Young People Ask . . .
What’s the Harm in Flirting?
“SARAH! Sarah!” the boy whispers from a few rows back. “Come sit here by me!” Every five minutes he repeats his plea—in vain. To Sarah, the boy’s attempts at classroom flirtation are little more than a daily irritation.
Young Jennifer is not yet old enough to attend secondary [high] school, but she relates: “Boys will say things with double meanings and will act in a way that’s not just friendly.” “The eyes!” adds Erika. “They look at you with these big phony smiles, and out of nowhere they get this really deep voice—it makes me laugh. And they get really close to you.” Boys too are often exposed to flirtation. John, a teenager, relates: “The girls [in school] try to get near you and touch you, put their arms around you. They come up in the halls and try to hug you.”
Admittedly, many youths seem to enjoy the attention. “It’s fun,” declared a girl named Connie who encourages lustful stares by dressing provocatively. Many youths enjoy spreading the attention too. “I’m a girl who likes to flirt with all guys—whether I like them or not,” wrote one girl to ’Teen magazine. “Flirting makes me feel more confident and charming.”
How, then, should a Christian youth view flirting? Is it just innocent fun, an inevitable phase on the road to love? Or are there some real dangers to avoid?
What Flirting Involves
In the English language, flirting is not the same as the legitimate attention a man might pay a woman (or vice versa) in the opening stages of courtship. Rather, it means “to behave amorously [romantically] without serious intent.” The French call a woman who behaves in this manner a coquette.
Exactly what constitutes flirtatious behavior, though, is not so easy to pinpoint. Flirting may involve a look, a touch, a tone of voice, a coy smile—even the way one dresses, stands, or carries oneself. While flirting may be hard to define, however, it is usually quite easy to identify when a person is the object of it. In any event, if one is simply too young to pursue marriage, coquettish or flirtatious behavior is downright hazardous!
Not that it is wrong in itself to feel attracted to someone of the opposite sex. Indeed, during “the bloom of youth,” it is only natural for such feelings to be strong; it is the way the Creator made us. (1 Corinthians 7:36) Perhaps you wonder how attractive you are; flirting may seem like a harmless way to find out. ’Teen magazine even encouraged girls to flirt by declaring, “Flirting Can Be Fun!” The ensuing article gave detailed instructions in the art of flirting.
But the mere fact that flirting may be called fun does not make it beneficial or wholesome. Consider the attitude of the righteous man Job. He once said: “A covenant I have concluded with my eyes. So how could I show myself attentive to a virgin?” (Job 31:1, 9-11) In effect, Job made a contract with himself that he would control his eyes and never flirtatiously glance at an unmarried woman. Why? Because Job was a married man. Indulging in petty flirtations would have been inappropriate, a disloyalty to his wife. At the very least, it could have aroused wrong desires and expectations. Job therefore avoided flirting.
True, you are not married. But when you think of it, do you have a legitimate reason to show yourself attentive to a particular member of the opposite sex any more than did Job? After all, if you are not old enough to marry, what would be the point? What would you do if he or she responded? Are you really in a position to take a relationship to its logical goal—marriage?* If not, flirting creates little more than frustration.
Oftentimes, though, romantic involvement is the last thing on the mind of a flirt. He or she may view grabbing the attention of the opposite sex as a sort of game or sport. A Christian girl named Maria, for example, was well aware of the Bible’s command not to get romantically yoked with an unbeliever. (2 Corinthians 6:14) But she mistakenly believed that there was no harm in flirting with the boys she went to school with. “Once I got their attention,” she quickly explains, “that was the end of it. You get to the point where they ask you out, and that’s where you stop.” But is that where they stop?
Writer Kathy McCoy observed in an article for Seventeen magazine: “Sexual game-players are often people with low self-esteem who try to get good feelings about themselves through the attention and admiration of others.” Getting a reaction to a seductive glance or touch may indeed boost your ego—but only temporarily. Besides, the Bible writer Paul, when discussing true love, tender affection, and Christian unity, warned Christians to do ‘nothing out of egotism,’ or “personal vanity,” as one translation put it.—Philippians 2:1-3; The New English Bible.
There are far more effective and lasting ways to build self-esteem than by trifling with others’ feelings. Why not try working on building up “the inner man,” or the person you are within?—2 Corinthians 4:16, The Jerusalem Bible.
“Shooting Fiery Missiles”
An article in Seventeen magazine points to yet another danger, saying: “The difficult thing about flirting is that it means different things to different people, and sometimes meanings get misread—and feelings get hurt.”
Yes, youths often naively underestimate the damage flirting can wreak on another’s feelings. It is as a wise proverb says: “Just like someone mad that is shooting fiery missiles, arrows and death, so is the man that has tricked his fellowman and has said: ‘Was I not having fun?’” (Proverbs 26:18, 19) The power to affect the emotions of others is potentially lethal. Like any power, it must be used cautiously, responsibly.
Flirtation is misleading, unloving, and often cruel. It can sour a potentially healthy, pleasant relationship. It can cheapen you in the eyes of others. Worse yet, it can lead to premature romantic involvement or even sexual immorality! The Bible warns: “Can a man rake together fire into his bosom and yet his very garments not be burned?”—Proverbs 6:27.
‘I Want People to Like Me’
Of course, it’s only natural to want to be liked. And it may seem to you that flirts have all the fun, that those who know how to turn on the charm have the most friends. But does a flirt really make genuine, lasting friendships? Hardly. True, some may like a flirt as long as the attention is being directed to them. But when the attention is suddenly bestowed upon someone else, they usually feel quite disgusted with the flirt.
Not surprisingly, then, in one survey of teenage girls, 80 percent judged a “flirtatious nature” in a boy as not having “any merit at all.” As an ancient proverb says: “The cruel person is bringing ostracism upon his own organism.”—Proverbs 11:17.
Granted, it’s not always easy hitting the right balance in dealing with the opposite sex. A teenage girl named Kelly says she has “a hard time finding the difference between being friendly and flirting.” She adds: “I’m very, very friendly.”
There is nothing wrong with being outgoing. And it is not necessary to hide inside a shell or to manifest a cold exterior. Being able to carry on upbuilding, intelligent conversations is a skill that can help you win friends. Besides, open conversation is less likely to be misinterpreted than are unexplained glances or shy smiles from across a room. But if you are friendly only with peers of the opposite sex and virtually ignore others, might not some draw a wrong conclusion about you?
The key is “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others”—regardless of age or sex. (Philippians 2:4) Steer clear of speech, dress, grooming, or actions that could be viewed as provocative. (Compare 1 Timothy 2:9.) If you have a reputation for showing a genuine interest in people in general, rarely will friendliness be mistaken for a romantic come-on. By your speech and actions, you can send a clear message: ‘I am not in the flirting business!’
See chapter 29 (“Am I Ready to Date?”) in Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Picture on page 20]
Show a genuine interest in all people—regardless of their age or sex