Special feature: Crommunist goes to Montreal »« Imagine No Religion 2: parte the seconde

Flirting, fucking, and tossing the pigskin

So immediately after my first-ever atheist conference, the atheist community was all a-Twitter about people trying to fuck other people at conferences. It’s kind of difficult (I avoid using the word ‘hard’ intentionally) to suppress my ego, but I’m going to go ahead and conclude that this was simply coincidence, and not a sign that everyone was secretly trying to bang me. At any rate, people are talking about it, and there’s the usual crowd of folks managing to miss the point, so I thought it might be fun to throw in my two cents.

I have had a few interactions with people who write, or play music, or do their jobs, solely to achieve some other goal. They write because they want to be influential. They play music because they want to be famous. They’re in their respective fields because they want to get rich. I suppose the term for people like that is ‘goal-oriented’. The various things they take part in are a means to a more enjoyable end – they’re the necessary legwork required to attain the true object of desire.

For my purposes, I tend to align myself more to being ‘process-oriented': I do stuff because it’s fun and I like it. I write because I like to organize my thoughts and to play with words. I play music because I enjoy the intimate collaborations that are made possible by mixing it up with other musicians. I do my job because it’s challenging and interesting. Any notoriety or attention or wealth I gain from doing these things are all of secondary importance.

Flirting exists in this same solar system of ideas. Some people flirt because they are trying to get someone into bed. Conversation is an exercise in safe-cracking, wherein as long as you can manipulate the right dials with the requisite level of skill, you will be able to plunder the booty with wild abandon. Fail in your task, and you’ll get shut down and shut out, with nothing to show for your efforts (and indeed, depending on the circumstances, perhaps even facing punishment).

Others (like myself) flirt because it’s fun. Rather than being a win/lose proposition, flirting is more like footbag or tossing around a football. It’s an activity without a specific goal, where the only object is to entertain both yourself and your partner(s). There are people who are quite skilled at it, and those who aren’t – playing with someone who lacks skill becomes tiring pretty quickly (as does someone winging it at your head every time ze throws). At the end of the day though, at long as you worked up a bit of a sweat, you ‘won’.

As a result, I flirt like a rotor sprinkler – I just spray that shit all over the place. I flirt with people I work with, I flirt with total strangers, I flirt indiscriminate of gender/age/sexuality – it’s just a way for me to detect people who are quick with the witty banter, and to amuse myself (and hopefully the person I’m flirting with). The only circumstances under which I regularly don’t flirt are when I think that my intentions might be misconstrued (i.e., someone I’m not interested in sleeping with confusing flirtation with attempted seduction), or if anything but strict chaste professionalism would be wildly inappropriate (e.g., I don’t flirt with my boss).

When it comes to most things, being a goal-oriented person is a value-neutral state of affairs. Some people want to get rich and famous – more power to them. I may not agree with them, but it would be a stretch for me to say they’re immoral. When we’re talking about flirting, though, we enter a realm where ethical issues are salient, because we’re now talking about how we interact with other human beings. Respect for autonomy is a fundamental component of any valid ethical framework – we can’t just use others as the means to an end. This means that the goal-oriented approach of flirtation as a way of getting to Orifice Depot becomes extremely problematic.

I can predict the complaints: using flirtation as a means to an end isn’t the same as using a person as a means to an end. I know. I’m getting there. Shut up.

Flirtation is, at its essence, an attempt to create a relationship with someone. “Hey, attractive person: I am someone who makes you respond emotionally and does fun things to your dopamine receptors. We must have some kind of personal connection. Let’s go make a personal connection of another kind.” When the creation of that exchange is made for artificial purposes – i.e., simply as an avenue to get what you’re really after – the relationship and the person become inextricably linked. Using that relationship is functionally equivalent to using that person. Not a sound strategy.

It is far better, it seems to me, to approach flirtation and sex the same way one would approach playing Apples to Apples with your roommates – you’re not going to ‘win’ every time, but it’s a lot of fun and hey sometimes you do ‘win’, and that’s just great. What you’ll find is that ‘losing’ becomes far less of a big deal, because you had a positive experience with someone. Those times when flirting does lead to sex become a bonus rather than ‘the point’. Plus, people are more likely to want to interact with your genitals if you’re relaxed and easy-going than if you reek of flop-sweat and desperation*.

