In Praise of Flirting

by | March 21, 2019 | General | 4 comments

Image by Prawny

Sometimes I think it’s more fun to flirt than to fuck.

Of course, I’ve always been focused more on the experience of arousal than on the ultimate release. That’s just the way I’m wired. When I recall my most intense erotic adventures, I don’t remember the orgasms, but rather, the inexorable upward ramp of desire, the thrilling anticipation of what was to come.

You get a lot of the same pay-off from flirting, without the attendant risks.

Knowing someone wants merealizing the power I have over my partner’s body and imagination it’s heady, almost addictive. Kick me out of the feminist union if you want, but I love being seen as a sex object. I don’t mind the fact that men (or women) might be watching and lusting after me. Quite the contrary. I do the same, after all, discretely ogling strangers, fantasizing about their hidden charms.

Flirting goes a bit further, but not much. Flirting requires an acknowledgment. A smile. A wave. An exchange of greetings, moving on perhaps to compliments or double-entendres. Underneath it all, there’s the excitement of mutual attraction, the pleasurable buzz of arousal that doesn’t need to be consummated to be enjoyed.

When you flirt, you don’t need to worry about practicality or propriety. I can chat up the lanky twenty-something barista at my local coffee shop, basking in the heat I feel in his gaze, despite the fact that I’m forty years older and happily married. I can shoot back some clever response to the burly construction worker who gives an appreciative whistle as I walk past, though I know we have nothing in common. I’ve brightened his day. He’s done the same for mine. Maybe he’ll fantasize about me as he’s jerking off. That doesn’t bother me. I might take the same liberties.

Flirting is most satisfying, though, with an intellectual equal. I remember a small party, years ago, with some university friends, hosted by a very appealing philosophy professor and his wife. We’d gathered to create homemade cheese tortellini. Christopher had dark eyes, the graceful long-fingered hands of a musician, a devilish smile and a delightfully agile mind. As we worked togetherhe cutting neat squares of pasta dough which I filled and twisted closed—we discussed politics, solipsism, and the works of Robertson Davies.

At one level, the topics of our conversation hardly mattered. The focus was the magnetism, the sexual tension that flickered between us. At the same time, the mental gymnastics in which we engaged added to the pleasure. If we were ever to connect, we knew the bond would be more than physical. Not that either of us really considered going further— well, of course, I don’t know in detail what was going on in his mind, but both our spouses were present, and I had no inkling his marriage was in any way less satisfying than mine. But reality was irrelevant. Flirting is all about fantasy, about possibilities that will very likely never materialize but which nevertheless excite.

The detail with which I remember this particular long-past incident of flirtation is testimony to how much it affected me.

I worry, however, that flirting will become a dying art. These days, flirting is often conflated with unwanted sexual attention. A respectful and well-meaning compliment is likely to be interpreted as inappropriate, offensive or threatening, while a friendly wolf whistle will get you roundly condemned as a sexual predator. I mentioned above that flirting involved lower risks than full-out sex, but in today’s hyper-vigilant climate that might not be true.

Where’s the line, though, between flirtation and harassment? How can someone distinguish between innocent innuendo and potential abuse? When does sexual objectification become demeaning or dangerous, rather than fun?

I don’t have an easy answer to these questions. It might depend on mutuality, or on the certainty that a lack of reciprocity would immediately put a halt to the unwanted attention. I do know that individual reactions vary. I’m sure that some of the actions that I’d accept as flirtatious behavior would be condemned as unacceptably sexist by some women.

At the same time, I’m certain that life would be far less colorful and entertaining if every expression of sexual interest between strangers were banned.

Given my appreciation of flirting, you’d expect it to show up frequently in my writing. In fact, I have very few stories that feature this sort of interaction. I know most readers aren’t like me. They’re looking for physical, not just fantasy, sex.

I did find a few prominent examples, though. Here’s one of my favorites, from the short story “Test Drive”, which appears in the altruistic erotica anthology Coming Together: On Wheels, edited by Leigh Ellwood and benefiting UNHCR.

“Hey there, pretty lady.”

His drawl rumbled through me, an avalanche of heat, melting everything in its path. My hair flew as I turned back in his direction.

