Feature Archive

What a Flirt!

Making eye contact.

WebMD Feature

Aug. 28, 2000 -- Consider the following four exchanges, overheard recently at a cocktail party.

Woman to man: "That's a beautiful tie."
Woman to woman: "I have to know who does your hair."
Man to woman: "You couldn't be any more ravishing."
Man to man: "Beer Nut?"

None of these people knew each other before the evening in question. Some were single, some married. One of the women was wearing open-toed shoes and a dress with a neckline that plunged nearly to her navel. One of the men was slowly sipping a vodka martini. Another man was recently made CEO of an Internet juggernaut and was flashing a very expensive watch.

Question: Which of these people were flirting?

Answer: Who knows? Maybe the tie-lover was actually a fabric designer in the market for inspiration. Maybe the woman desperately needed a bad haircut fix. Maybe the man was making up with his own wife after a hurtful argument. The "Beer Nut" guy could have heard the growling stomach of the stranger next to him -- or he could have been trying to strike up more than a conversation.

If there seems to be much confusion surrounding the flirting issue, it's no wonder: Everyone's got a different definition of what it is, how it's done, and exactly when it's appropriate. Some people have a hard time distinguishing friendliness from flirting, while others decide whether a behavior is one or the other based on their level of attraction. Some say flirting should be banned from the workplace and should be avoided by anyone in a committed relationship. Others, who see flirting as harmless fun, look at life as a great opportunity to turn on the charm.