, hidden self to the appreciation of another.
This is why it should be used sparingly, and with great respect.

Effectively, flirting encourages the hope that we are willing and open to a deeper intimacy. It says that we are available to some degree, and it leaves us vulnerable.
It also provokes an arousal of interest in another, promising them that we are interested in knowing them more deeply, in discovering who they are, as well as being attracted to them.
It can make someone feel sky high – but if it is insincere or just provoking a reaction to boost our own ego that we ‘have still got it’ then it is unloving and selfish, potentially hurting and undermining them.

We cannot help what we feel.
We also cannot help who we are attracted to, and even when you are happily married, there will still be others to whom you are drawn and with whom you sense a deeper connection. There is nothing wrong with this – feelings come and go and are hugely fickle.

But we can help what we do.

If we are unavailable, ie. married or in a relationship, we do not have to walk around with a bag on our heads when we come across someone we are attracted to, but we can choose to honour them by not flirting.

I’m not talking about simply sharing jokes or discussing life, nor do I mean being exuberant and playful- these things are great, part of who we are and the dynamic of talking to each other, and are definitely not wrong.
It’s more subtle than that.
We need to be honest with ourselves about our underlying motives, and own what is really driving our behaviour.

By choosing not to linger over eye contact, not engaging in mildly risqué conversation, and by refusing to add promise or expectation into our touch, we don’t blur the boundary lines between Godly friendship and sexual ambiguity.

And let’s be honest with ourselves – we ALL know exactly when we are doing that- whether or not we could argue that our motives were never to take things further.
We can have all sorts of flights of fancy in a the minutest of moments, but thanks to our sinful nature having been crucified with Jesus, we are no longer slaves to our urges, therefore we do not have to respond to them impulsively- we have a choice.
We always have a choice.

There have been too many relationships and marriages break down, because one or both parties made the mistake of playing with this risk – in order to feel attractive, sexy, wanted, powerful or simply liked – and have ended up taking things further than they ever intended.

I know that I’ve made daft and sometimes destructive choices in the past, having acted on unwise flirtatious impulses, and have messed situations and relationships up as a result.

Again, most of us have made mistakes, but the important thing is to begin to recognise where and at what point we have gone wrong.
Mercifully, God doesn’t condemn us for our cock-ups, so we are free to go back to the beginning again and re-draw the boundaries.
In a culture that it’s so sexualised, we don’t often even think of flirting and engaging in conversational sexual comment as anything other than the norm, but it can be both challenging and refreshing to take a fresh look at this, and maybe start to put in some clear boundaries, possibly for the first time, with a whole new perspective.

Because feelings will be stirred up- the wonderful but changeable gift God gives us to enhance and bless our existence. If we allow them to dictate our behavioral choices, we ignore wisdom and become vulnerable to sin.

The thing is, if we are not in a position to offer ourselves, then choosing to act in a way that even suggests we might be, is totally selfish. We are using someone for our own gain, however briefly, and they and we are worth SO much more than that.

Maybe we would do better to look at our own relationship circumstances and ask why we are unhappy, or simply lacking confidence in how loved and attractive we are.

Rather than simply excusing our flirting as “just harmless fun, I’d never act on it/I don’t mean anything by it!'”,
perhaps we should take our sense of insecurity to God, and let him heal and fill us instead.

We are made to love and be loved, and as brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot take advantage of each other, simply to boost our self esteem.
We need to love each other well, by not taking from each other what is not ours to have – whether that goes as far as sex, or merely a flirtatious look that somewhere in it’s depth, suggests it all the same. We can enjoy the richness of each other’s company, and especially the dynamic between male and female just as much without it.

So no. Flirting is never ‘harmless or meaningless’. It is opening yourself and another up to the possibility of intimacy – that beautiful and God-given gift – and if you are ready to give yourself to the pursuit of loving freely and faithfully, with the huge commitment that comes with it, then fine.

But if not, remember whose you are- a child of God – beautiful, beloved and free to choose a better path.

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