I’d intended to scold him for his barely polite greeting. The words caught in my throat as I took him in.

He lounged in the doorway of the Indian motorcycle showroom, hands in his pockets, broad shoulders braced against the frame, one lean, denim-clad leg crossed over the other—six feet of loose-limbed masculinity. A sand-colored braid hung down across his solid chest, almost to his waist. The rolled-up sleeves of his plaid shirt revealed tanned forearms furred with golden down. His sun-bronzed face wasn’t classically handsome, but when his bright blue eyes snagged mine, I couldn’t look away.

Thirty. Thirty five at most. I could almost be his mother. Shocking that all I wanted to do was tear off my conservative skirt and blouse and throw myself into those obviously strong arms.

“Want to come for a ride, darlin’?”

“Ah—huh—what?” A master’s degree in library science, reduced to inarticulate mumbling by a bit of flirting. What was I, a teenager?

“Got a sale going on, through next week. Discounts of twenty to thirty percent on all our models. I have to say you’d look fantastic on a bike, Miss.” He unfolded himself from his casual pose and handed me a business card. “I’m Jack Taggart. Top sales associate in the Midwest, three years running. And you are…?”

Its none of your business who I am, I wanted to tell him. Fat chance. “Um—Alice. Alice Robinson.”

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Robinson.” Apparently helpless to resist, I accepted the large, calloused hand he held out. Lighting sizzled through me as our palms connected. “Or is it Mrs. Robinson?”

His cocky grin sent blood rushing to my cheeks. I straightened my spine and tried to regain some sort of control over my autonomic functions. “Mrs. My husband died four years ago.”

“Oh—I’m so sorry…”

He gave my hand a sympathetic squeeze. With some difficulty, I pried it out of his grasp. What if one of my co-workers came by? “That’s okay. He was sick for quite some time. In some ways it was a blessing.”

“Still, it must be hard for you—being alone and all.”

I shrugged. I missed Ben, but I had to admit I enjoyed some aspects of being single. Aside from work, my time was my own. I didn’t have to answer to anyone—except, occasionally, my daughter on the West Coast. I smiled up into those sky-colored eyes, noting the crinkles at the corners. Perhaps he wasn’t quite as young as I thought.

“What makes you think I’m alone?”

“Well, I admit that it’s unlikely a woman as lovely as you would be unattached…”

“Is this how you got to be the top-ranked salesman? Flattering the customers?” I flipped a lock of hair over my shoulder and smoothed my skirt down over my lap, very aware of the dampness underneath. It might be the purest bull, but that didn’t stop me from reacting.

“That’s not fair, Alice—can I call you Alice?” He continued without waiting for my nod. “First of all, it’s the God honest truth. You are the most beautiful woman who’s walked by the shop in days.”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll bet you told the same thing to the last half dozen.”

“No way! Secondly, I’m the best because I love the bikes. I know pretty much everything about the full Indian line, from the Scout to the Roadmaster. I don’t just sell them. I can repair ‘em, too—did a six month mechanics training course in Minnesota. And of course I ride, these days a Chief Dark Horse. Started on a vintage 1950 Black Hawk, when I was sixteen.”

He paused his monologue to give me another appreciative once over. “You ever been on a bike, Alice? I know you’d love it.”

“I’ve never been that inclined to risk my life,” I replied with a chuckle. It was difficult for me to maintain an attitude of skepticism in the face of his enthusiasm and his obvious admiration.

“It’s no riskier than driving a car. And so much more fun! The speed—the freedom—the sense of control—there’s nothing like it. It’s addictive. Come on, Alice. Let me take you on a test drive.”


Of course, in this story, the protagonists do eventually have sex. But they have an awful lot of fun flirting first.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Larry archer

    “It’s no riskier than driving a car. And so much more fun! The speed—the freedom—the sense of control—there’s nothing like it. It’s addictive” – is so true and I miss those days myself.

    Up until the time we moved to Las Vegas, I’ve always owned typically two bikes, a street bike, and a dirt bike. Wifey even had a street bike and we rode often. Out here the drivers are too crazy and while I’m an adrenaline junkie, I would like to think there is a little caution left in me somewhere.

