Flirting At Conferences


There is an interesting conversation going on at ProfLikeSubstance about flirting at conferences. The point of his post is that dudes should stop treating conferences as a fucken singles bar where they are entitled to “Hey, baaaaaby!” every fucken woman they encounter. And then of course there are the whiny motherfuckers in the comments section who are all like “YOU CAN’T BAN FLIRTING!!1111!!1! NO FAIR!!111!!!”.

(1) If you are socially inept, can’t read signals, and are therefore unable to determine how to flirt in a fun and non-threatening way that is appropriately cognizant of both power hierarchies and other people’s personal boundaries, then the responsibility is yours to NOT ATTEMPT TO FLIRT. It is selfish pigge behavior to expect other people to suffer for your social ineptness, and that expectation itself is exactly a symptom of what ails you.

What you need to do is step completely away from the idea that you should be attempting to flirt, look within yourself (with professional help, if necessary), figure out why you are socially inept, why you can’t read signals, and why you can’t express romantic interest in someone without setting off their creep alarm. And then work on those things, and only return to attempting to flirt when you can do it in a way that is safe and comfortable for others.

(2) If you are an intentional harrasser, then you are not flirting, and are only using flirting as cover for being a harrassing pigge. So fucke you: stop being a harrassing pigge.

(3) If you are one of the people who is going on all about how you are a charismatic flirter who hooks up/met your husband-wife/everyone loves at conferences and who makes no one uncomfortable because you are such an adept and subtle flirter: THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT YOU. No one is trying to stop you from flirting in an appropriate manner, if you are not making other people uncomfortable. Although if you are so fucken defensive about this topic, there is probably a decent chance that you *are* making people uncomfortable, and are delusional about your flirting skills, in which case see #1.

Comments

  1. Trebuchet says

    Who are you and what have you done with CPP?

    Seriously, great post. I like it better than PZ’s on the same topic. It took me a minute to get the last paragraph but once I did, I like it. We can haz moare, plz?

  2. Alverant says

    “figure out why you are socially inept, why you can’t read signals, and why you can’t express romantic interest in someone without setting off their creep alarm”
    And if the answer is “a lack of practice”, what then? Are there classes you can take?

  3. Chris J says

    @3:

    Then conferences are not the place to practice. Try singles bars, or other areas where flirting is the focus.

  4. K says

    “If you are socially inept, can’t read signals, and are therefore unable to determine how to flirt in a fun and non-threatening way that is appropriately cognizant of both power hierarchies and other people’s personal boundaries, then the responsibility is yours to NOT ATTEMPT TO FLIRT. It is selfish pigge behavior to expect other people to suffer for your social ineptness, and that expectation itself is exactly a symptom of what ails you.

    What you need to do is step completely away from the idea that you should be attempting to flirt, look within yourself (with professional help, if necessary), figure out why you are socially inept, why you can’t read signals, and why you can’t express romantic interest in someone without setting off their creep alarm. And then work on those things, and only return to attempting to flirt when you can do it in a way that is safe and comfortable for others.”

    … are we underdiagnosing autism in the American population?

  5. Alverant says

    @4 I’m not saying it is a place to practice. Not at a serious conference and not at a for-fun convention either because it ruins the fun of whoever you’re trying to “flirt” with. My point was that some of us never learned and were never taught and now we feel like we’re SOL. It was one reason I gave up on dating years ago. I understand where some others are coming from, they want to flirt in a place they feel comfortable doing it. It doesn’t mean they should of course. It means they need to get out of their comfort zone even if it is hard.

  6. Chris J says

    @6

    It sounded like you were issuing a challenge, along the lines of “you say we shouldn’t flirt if we don’t feel like we can do it inoffensively, but what about those of us who don’t know how because of lack of practice?”

    The answer is the same. Don’t do it if you don’t feel like you can do it inoffensively. It seemed like a weird non sequitor.

    If your point was that some people feel SOL because they weren’t taught how to flirt properly, I still don’t know why that’s relevant. People being uncomfortable with being hit on has nothing to do with the intentions or motivations of the flirter. Just don’t do it if you don’t think you can, because you don’t want to make other people uncomfortable. End of story.

    If you want to talk about how people could practice flirting or lament yours or other’s inability to, fine. But that’s a different conversation, and its a common and annoying derail, hence my annoyed response.

  7. Lithified Detritus says

    A big problem here, I suspect, is that those who fit under #1 are often sufficiently clueless that they will not recognize themselves.

  8. kraut says

    Easy – as a male let the woman begin the dance (flirting). Much more fun that way, and if you go easy, read the signs and respond accordingly – enjoyable for both.

    What I have seen (I am 65, and despite being married like to flirt – it is not about sex, but communication and playing the game) is an immense self conceit by many man and them being full of themselves – and full of shit.

  9. says

    Seriously, Lithified Detritus? When was anyone with poor social skills allowed to so much as escape junior high without having the fact repeatedly and often cruelly brought to their attention? People without the social skills to flirt are almost never the problem.

  10. AsqJames says

    Alverant,

    You say you gave up on dating years ago, but you also seem to be asking how to get better at flirting. The following is meant to be helpful. It might seem condescending, but I’m taking your posts at face value and trying to respond honestly.

