Flirting is commonplace. Some people proudly proclaim themselves shameless flirts. They flirt with everyone; nothing personal. Flirting is most often described as “harmless fun”. Where seen as negative, it’s often framed in terms of leading people on unfairly, of overpromising, and embarrassing the flirted-with by misleading them into expecting more. Sometimes, it’s actively promoted as a positive and life-affirming skill that everyone should cultivate.

Exhibit A

Flirting is also a dragnet for limerents. [Fair warning: this post is likely to be a bit humourless].

Now, like most people, I do like a good flirt. It does feel good to flatter yourself, and someone else, with a bit of a sparkle and some cheeky banter. As the School of Life video suggests, many people (*raises hand*) do like it when the person they are talking with communicates, in a slantwise way, that they would quite like to have sex with you if circumstances were different and they weren’t already committed. But, one of the most important lessons I have learned in life is not to assume that my experience as a middle-class, middle-aged man is representative of the experiences of all people and should therefore be adopted as a general policy. For example, one of the reasons that I would enjoy a flirty woman letting me know they would like to have sex with me, is that it happens very rarely. The novelty of the experience is part of the charm. If, in contrast, I had to live with a basic background level of continual reminders that other people wanted to have sex with me, the charm may tarnish somewhat. Also, you know, context is quite important.

From the perspective of a limerent, flirting isn’t harmless fun. “Intent isn’t magic” is a phrase that is bandied around a lot at the moment, and this is a good example of its aptness. A non-limerent may think that meaningless flirting is wonderful life-affirming stuff – just a little innocent buzz to help them on their way – but to a nucleating limerent it’s a sign of reciprocation. And that means, it could be a prelude to a period of intense and life-negating obsession. The flirt may not have intended for the flirtee to interpret the flirting as an actual move, but it turns out that people aren’t psychic. If you come on to someone in what you think is a sophisticated and nuanced way, carefully balancing hints of your attraction against clear statements as to how attached you are to your SO, you may be intending to say “I am a good flirt. I like you, I think you’re attractive, and I want you to know that, but I don’t intend to have sex with you for complicated reasons unrelated to your inherent attractiveness.” It’s not really their fault if they instead hear “I want you, but my SO is a barrier.” The whole premise of “good flirting” is that you can accurately predict the mental state of someone that you presumably don’t know very well (we rarely flirt with old friends). I’m sure that will end brilliantly.

As I said at the outset: a bit humourless. I admit I am conflicted about this one myself. In an ideal world, everyone should be wonderfully enlightened and emotionally resilient and take flirting in a positive and light-hearted way. People shouldn’t worry that smiling at someone they like might inadvertently set them off into a painful limerent spiral. But the dismissive claim that flirting is harmless really pisses me off. What people mean when they say that is “I want to do it, so I want to think it’s harmless”. It isn’t, always. Sometimes it’s playing with fire, and that’s because it’s playing with other people’s feelings.

And while we’re attacking flirting, let’s not forget the unsophisticated flirts. God knows, they are the majority. Flirting here is not meant as a beneficent gesture of admiration, it’s a play. It’s a way of gauging interest, while having plausible deniability that anything more was intended. And some people (perhaps, especially, non-limerents) have learned that it is an effective dragnet for catching limerents. Send out signals of interest and reciprocation, and sometimes you can snare a nucleating limerent. The real sociopaths have also learned that once they’ve charmed a limerent, their new piece of ass seems to have an inordinate attachment to them, and can be readily manipulated by a bit of uncertainty – such as flirting with other people in front of them. Power trip.

Flirting can be good, can be carefully and safely executed, and can be a positive experience for both parties. But it requires both parties to be playing nicely, and to be robust enough to weather the potential emotional consequences of things going a bit wrong. So, is there a way of spotting “good flirting” as a recipient, and spotting safe people to flirt with? Well, from the perspective of a limerent, it’s incredibly risky to flirt with someone that you’ve felt the glimmer for, unless you are willing to either get-it-on with the potential LO (and are therefore flirting with meaning), or deal with the consequences of a slide down the slippery slope into reverie. Similarly, if someone starts flirting with you – and you are likely to have to interact with that person in the future – be attentive to the little hints as to the kind of flirt they are. Do they flirt with everyone? If so, they are either a bit socially heedless, or actively seeking narcissistic supply.


or maybe French

Either way, be aware that this is not someone whose reciprocation is a sign that they have particularly connected with you, for your particular merits. Also, this is someone that is likely to play havoc with your limerent uncertainty, as they merrily sparkle at all-comers, even in your company.