Now I am not claiming that process-oriented flirting is a better, more reliable path to consensual sex. There are indeed some people who play hard in the paint and go to the hole with alarming regularity. If I knew how they managed it, I’d tell you. What I am claiming is that unless you are an absolute Cassanova in your life outside conferences, you’d probably do better to avoid the assumption that everyone inside the conference is dying to fuck you simply because they’re talking to you.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

*Of course, it’s hard not to notice the other reason why you might be happier as a process-oriented flirter. Assuming that you’d like to cast your skill with flirtation as representative of your skill in the sack, I’d much rather fuck someone who is a fun and thoughtful lay than someone just trying to use me as a meat dildo with an inconvenient human being attached. 

Comments

  1. karmakin says

    The big problem with all of this, and why it’s something that probably will never be resolved, is that one person’s flirting is another person’s harassment. Of course there are extreme cases (obviously) that are obvious harassment, but I do think that generally the “low-level” stuff is of course much more common and is much more a big deal with ensuring that people don’t feel comfortable at such gatherings.

    Flirting should be kept out of such conferences, IMO as it makes some people uncomfortable. Now, the decision could be made (and I’ll argue WILL be made), that this sort of personal connection is essential for more people, and people who feel uncomfortable with “intimacy building” be damned. However, by and large what this is saying is that the status quo, more or less will not be changed.

    The unfortunate reality is that there’s more than sexism at play here. And the unrelenting focus on blaming the “socially awkward” instead of the socially aggressive reveals a lesser (but still important) privilege in our society.

  2. F. Bacon says

    Perhaps men should only flirt with those they know, but this leads to the necessity of there being a social system of connection less than flirting. When the strict system of religious matchmaking fell, freethinkers never filled the void.

    Nevertheless, I sense there is a systematic disparagement against normal, healthy men being advanced by a radical feminist element in the freethought community.

  3. karmakin says

    There are lots of things you can do to meet people and get to know them rather than cold-call flirting. Discussion groups, group activities, gaming, etc. From there you can determine if that’s the type of person that would appreciate the flirting or the person who might not feel comfortable with it.

  4. says

    The way to handle the “low level” stuff is not by banning everything outright – that’s a ridiculous overreaction. The creation (and enforcement) of anti-harassment policies is a good start. If A crosses B’s line, B makes hir discomfort known, and A persists, there should be some level of intervention. That’s not an unfair or draconian policy; it’s a way of clarifying situations that many people seem unable to navigate on their own. This discriminates neither against the “socially awkward” or the “socially aggressive” – it targets a specific behaviour that makes people uncomfortable.

  5. karmakin says

    No, it actually doesn’t. That’s the point. It DOESN’T target specific behavior, it targets a specific REACTION.

    I.E. Putting the onus on the potential victim.

    Once you’ve crossed the line, it’s too late, the person feels uncomfortable. There’s little to no putting that genie back in the bottle, and to assume as much shows a bit of myopia on the issue. The problem is assuming that B feels like they are capable/able to express their discomfort. The big problem is that in a lot of cases they do not. And saying that the actions are acceptable in certain situations but not in others (again, assuming cold, or relatively cold contact).

    What I keep on hearing is the old addage is that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission (not that asking permission in this case makes things any better), and quite frankly I think that’s a very dangerous path to tread.

    I have to say, what bothered me the most about the OP is that there’s basically NOTHING about the feelings of the other person. We assume that everybody is up for it, when that’s really not the case.

    But I’m more than willing to accept that’s something that you might not have experience with. (Strangely enough, I’ve been flirted enough with as a form of bullying so I’m sensitive to these issues)

  6. baal says

    Thanks for the post, I enjoyed the levity.

    As for Apples to Apples; that game rocks! My wife and son have stopped playing it with me, however. I was winning too often by throwing down cards that chooser likes rather than putting down the one that made the most sense.

    btw, I get annoyed when men flirt with my wife – particularly if they don’t flirt with her when I’m around.

  7. karmakin says

    I should also add on to that I’m also strongly motivated by reading from people (pre-Elevatorgate even) that they were turned off of attending skeptic/atheist conventions because of the flirtatious atmosphere there. I feel like those voices are being entirely left out of the discussion.

  8. says

    If your goal is to ensure that nobody feels uncomfortable ever, then we’re in trouble because there is risk of that in ALL human interaction, sexual or no. If your goal is to ensure that the climate shifts away from one where people feel entitled to do whatever they want, consequence free, because “you don’t have a right not to be offended”, then I’d say that’s a much more reasonable and practicable task. There is no rule or combination of rules that is going to ensure an entirely chaste conference experience. However, if people know that their complaints will be listened to and acted upon, that goes a long way to pushing enough people into a position where they do feel comfortable reporting. This, in turn, puts normative pressure on the serial creepers to knock that shit off, or at least take the “cut that out” message more seriously.

