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Flirting With Disaster

Tell me, reader, have I mentioned lately how cute you are? Because you are extremely cute. And very intelligent, too. And, gee, you have a wonderful personality. I just wish we had more time to get to know each other better.

Yes, I’m totally sincere. And yes, I’m totally flirting. If you could see my Hannibal Lector smile, and the darling way I crumple up my nose and scrunch my eyes and exude a tiny stream of drool, you’d know I am in major flirt mode.

To get more specific, I am indulging in the kind of flirting behavior that University of Kentucky professor Brandi Frisby believes “can keep a marriage healthy.” It’s the kind of behavior that allows committed partners to “flirt with each other to minimize conflict and communicate as if in a private world.”


(I consider us committed partners, don’t you? At least I’m committed to you, even if you never remember to put your socks in the hamper or leave me at least one spoonful of Crispy Nut Crunch for my breakfast.)

You see, when it comes to flirting, I follow the rules.

But maybe you didn’t know there were rules for flirting. Or maybe you were so busy flirting with that hot new nerd in IT that you didn’t have time to read Elizabeth Bernstein’s article in The Wall Street Journal, titled “The New Rules of Flirting.”

Even if you didn’t know the old rules of flirting, it could be helpful for you to know how professional flirters play the game. Let’s start with the experts’ definition: “ambiguous behavior with potential sexual or romantic orientation that is goal-oriented.”

That’s right! Unless you have a goal in mind, you are not flirting; you’re just being annoying.

There are plenty of reasons not to flirt. You could be in a committed relationship. Or you could be a five-star Army general. Or both! Either way, it is probably best for you to put the flirting in cold storage. Very cold storage.

According to scientists, there are a variety of reasons to flirt your head off. “Some people are looking for a mate, of course,” Ms. Bernstein opines. “But we also like to flirt because we enjoy it.”

Flirting is fun, but I’m not 100 percent convinced that it is worth the risk of getting your head — or your job — handed to you.

In this litigious society with HR people buzzing around, looking for any reason to fire you, be prepared to back off if the object of your affection does not respond favorably. This is true, even if you use a really cool line, such as “Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk past again?” or “You must be tired because you’ve been running through my head all night.”

If all you get in return for this high level of romantic banter is a cold stare, accompanied with the pantomime of a finger being repeatedly stuck in the throat, start chortling loudly and say something comforting like “Just kidding! Who would ever flirt with an ugly loser like you?”

If you’re wondering how flirting ever started, you can blame evolution. (See, this is the problem of not believing in evolution. You have nothing to blame for the dumb things we humans do.) According to Bernstein, “scientists say flirting developed to further the human race, by helping males to find a mate and females to evaluate a potential partner and his commitment before moving forward.”

This makes sense, I suppose, but I wish the scientists would explain at what juncture in the flirting process do you move forward far enough to bonk your perspective mate on the noggin with a club. As any caveman or cavewoman could tell you, that’s a sign of real love. That’s why, in today’s workspaces, you’ll want to reserve this classic flirting move only for people who still possess a Neanderthal brain. Mostly, you’ll find them in the marketing department.

You may be surprised to learn that many people flirt for reasons other than romance. You might flirt with your butcher to get an extra plump string of sausages or flirt with the security people at the airport to let you wear that garland of sausages on your flight. As one serial flirter explained, “Sometimes you get your way, sometimes you don’t, but flirting is a fast, inexpensive way to have a better day.”

Fast, yes. Inexpensive, maybe. Depends on whether you factor in the divorce attorney’s fees and the alimony.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at


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