    Flirting is just another type of social interaction. There’s nothing particularly special about it…except for the goal behind it is a little more specific – to be considered appealing as a prospective romantic partner instead of being seen as a prospective friend/colleague/employee/whatever or for the continuation of an existing relationship on good terms.

    Now if someone feel bad about their flirting skills they may lack confidence in these other areas too, but the stakes, both for them and their interlocutor, are much lower. People are much more willing to work with people they don’t get on all that well with than they are to have sex with them. People are also willing to be friends with many more types of people than they’re willing to sleep with. So you’re less likely to come out of interactions where your goal is professional or platonic-social feeling rejected.

    And if your goals are genuinely professional or platonic you’re also much less likely to come off as sexually creepy or threatening. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but the odds are way better. And that’s a good thing for the non-flirter too, because if they are a nice person who doesn’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable or threatened, knowing they probably aren’t doing so will make them feel better about themselves.

    So, because flirting has so much overlap with these other, platonic forms of interaction, flirting can be practiced without the dangers of actually flirting. A person can gain the skills needed to flirt well as long as they are sincerely not looking for romance.

    But it’s got to be sincere.

    The OP is about conferences so let’s imagine you’re going to a conference. Don’t expect to hook up. In fact, consciously decide you’re not going to. Even if you think an opportunity has presented itself, ignore it as a romantic possibility and congratulate yourself on achieving your goal of making friends/professional contacts. Keep in mind that a successful conference means leaving without having had sexual contact of any kind with another attendee.

    If it isn’t possible for someone to do this once, then they really need more help than anyone can give in comments to a web log. If it is possible once, do it. Then do it again and again and again and again. And they can keep doing it at conferences and other non-romance focused events indefinitely, if they gain confidence and want to raise the stakes take it to an appropriate location like a singles bar or a speed dating event.

  11. HappyNat says

    Pretty much was asqJames said. Don’t think of it as flirting, think of it as interacting with a human being. You don’t need a special line or move, just chat with a person, if you click something may happen. Approaching talking to the opposite sex as a game or as having rules destroys interacting with people as people.

  12. Trebuchet says

    OK, Trebuchet at #2, you’re BANNED. Banned, banned, banned.

    PZ the Magnificent has acknowledged my existence. My day — nay, my whole week — is made.

  13. Lithified Detritus says

    Stephanie Svan @11 –

    Point taken, but I was, and am to some degree still one of those socially awkward types. I figured it out, and made adjustments, not that I ever had the courage to flirt with a stranger. I am a middle school teacher, and I see what you are saying every day. Some people just don’t ever figure it out. Seriously.

  14. Lithified Detritus says

    Let me be clear. My comment referred to a subset of group 1. Group 2 are jerks, at best. Group 3 I can’t speak to.

  15. says

    Some of the comments on the original post are baffling, like this guy: “We are, as a gender, oblivious. We are seeking guidance.”

    I mean, wow, what a blanket statement. Back when I thought I was a guy, it never even remotely occurred to me that conferences would be a place where it was somehow okay to approach people in terms of their… relationship-potential. I don’t think that was ever on my mind, like even as the most distant possibility. Is that actually something I was expected to be doing? Is that what guys do? That guy seems to think so. And now that people generally see me as a woman, I really get how uncomfortable it is to realize that men at a conference (and elsewhere) might be seeing me through this lens – that they might be quietly evaluating my “potential”, that this is what’s guiding their interactions with me. That they might just be talking to me because I’m some kind of… target. It’s disturbing to think about.

  16. Pillbutton says

    Almost no one sincerely believes they are in group (2). Everyone thinks they’re in (1) or (3). And the vast majority of us are sometimes in (1) and sometimes in (3) depending on how funny/kind/charming we are and on whether the intended recipient of our affections is open to being pursued, finds us attractive, and other such often-unpredictable things.

    There is no one who has not set off someone else’s creep alarms when attempting to flirt. Setting off the occasional creep alarm does not make a person a harrasser. A person becomes a harrasser when they cannot or will not respond appropriately to being informed that they are making unwelcome advances/setting off creep alarms. Being informed does not necessarily mean being baldly told such. Sometimes being informed means the intended recipient is brushing you off politely.

    Sometimes flirts are brushed off politely because the it is socially awkward to make a scene, or be direct. The person being creeped out is trying to spare the other person’s feelings, or is trying to protect their own reputation as a nice person. That is why it is important to learn to recognize signals. Because there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to guarantee they are always in group (3).

    And the more time anyone spends in either (1) or (3), the more likely you are to slide into (2). Because someone is trying to give polite signals to back off, and we’re ignoring it, or not getting it.

    Want to learn to flirt and date? Practice when you can plan on it going badly. This is what dating services are for. Expect to be embarrassed, expect to feel humiliated. Go on dates in public places with partners who are expecting a date and flirting. Crash and burn. Do this over and over again. You’ll get better at it, or you’ll find someone who likes what you’re selling.

  17. Chris J says

    zinnia@11:

    I honestly believe these guys are just putting on an act, trying to make it seem as if there’s this huge divide between men and women that’s causing the bad behavior of a few. They might believe it exists because of who they and their friends are, but it doesn’t. They’ll just say anything to try to take the eyes off of themselves.

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