Flirting: The good, the bad…


A little flirting is healthy, fun and sometimes completely automatic (or unintentional). We have written about all about the art of flirting and how it helps in those initial stages of forming a romantic connection. However, following the release of our flirting blogs, we received many enquiries about the negative side of flirting.

Naturally when we are attracted to someone without any intent, we may flirt through our body language, pupils dilating, tone of voice changing. Flirting behaviors is culturally universal and also evident in animals. This is happening unconsciously, however, flirting can also be very deliberate, we can learn the art of flirting and whilst this can be all playful and fun. Perhaps there is a dark side that we should explore....

Abusing power or flirting to get our own way

Often people flirt with another for personal gain. This may be for something simple and harmless, such as a drink on an evening out – but can lead to individuals flirting for other reasons, such as promotion at work, which is affectionately termed Flirking, but scientifically coined as ‘strategic flirting’. However, Females who are in a masculine dominant environment and engage in flirtatious smiles at work or playing dumb for attraction sake, have been found to be treated with less respect or left out of promotions/meetings2.

Flirting to get our own way can also be seen in relationships – you may affectionately speak with your partner, doing something you know they find irresistible before asking them to fix the toilet seat, or drop the bombshell that your parents are coming to visit – although intended to be harmless, this use of flirting can be seen as manipulation and can lead to hard feelings and mistrust.

Leading people on for self-gratification

Often people will flirt for self-gratification with no intention of looking for a romantic partner or follow on dates – therefore simply using flirtatious behavior to make themselves feel more attractive, or more important. When these people flirt, they feel good, and the behavior is rewarded with a psychological buzz and hormonal release, boosting their own ego. They may flirt with someone, and when it is reciprocated, act shocked or as if they weren’t flirting – meaning the recipient becomes confused and less likely to trust their own judgment at finding a romantic mate.

People may also lead someone on for self-gratification when in a relationship – engaging in what they deem to see as ‘harmless flirting with no intention’ with a stranger. This leads us on to flirting whilst in relationships:

Being flirtatious with another whilst in a relationship - does this cross a boundary?

When you are flirting whilst in a relationship, but not with your partner, you are engaging in what is believed, from my own blog series, to being behaving as though sexually attracted to someone, but playfully rather than with serious intentions[1]. Primarily, this is leading someone on for self gratification, creating a sense that you are available. This ‘playful’ action provides you with the chemical and psychological boost described in my previous blog The Importance of Flirting []. This chemical boost, alike to adrenaline, can become addictive, exciting, exhilarating. In tern, you find yourself needing to gain the boost from engaging in flirtatious behaviours and equally having these behaviours reciprocated – reciprocation is key as you are rewarded with what psychologists deem as ‘positive reinforcement’. After a period of time, you may find that this chemical boost will become something which you now cannot gain from your current partner, someone whom you are meant to love and care for, or from within your relationship. It will leave you questioning your own relationship for the forbidden fruit, the sexual desire.

Looking at flirting in a relationship from this perspective shows that flirting outside of the relationship does cross a boundary. You should be aware that your desire and particularly your actions on the desire, may begin to make your partner feel undervalued, unimportant and unable to satisfy you – this in tern creates an wedge between you both within your relationship. It is widely known that you cannot start an affair without fancying someone, and fancying someone – finding that important chemistry - comes from flirting.

Within the Psychological field, flirting with someone outside of your relationship can be seen as Relational Transgression (RT). RT happens when an individual breaks relationship rules – both spoken and expected. This psychological contract between a couple is hard to rebuild however, If you find yourself in this situation, speak with your partner and have open dialog on what is acceptable and how you both feel. Open communication is the foundation of a successful relationship, boundaries will enable you to both feel secure and safe - allowing you to both get your relationship back on track.