One of the life lessons learned by osmosis from several years living in the US mid-south is the fine art of flirtation and flattery. In traditional Southern culture, flirting with a member of the opposite gender was not necessarily considered rude, inappropriate or sexual harassment. In fact, flattery and flirtation were often considered valued social skills that indicated graciousness and refinement of manners.
Obviously there was always a possibility that the flirtatious interchange could be taken far more seriously than intended by one of the involved parties. But that element of tension and lurking danger seems to have been part of the appeal. Both persons had the opportunity to dismiss any perceived sparks as a simple misunderstanding, should anyone question the exchange as “too forward”.
However, as a social countermeasure against abuse, men were expected to flirt with all females with equal enthusiasm, whether a three year old girl or 90 year old great-grandmother, and whether attractive or not so much. Since a proper gentleman had an obligation to charm every woman he met, this provided the needed cover in case a specific flirtation was a bit too genuine.
Now, having grown up in a family from the rural midwestern US with German roots and holiness-oriented church traditions, flirtation and flattery were considered sinful and very much frowned upon. Predictably, I had no formal skills in these areas and was uncomfortable with offering or accepting these kinds of social graces. In fact, being raised with a farm bred attitude that “life is tough, you gotta be tougher”, I actively avoided or resisted all types of social frivolity with dour indignation and a proper grim sense of moral superiority.
As would be expected, this stance did not help to endear me to the southern-bred local gals. After several years spent not making headway with romantic prospects due to the vast cultural abyss, I moved back to the midwest a few years out of college and eventually got married there. Thus, I thought I was safe from further uncomfortable interaction with members of the fair sex, other than my wife.
However, oddly enough, these formerly despised tools of female interaction have suddenly become almost instinctive to me in recent years, as if arising from the depths of repressed memories with the renewed life of the phoenix. I find that I am instinctively attentive to nearly every female who crosses my path (or field of vision), and try to initiate a polite, light-hearted exchange to try to make the meeting pleasantly memorable for her.
Of course, I feel obligated to blame this new development on the expected ego-boosting behaviors that are side effects of a typical male mid-life crisis.
But for good measure, I assure my wife that she is still my one and only…after nearly every casual exchange with the lovely 40-ish, 30-ish or even 20-ish ladies I meet.
Maybe some day she’ll start believing me!
PS – Yes, this is intended to be humorous! For anyone who knows me and my wife personally, you know (a) my wife would not let me get away with any serious flirting, (b) even if I pretend to flirt, it is just my form of therapy for social anxiety, and (c) any woman I would interact with socially is likely to be from our church, so they know how to keep me in line as well.
[Update Feb. 25, 2015 – Added “Links” section below.]
Apparently others have been pondering this issue as well! (I will continue add links to articles that are either humorous or thought provoking.)