He asks my age. There’s a twinkle in his eye. He asks three times in three different ways, in as many minutes. I smile as he tries to wheedle an answer out of me and I think to myself: “I’m whatever age you’d like me to be.”
That’s as much of a response as I’d consider these days, especially when a younger man expresses interest or curiosity, and I can’t be certain that I even know the difference. That’s a problem right there. And that's when I realize how long it’s been since a man has flirted with me, even in a stalled Starbucks line.
Sure, there’s the occasional “Hi, Beautiful” when I run into one particularly elegant friend. He flashes his 100-watt grin and gives me a hug, and even after 20 years, his greeting elicits pleasure. But other than those rare encounters, I can’t recall my last flirtation.
Let’s see … There was the twentysomething painter I kept running into when I was an art reviewer some time back. He was a man of few words; he flirted with his eyes, his proximity, his persistence. The sexual charge was undeniable, but so was the 20-year age difference that he was unaware of and I couldn’t shake from my consciousness.
There was a trip to Paris four or five years ago — a photographer and our dueling dance of words, never pursued beyond a flirtatious friendship. Maybe my last flirtation was with the man I’m currently seeing, though our sparkling beginnings are now nearly three years old.
What surprised me in this most recent exchange with a stranger is how little it takes to experience the benefits of an appreciative gaze and a flattering remark. This handsome man looked at me without flinching. He complimented me without embarrassment. He engaged me — and I loved every second of it — but I was caught off-guard, though energized by his attentions.
What occurs to me is this: While I don’t flirt when I’m in a relationship, I’ve missed it — the lingering looks, the excitement of the unknown, the tease, the tingle, the sexy sparring.
Naturally, during my online dating years, there were flirtatious emails and texts galore, to the point of near-tedium. The most effective among them were in French (I dated on two continents for awhile), though my preferred technique was subtle and humorous.
To a writer, there's nothing better than a well-placed word to fan the flames. Besides, isn’t sexual chemistry largely cerebral? One part physical attraction, two parts mischief and wit, three parts smarts with a dash of innuendo — all of which makes for an intense physical hunger.
Clever conversation and the steadfast gaze at a slow and steady pace … these are moments to savor. I’m reminded of the times I lived and traveled in France, where flirting was neither unusual nor unwanted. If anything, it was good sport, a healthy and harmless exchange of energy, with no age requirement (or limitation) and no follow-up required.
Oh, could I have used a little of that in my marriage! I would’ve welcomed even the tiniest indication of interest from my now-former spouse. Then again, he could probably say the same thing about me. That I lost my willingness to compliment, to pay attention, to play.
When it comes to relationships, I wonder why we cease to indulge in a little healthy flirtation with one another. It's an important reminder of where we began and to not take each other for granted. When we lose ourselves to routine and no longer act on our appreciation for our partners, that’s when we’re truly flirting with disaster.
"So how old are you?” he asks again. “Your refusal to answer has me intrigued."
"I'm whatever age you'd like me to be," I say and laugh.
“I’m 40,” he says.
“You don’t look it,” I respond, smiling, as I make my exit.
I'm thinking of France. I'm thinking of my Frenchman. I'm thinking it's time to cook him up a sexy surprise.