“The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being.”
–St. John Paul II
There’s a clever catchphrase that people use, often for female birthday parties—“thirty, flirty, and thriving.” Fortunately, I didn’t choose to use that theme for my thirtieth birthday (thank God for small favors), but it’s a popular phrase for single women once they hit the fourth decade.
While in mass recently, my mind wandered to this activity of “flirting” and how its usage has become a prevalent means of interaction in our society. Now, I am sure the cavemen and women in the early days of the world flirted in some way, but we have developed its activity into some form of an art, a hobby per se. And while I think it can be harmless and predominately unintentional, I do believe it has become a means of communication that can be really dangerous to human interaction.
The act of flirting can start at such a young age. Boys and girls, as children, often pick on each other and say mean things as a way of showing interest. I still remember being a kid and interacting this way with boys I had crushes on, and vice versa. As we grew, we were taught that “mature” interaction didn’t include jabs and hateful innuendos. Rather, if you were interested in someone, you made it clear by showing them positive attention. And as time has gone on, this attention has become something we give without even recognizing it—subtle gestures like head turning, holding gaze, and coyly smiling…or more aggressive tactics, like complimenting, sarcastic remarks, and inappropriate comments.
It wasn’t until I was “forced” into a dating fast that I began to recognize my own past interactions with others and what that looked like. What kind of message was I sending others when I communicated with them? I couldn’t date, so there was no reason to flirt. And if I couldn’t flirt, how was I supposed to interact with men?
Now, let me be clear—I wasn’t previously running around flirting with every male known to man. But for the first time, I was forced to actually think about how I communicated myself and my intentions—clothing, words (both verbal and nonverbal), and the entirety of my actions.
Here’s the truth: had I not gone on this dating fast, I would probably never have had an excuse or reason to prayerfully consider my interactions with others and what that communicated. I had grown so accustomed to not paying attention to these sorts of things and had to take a step back and reevaluate. In fact, I think being cognizant of how we treat others is so important, both male and female. For example, I recently had a friend go through a breakup. She asked me what it communicated if she liked her ex’s Instagram posts; I told her that it showed some interest even if the intention wasn’t to do so because the other person was still interested. And for things as simple as that, we often think it’s harmless; yet, it isn’t. It creates some level of false hope in another person, which ultimately is unfair.
How we treat each other as a child of God is so important, and the way we interact with others can express true charity or selfish desires. To use someone for our own gain or to need attention simply to make ourselves feel worthier does more harm than good, for both individuals. Think of your spouse, or your future spouse—how would you feel knowing he or she was being used by another person? Truly, real love recognizes that “my beloved is mine and I am his.”
Unless we're careful, we can get to a point where our interactions with others, both as single and married people, are ignored as inconsequential. It's too easy to forget that what we say and do can really help or hinder another person's life. Either out of our own desires for attention and self-fulfillment, we can grow accustomed to using others to feel wanted, needed, and worthy. Yet, in accepting and embracing our fallen natures, we can and must face the possible damage we have done in others' lives and reroute our paths to the straight and narrow.
Here is an exercise you can use to consciously see how you interact with others: next time you are around someone of the opposite sex, whether it be a friend or a stranger, pay attention to how you speak, how you stand, and how you optimize nonverbals. What do you do with your facial expressions? What do you say both verbally and nonverbally?
There is a place for flirtation in this world, but it isn’t to be thrown around like everyday communication. It’s to be reserved for those we are in romantic relationships with, ideally for those we are pursuing marriage with or are married to. How beautiful it is for two people within the bonds of marriage to share something as romantic as real flirtation. But let’s not get too accustomed to it that we forget how to actually utilize it in its proper place at the perfect time. How special it is when a man and woman can adore each other within marriage and truly only see the other.
"Spread love everywhere you go: first of all, in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next-door neighbor... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting."
-St. Teresa of Calcutta
Betsey Sawyer is an attorney and adjunct professor in Mississippi, and works for Women of Grace as the Mission Advancement Coordinator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photo courtesy of Eliza Kennard Photography)