    Back home, a little out of town there was winding two-lane blacktop road with one hairpin corner after another and it ran for about 30 miles to a little rural town. Typically, early Sunday morning the road was nothing but bikes and sports cars, all on a free-for=all road race to the little cafe at our destination.

    There’s nothing like screaming into a tight corner at close to 100mph, with the wind howling and the roar of a Porsche right behind you as we fight for the line. With the bike laid over so far that the pegs are almost dragging the ground and you have to tuck your knee in to keep it from dragging. Then you wait for that perfect moment to twist the throttle wide open and watch the tach as it blurs towards 12,000 RPM.

    You can feel the hair on your arms stand up as you fly towards the next bend in the road with the engine singing its high pitched howl. Ah, those were the good old days.

    Thanks for bringing back good memories!


    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hi Larry,

      I think *you* should write a story about bikes.

      Actually, I’ve never driven one, and only ridden on one a few times. It made a big impression though!

  2. Rose

    Thanks for this post, Lisabet. Your last line sums up what I have endeavoured to do in my writing. Even when I’m only reading fiction (erotic or otherwise), I am fascinated by the thought processes of the characters, the images in their minds, what makes them tick.

    I also concur with your opening, except that flirting is just the opening gambit of foreplay, if the flirting moves on to the next stage. But very often, flirting was enough. Flirting fires the imagination and while it might sometimes have been a little disappointing not to have a flirtation go any further, it could also be better not to know,… to have followed through, and possibly to have been even more disappointed with the reality.

    And, of course, flirting successfully, without an end game, saves the pain of rejection. To flirt is to fantasize, and if it is just a brief flirtation, ships passing in the night, as it were, then that thrill just saves the moment, a vignette under glass, that stays fresh and exciting, without the real world crashing in an spoiling it. Sometimes, the fantasized relationship is better than the one that would have been real, and that keeps it in the “anticipation” stage, which keeps the thrill vibrating.

    I’m another one of those women who was never offended by garnering wolf whistles while walking past a construction site.. Sometimes, just depending on my mood, if I was feeling particularly saucy, I’d give a quick glance and flash a smile back. It was flirting, pure and simple. I’m sure there are women who might think this was pathetic, but as long as they whistled, that meant I still “had it.” I was young, not unattractive, unattached, seeking, sometimes lonely and wondering if anyone would ever love me enough to see me a a keeper. Those whistles boosted my ego when I needed it to be boosted, because we don’t all grow up full of self-esteem and feeling as if we’re important enough, good enough, to be loved unconditionally. The flirty whistles and the flirty flashed smiles were like a swallow of fresh, cold water after a walk through the desert. Flirtation and fantasy were good enough to keep me going till the real thing showed up. When you need an ego boost, you take whatever is offered. I never once thought of a wolf whistle as demeaning. (Think the Four Lads singing “Standing On The Corner.” )

    And flirting was fun. There was no commitment implied. There was no weight of obligation with flirting. It was usually brief and happy, a few turns on a carousel, a fun ride that garnered a bit of a high with no letdown, just a happy feeling when it was over.

    I think it is sad that these days flirting can be so quickly misinterpreted as harassment, or even assault, if a quick touch is involved. Even as a female flirter, I would be fearful that someone could turn the tables ((though at my age, I doubt it) and say that my behaviour was unwelcome and even reprehensible, because that would never be my intention. I’m going to be 68 next week and it’s still a bit of thrill to engage in some flirtatious banter. I’m not the slightest bit interested in follow-through, but it’s just fun to recapture some of that youthful thrill, to remember when it was all reminiscent of a chess game, but a chess game where there were no losers.

    And as I sit here, thinking that my 42 happiest years started with some supremely wonderful flirty moves and moments, I’m grinning widely, because those were the start of something very big.

    Rose 😉

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Oh, Rose! You’ve understood perfectly what I was getting at — and you’ve expressed better than I have.

      Perhaps our attitudes are partly due to our similar ages. Maybe young women today grow up in a more dangerous world. Or they see it as more dangerous.

      I completely agree with your point that the lack of commitment and follow-through, the fact that flirting is fantasy only, is part of what makes it so wonderful.

      Thank you so much for your astute observations.

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