Friday, November 12, 2010

The U.S. Apparently Sucks at Flirting

According to this study, at least, as well as the evidence of our own senses, we're facing a terrible crisis. That's right, we suck at flirting. The English are better at it than us. Hell, even Canada made the top ten.
True, this is far from a comprehensive study, and it only measures the flirtatiousness of women, but cultures that have stereotypically more aggressively flirtatious men ranked pretty high up on the ol' flirtometer (Spain topped the list, Italy was number 4).

It's also worth noting that the US, and some of its back-of-the-pack colleagues like Belgium and France (yes, French women can't flirt, apparently all those Pepe le Pew cartoons were a far more accurate representation of French culture than we all thought) also come out pretty high in terms of divorce rates. Does anyone think the two facts could possibly be unrelated?

It's possible that part of America's problem is that we just don't know what we're doing, after all, while our country is fantastically good at some things, problems that can't be solved by installing a V8 engine, building gigantic infrastructure or the application of large amounts of explosives (yes, fellow Mythbusters fans, there are problems that can't be solved by large amounts of explosives, crazy as that sounds) sometimes slip through the cracks.

So what do we do to fix this? Often we'd turn to the government for help with such a widespread crisis, but at the moment our civic leadership is so divided that it can't even work out what should be Sixth Grade math and science problems, so I'm going to have to call on you, Dear Readers, to engineer a Grass Roots (tm) solution to this.

Now, flirtation is definitely more of an art than an exact science, and since useful educational programs are all but nonexistent in this romantic dystopia, we're going to have to wing it a lot, but I've put together a brief FAQ to help out.

Is flirting safe?

Yes, in most circumstances, and with proper precautions, flirtation has an extremely low injury rate. It is recommended, however, that novice flirts practice on single members of their community who are around the same age as themselves. There are techniques for Flirting With Married Women Without Their Husbands Murdering You (see "Will I Get Rejected" below for more in this), but these are not recommended for beginners.

Is it hard to do?
Not really! The primary building block of flirtation is something known to flirtologists as the "Compliment" or the "Kind Word." Basically, this means that you pick something nice about someone and point out to them the fact that you noticed it. The fact is, men and women are social animals and just about all of us want to feel that someone likes us and finds us interesting and attractive.

The basic technique is to very gently build the implication that if circumstances allowed it (you expected to have more than five minutes on a subway platform to get to know each other/ you "swung that way"/ there weren't all these security cameras around) you think the person would be worth getting to know better. Possibly a lot better, but remember that in this case a little goes a very long way, which brings us to...

Is this the same as sexual harassment?
NO! If it is you're doing it wrong. The idea of flirtation is to make the other individual feel good about themselves, by implying that they're attractive, interesting or have something worthwhile to say. While it's nice when someone flirts back, you should never imply in any way shape or form that you expect something from them, or that you're putting any pressure on them, that's harassment.

Let's try a simple exercise: Your female acquaintance shows up wearing  in a new outfit. Which of the following statements would be appropriately flirtatious, and which might get you a phone call from a lawyer? 1 - "Hello Marie, you look really nice today, is that a new dress?" or 2 - "Hey Marie, nice dress, it'd look really great on my bedroom floor, you know what I mean?"

If you couldn't tell that number 2 was the inappropriate one, you may want to sit this whole "flirting" thing out. Actually, you may want to sit the whole "talking to other human beings" thing out, or seek professional help.

Some easy guidelines: a person's intellectual, athletic, artistic and professional qualities are usually fair game for compliments, as are most physical features above the neck, parts of their person from the neck down can be risky to focus on if you're not absolutely certain you won't cause offense. Also, the phrase "...wrapped around my..." should usually be avoided.

Will I get rejected?
You're missing the point. The goal of flirting is not to get laid. It may lead to interactions that may lead to you getting laid, but that's not the actual goal, which is why you can flirt with people you have no intention of sleeping with. The point is... well, to have fun.

You do realize it's fun to make someone else smile, right? Try it sometime, heck, just smile at someone you don't know, watch what happens. Cool, isn't it? This is normal, healthy human interaction, not the sum total of romance. The thing is, it requires you to pay attention to people around you, but you might just find they pay attention back.

Try it, you'll like it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Towards Positive Virtues

I just wanted to let you all know I've given up exercising for the good of my health. I've also given up moderate drinking for the sake of my heart, and reading to improve my intellect.

I'm not going to stop doing those things, but I'm giving up on doing them for those reasons. What I'm going to do instead is run and hike and ride my bicycle because it's fun, drink wine because it tastes good and read because I love a good book.

It's too easy to fixate on what could be considered "negative" or "cautionary" virtues on a list of "thou shalt nots" dictated by what we think is physically or morally bad for us. While much of this might be common sense (ie "thou shalt not go skydiving without a parachute"), an exclusive focus on what to avoid is unhealthy and makes for a pretty lopsided existence. I've seen too much of this over the last few months as the elections approached and a steady stream of criticism and "we can't" has come from all directions.

By contrast "positive" or "aspirational" virtues give us ideals to work towards, rather than a list of things to avoid. If we work towards being better, happier men and women, better friends, better neighbors and better citizens of whatever community we happen to inhabit, chances are we'll at least partially accomplish our goals.

There is a subtle but vital distinction between merely trying to avoid the negative and striving to embrace the positive, it's the difference between trying not to let things get any worse and trying to make things better. If nothing else, it's a hell of a lot more fun.

It's one thing, for example, to tell a teenager that sex can be bad if you're not careful (we'll leave out the debate on abstinence only education for the time being) but without providing an example of a healthy, happy relationship standard to aspire to, you're not going to have much effect. If you tell people they need to to make sacrifices to save the environment, you'll lose most of them, but if you try to get people behind the idea of working towards a cleaner, happier, healthier community, you might get a bit more traction.

Don't do things because they're good for you, do them because they're good.

End of rant. Go do something useful with yourself.