    I’m almost entirely certain that you and I have profoundly different things in mind when we use the word “flirting”, BTW.

  9. embertine says

    I think this is a really good point, that flirting can be its own reward when everyone involved is having fun, and getting laid is a bonus.

    I can’t help but feel that the claim that feminists are trying to shut down flirting because they interpret any interest as harassment is entirely disingenuous. We’re not talking about people being flirtatious – we’re talking about women being groped, followed, being propositioned for sex and having their wishes ignored even when they give a good clear “Sod off”. The next step up from that, with no exaggeration, is actually rape. If that is someone’s idea of flirting, then they must think nuclear warfare is a minor scuffle.

    The only reason I can think of for someone trying to conflate the two is that they want an excuse to carry on with that excrable behaviour without getting called on it.

    And can we please stop with the “Oh I’m just a socially awkward man, help me out ladies by telling me how to flirt with you!” trope? The problem is not that you don’t know HOW to read the signals, it’s that you don’t CARE about the signals. Stop doing a disservice to all the actual Aspies out there by using them as an excuse to be a misogynistic asswipe.*

    *Not directed at anyone in particular.

  10. Kate Chopin says

    It’s pretty easy to not cross the line when flirting. Give it a go – if they do not respond in kind, they are not interested in flirting with you. End of story.

    Keep flirting and flirting and flirting, despite the other person’s non-interest – you’re moving into harassment territory.

  11. says

    I don’t know that I necessarily agree that it’s so cut and dry as you make it out to be. Some people are shit at flirting, and even though they are interested, do not reciprocate. On the other side of that, there are people like me who flirt simply to empty their lungs of air – I might flirt back but it doesn’t mean what you might think it means.

    However, those are perhaps ‘edge’ cases. Most people are capable of distinguishing between shyness and disinterest. And if you’re not sure, don’t assume you’ve got the green light.

  12. Amphigorey says

    Yes, and when people do occasionally say to these so-called awkward men “fine, here’s how to flirt and how not to,” they respond with YOU ARE REPRESSING MALE SEXUALITY WHY ARE YOU SO NEGATIVE RAAAARGH.

    I think you nailed it with this:

    “The only reason I can think of for someone trying to conflate the two is that they want an excuse to carry on with that excrable behaviour without getting called on it.”

    Yes. That is exactly what they want.

  13. davidjanes says

    Once you’ve crossed the line, it’s too late, the person feels uncomfortable.

    That’s often what the religious say about why atheists should just shut their pie holes, isn’t it?

    The idea is not to prevent offense, as that is simply not possible, but to provide an open safe way to say “Hey, don’t do that!” that leads to both a cessation of the undesirable behavior and a quick apology.

    This is what I think Rebecca was trying to do in her talk that became Elevatorgate, and the real problem was that she did not get that safe reaction from people, but instead attracted an immense amount of unwarranted abuse.

    One thing the Internet seems to be doing to us socially is removing the ability to respectfully disagree, or to argue in anything less than black and white. I am as guilty of it as anyone, which is one reason I am slowly transitioning to posting under my real name and not some nym: I am hoping it makes me a bit more accountable.

  14. Mary P says

    I used to love to flirt. But after years of being in various male dominated arenas the walls are always half up. I tend to be oblivious in larger groups (or so friends claim) as a survival mechanism. I don’t like being hit upon – but I have had some great flirtations where we both know exactly where it is going – no where.

  15. says

    “I’d much rather fuck someone who is a fun and thoughtful lay than someone just trying to use me as a meat dildo with an inconvenient human being attached.”

    Me too. But I don’t have a meat dildo, and that definitely colours the conversation, the way I’ve been reading about how colour can colour the conversation. Attraction always starts between the ears, for me. It’s nice to read whenever I have that in common with my friends. It makes me feel like less of a weirdo for not having a “type” I can just point at in a room full of bodies.

  16. sambarge says

    “Normal, healhy men” are always the target of radical feminists. We get extra points for taking down the “normal, healthy” ones. The weird, sickly men are fun to take down too but they’re not as difficult so, you know, lower points.

    Way to figure it out, Bacon.

  17. Frogmistress says

    I love it when we get our flirt on in twitter. Punny double entendres are the best.

    Unfortunately, there are lots of people who seem to think any signs of interest means OMGSEX!

    But the biggest problem is that there are lots of people who seem to think that OMGRULES AND BOUNDARIES don’t apply to them. It is not the socially awkward guy that gropes women in crowded areas.

  18. David says

    Are they a-Twitter because it is considered a bad thing, or just because people like to gossip?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>