Alternatively, is this somebody that is normally a fairly undemonstrative person, who happens to light up when talking with you, and is showing signs of anxiety and/or arousal? (These could be: fidgeting with hair or jewelry, alternating between prolonged eye contact and looking anywhere but at you, laughing nervously, voice shaking, etc.) If so, you may be flirting with a limerent. Tread carefully.

Like anything, ultimately it’s a cost-benefit decision that depends on context and mood. Deciding whether or not to flirt is best done from a position of self-awareness about your own emotional landscape, coupled with the certainty that you cannot predict how the other person will react and that it’s foolish to blame them for not reading your mind and guessing your intent.

So. Flirting. It’s complicated for limerents.

6 thoughts on “Flirting

  1. “Flirting here is not meant as a beneficent gesture of admiration, it’s a play. It’s a way of gauging interest, while having plausible deniability that anything more was intended. ”

    I have to admit that I’m guilty of this one, especially with women I’ve seen a hint of glimmer with. The thing is, I tend to use it as a kind of threat assessment. If they respond, they may be a threat and I need to watch out. If they don’t, they’re not a threat.

    With LO #4, I’d already assessed her as non-threatening based on we were both in relationships, we’d never actually met, and we were geographically separated. I would say we bantered more than flirted. What I didn’t realize was that it was leading me into an emotional affair. I met 2/3 of the criteria for one and I think the only reason it wasn’t more was because of the geographical separation. I’d like to think that if I had actual contact, I’d have identified her as a threat earlier.

    Since I’ve been on the site and things are making sense, I encountered a PLO. I’ve known this woman for about 10 years and I see her several times/year professionally. She has the glimmer and is a former “damsel in distress.” The only thing better than a damsel in distress is a former one. When she took the conversation into a direction that fed the glimmer, this time I recognized it and didn’t go along. It will be interesting to see if it happens the next I see her.


    • Yeah, it’s fascinating isn’t it, when you can get to that stage of observing your own reactions, and recognise the limerence patterns kicking in? Very useful for taking action early to stop the slide.

      I also met up with my last LO recently, because of work. It was fine, but it’s got me wondering again if it’s ever possible to get over an LO fully without consummation. That glimmer is always there, waiting to be reignited.


      • I think you can get over them without consummation. But, it depends on where you draw the line between a PLO and an actual LO. It may also depend on things like the duration of the LE and how it ended. If the ending was one-sided, it might be harder. If the parting was mutual, it might be easier. Also, I think disclosure might affect it. If you disclosed, there’s far less reason to hang on.

        LO #3 removed the uncertainty early on extinguishing the LE. She could have been a clone of LO #2 but she offered no hope. I was limerent but she didn’t play along. So, was she a PLO or a real LO?

        With LO #4, working with the therapist identified the nature of my attraction to her. Once I understood that, the glimmer faded. She’s still an attractive, intelligent, charming woman with a delightfully snarky sense of humor but I’m not available and I know what drew me to her.

        Were that to change, maybe the glimmer would return but I think I know too much now for that to happen.


      • Interesting to categorise as “PLO” (potential llimerent object?). That’s what I mean about can you ever get over an LO? I agree that becoming non-limerent for LO is definitely possible (see posts ad nauseum!) but the idea is that the potential for slipping back into limerence is always there. Does the glimmer reveal a fundamental emotional/psychological complementarity that can be managed, but not eliminated? An LO can shift to PLO status, but not a neutral friend or acquaintance.


  2. I read an article that said if you have to put up boundaries, alter your feelings, or at some level want something more, it’s not a platonic relationship.

    For me, once that djinni was out of the bottle, I couldn’t be a neutral friend or acquaintance with an LO. The shields would always have to be up. When I look at my life, the only woman friend I really have is the wife of my best friend. I’ve known them for decades. There are a number of people I regularly play golf with and grab a beer with. None of them are women.

    When we were first married, LO #3, who might be classified as a nascent LO in one of the other blogs, wanted to socialize with my wife and I as a couple with her new husband. When I told my wife we’d been invited to a party, she asked, “Did you ever sleep with her?” I said, “No.” (true) My wife said, “OK, then.”

    Can the glimmer be managed but not eliminated? When I look at my LOs, I’d have to say the answer is “Yes, it can be managed but not eliminated.” I still am interested in what the LOs I’ve known are up to but I have no desire to re-engage any of them. I have no place for them in my life but they all had an effect on me. I’m curious as to how they fared.


  3. I think it would be lovely if all flirting was saved for ones very own SO or if one is not attached, someone with real potential to be a SO.
    Flirting is like a a knife, when used properly can be quite useful (for example, making SO feel desirable) but when used improperly can cause emotional wounds that can take years to heal and often leave ugly scars.


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