To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.
So do it.
– Kurt Vonnegut
Well, “Birds do it, bees do it. Even educated fleas do it,” wisely sang Ella Fitzgerald. Fall in love? Perhaps, but not so fast. Before love of any kind can flourish, whether it be for a person or a hobby, an occupation or a place, first must come, flirting.
Psychology Today defines flirting as, “A silent language of elaborate visual and other gestures, flirting is “spoken” by intellect-driven people as well as instinct-driven animals. The very universality of flirting, preserved through evolutionary history from insects to man, suggests that a flirting plan is wired into us, and that it has been embedded in our genes and in our brains’ operating system the same way and for the same reasons that every other sexual trait has been – by trial and error, with conservation of what works best.”
Yet in our urban setting, particularly in Istanbul, this innate language is not spoken at all. Why do we reject something that is supposed to come so naturally to us? In an interview, the beloved Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön says that the older she gets, the more she thinks every problem is fear. I believe the case of flirting is no different.
FEAR OF TIME: On a scientific stand-point, the reason “why all mammals and most animals (including birds, fish, even fruit flies) engage in this complicated and energy-intensive” game of attraction is to pro-create. Flirting allows the assessment of compatibility in an array of possibilities, and naturally select the one with most potential. For us, not only does it socially enable a glimpse at the tone of a prospect’s inner life, but also facilitates the detection of red-flags before it is too late.
Currently, the focus is so entirely on the end result (marriage and success) – categorized by society’s criteria of “a good catch” – that our goal-oriented culture seems to completely dismiss this evolutionary ritual as a waste of time. It is no surprise that relationships of today end as they begin. Under the societal pressure that weighs even heavier than the biological clock, when one steps over their own instincts in order to bolt to the supposed price, they don’t realize that the price they pay in the long run is even a bigger lapse not only in time, but also in spirit. For the time they denied themselves to enjoy the dance of exploration, ends up being a bundle of disappointments.
FEAR OF TRUTH: Cynics believe that a flirter plays the people he/she meets in the name of self-promotion, therefore associating flirting with dishonesty, yet I believe this conception to be misguided. Of course there exist individuals with questionable motives and methods, but in its true nature, flirting merely suggests revealing ourselves to the other in small doses. Again, it’s essentially a slow, sensual dance of intrigue.
As Anais Nin eloquently points out, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” So if one is always suspicious of others, perhaps they are the ones who are not being truthful themselves. Underneath the need to lie about one’s self always lies the deadening fear to be disliked.
FEAR OF LABELS: Oscar Wilde once said, “Girls never marry the men they flirt with. Girls don’t think it right.” Sure, he was referring to the ladies of the British upper class in late 19th century, yet it is sadly as relevant today as it was then. In a society where even mere politeness is misinterpreted as flirtation, it is a granted fear to be unjustly called a “slut.” However, because our obsession of labels cloud our intuition, just as we fear to be misjudged, we misjudge who/what truly makes us happy. In order to find what makes us feel giddy about life, we must first look out, with a sense of adventure to explore what exactly nurtures our souls.
FEAR OF UNKNOWN: We are so enthralled in the need to control the outcome and so addicted to demand guarantees that we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy the tickling excitement of uncertainty, freedom of no promises. The fear of unknown completely diminishes the element of surprise and leaves us imprisoned in our comfort zones with familiar faces. In Istanbul, how many people are actually open to meeting new people who have not been introduced by a mutual friend or at a socially acceptable form of event like a birthday party or a business dinner?
“Expectation is the root of all heartbreak.” If we are fixed in the familiarity of our ordinary settings, with our list of expectations tightly clutched in our fists, we forever remain blind to the doors of extraordinary opportunities closing behind us, which is the biggest heartbreak of all.
Flirting is not an open invitation to promiscuity or cupidity. It is simply a serendipitous attitude towards life and everything that it offers. It is a sign of sophistication and open-mindedness. The art of striking a graceful balance between our brave approach to blank canvases, and the ease of confidence that comes from knowing the pivot of our spirits.
With the approaching summer days filled with sun’s warmth, the softness of the breeze, and the freshness of summer cocktails, let’s ease into our true selves and take life as it comes. Flirt. Not just with people, but different places and new ideas. Above all, flirt with yourself and the unknown that contains all kinds of possibilities that might make you happier than you allow yourself to be.