I'm a gal with a bad habit of flirting. It started in high school with a teacher (that one was innocent), followed by a dalliance with a university professor. In one workplace, I dated a colleague but during the time had flirtations with two other men and one woman there.
Most recently, I found myself hooking up with, and then getting engaged to, another man in a workplace I have since left. We're still together. Fast-forward to another workplace, and now there's a man (married with kids) whom I have to work closely with, but whom I can't stop flirting with, again.
My current partner says he doesn't mind, he's into open marriage and all that.
But I run the risk of heartbreak, embarrassment and maybe even getting fired if I do something really inappropriate with the new crush. Do I back off?
Listen, I understand: Flirting is fun.
And many psychologists and sociologists have weighed in to say it is no less than the cornerstone of human interaction, the foundation of civilization, everything we do is a form of flirtation.
I wouldn't know about any of that. But on behalf of married dudes everywhere I will say it's a great shortcut to answering the immortal question: "Have I still got it?"
Sometimes, as a man in his 40s with a wedding ring, I feel so invisible to the female population it seems as though I could be standing in front of a menu in a restaurant window and women could still read it and be able to figure out what to have for lunch: "Ooh, I think I'll have the grilled salmon." "Me too, looks delicious ..."
Hello? Ladies? This is, like, my best shirt. The jewel in the crown of my closet. And I just got a haircut and new glasses.
That's what I'd want to say. But of course they wouldn't be able to hear me. I exist in a different dimension. It would be like Patrick Swayze trying to communicate with the living in Ghost.
But then, one day, some forward little minx will laugh a little too hard at my (lame) joke, lay her hand on my forearm and allow it to linger there a little too long, gazing deeply and soulfully into my eyes.
And the sun will shine again. "Yes!" I'll think. "Nothing has changed. My manly nectar continues to draw the honeys. It is as it has always been. I am still ... doable."
It's very affirming. In fact, the rush, the frisson one experiences at these moments, is so intense, such a drug, some men refer to it simply as "it."
And they live for "it." Like a lab chimp endlessly pressing a lever hoping for a fresh crack pellet, they will eschew food, sleep and water in pursuit of "it."
Could this, perhaps, be going on a bit in your case as well? Hmmm?
And I understand, as well as anyone, that there are two types of flirtation: a) conditional; b) with intent.
"Conditional" is so called because so much of the verbiage in the thought balloon above the flirter's melon is framed in the subjunctive: "Of course I would never cheat on my wife. But were circumstances different, would Sherry from Marketing cross me off her to-do list? Am I on her to-do list? Oh, would that I were."
Flirting with intent is a blunter instrument, a more straightforward transaction: "You like? You'll do. Let's go."
The problem is it's easy to confuse one type of flirting with the other. Men, particularly, can get confused. Pretty soon "Have I still got it?" segues into "Could I get away with it?"
And suddenly everyone's plotting and scheming - then yelling and screaming in divorce court.
And since you, madam, seem to practise both types of flirtation, perhaps simultaneously, but appear to make no particular distinction between the two, I think you should consider the possibility you may be sending confusing signals out there.
Personally, I try never to flirt. I think people who are married or engaged yet give off "the single vibe" are cheesy. "Where's your wife?" I always find myself wanting to ask them.
In your case, if you were flirting with me I'd be flattered but at the same time thinking: "Aren't you, like, engaged?"
I don't know. Maybe I'm too puritanical. But if I were you I'd dial all this flirtation back ASAP before someone gets burned or something blows up in your face.
And what's all this about an "open marriage?"
Let me get this straight: Your fiancé is aware you're flirting up a storm with every Tom, Dick and Jorge. And his response is: "Aw, that's okay and not only is it okay but since I assume you will be cuckolding me when we're married, may I say in advance that's okay, too"?
I need to speak with him immediately. Will you ask him - or since he is apparently your slave or some sort of eunuch - command him to write to me at his earliest convenience? He and I need to have a serious talk about values, parameters, backbone, stuff like that.
In the meantime, may I put my arm around your shoulder - in purely avuncular fashion, of course, picture me in a cardigan, puffing on a briar pipe - as I say: "Darling. Bubeleh. What you are in fact flirting with is disaster. There's another term for 'open marriage.' It's 'divorce.' I know it's nice to think everyone likes you and wants to go to bed with you, but you need to find other ways to goose your ego and boost your serotonin levels."
Above all, though, you and your hubby-to-be need to take a long, hard look at the question of marriage. Maybe do a little research into its history. It's a stately, august and beautiful institution; a state of affairs not to be entered lightly. Also, it's legally binding: All sorts of little laws kick in when you get married.
And the concept is: It's for life.
Pardon me for saying so, but unless your fiancé mans up a bit, and until you decide you're a one-man woman and he's the man for you, I don't see how you'll last six months.
David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.
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