On Flirting: a Facilitated Discussion in Chicago, July, 1989
While cleaning up recently, I opened a boxful of mementos from the '80s and early-'90s, which I hadn't seen since boxing them up for our move to New Jersey from Illinois in 1996, including:
When I was 23 and volunteering as an LGBT youth group advisor in Chicago, I curated a series of literature-snippets accompanied each of them with a question or two, and made handouts that read, "On Flirting. Consider the following excerpts and questions and bring your thoughts to this Saturday's discussion."
My first real girlfriend and I broke up the prior spring and I had no idea how to flirt with women. I created the discussion guide to help myself. Growing up, I didn't feel free to flirt, especially not with girls. Perhaps some of the youth also felt unfree, I thought, and what a gift, via this discussion guide, to plant the seed that same-sex flirting with one another was OK:
The first excerpt was from "You're Ugly, Too" by Lorrie Moore, "The New Yorker," July 3, 1989:
Often, when she spoke to men at parties, she rushed things in her mind. As the man politely blathered on, she would fall in love, marry, then find herself in a bitter custody battle with him for the kids and hoping for a reconciliation, so that despite all his betrayals she might no longer despise him, and, in the few minutes remaining, learn, perhaps, what his last name was and what he did for a living, though probably there was already too much history between them. She would nod, blush, turn away.And then...
Q: Have you ever planned too much, too quickly with someone you've just met?
The second snippet was from *Miss Manners' Complete Guide to Excurciatingly Correct Behavior* by Judith Martin, specifically the chapter, "Courtship (for Participants, Their Friends and Relations)." She wrote of how flirtation done properly was "an end, not a means."
Q: Have you ever had fun, flirting just for its own sake without it leading to a deeper involvement?
The third bit was from *Jitterbug Perfume* by Tom Robbins, a section, where Ricki hits on Priscilla and is rebuffed.
Q: Have you ever flirted with someone who was straight or equivalently unavailable?
Q: Ever tried to turn a flirtation into something more? What were the results?
The fourth excerpt was from *Lesbian Passion: Loving Ourselves and Each Other* by JoAnn Loulan, including, "Sometimes just setting rules takes the pressure off."
Q: Can you cut off a flirtation if it causes you more pain than pleasure?
The fifth quote was from *The Lost Language of Cranes* by David Leavitt, where two friends consider becoming a couple.
Q: Have you ever flirted with a friend?
Q: How did you resolve this flirtation?
The sixth bit was from "The Village Voice" by Vince Aletti on June 27, 1989, where he reviewed a book of Bruce Weber's photography, including, "What makes beefcake so compelling now is its nostalgia for innocence."
Q: Do you prefer seeing explicit or suggestive images? [How about language?]
The seventh excerpt was from *Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit* by Jeanette Winterson, including:
Poor Melanie, she didn't understand any of them, she just knew she needed Jesus....I went round to Mealnie's and we read the Bible together...and I was delighted. She was my friend, and I wasn't used to that....I talked about her all the time at home, and my mother never responded.And then...
Q: Have you and another ever shared a passionate pursuit as a substitute for a romance between you two?
The eighth snippet was from *Hey, Dollface* by Deborah Hautzig. It was a Young Adult novel, where two high school girls fall in love, but in the particular scene, they're talking on the phone about a date one of them had with a boy.
Q: Have you ever tested a romantic prospect by detailing an exciting experience you had with someone else to that person?
The ninth quote was from "The Rug of Identity" by Jill W. Fleming in *Lesbian Plays,* selected & introduced by Jill Davis. A lesbian couple is trying to rekindle their spark.
Q: If you've ever been or are now part of a couple, how do you sustain the fliration between you?
The tenth excerpt was from "The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt" in *The Company She Keeps* by Mary McCarthy. It included an exchange between a man and a woman, where the woman is unimpressed initially until the man is familiar with the author of the book she's reading.
Q: What makes you not want to flirt back?
Q: Initially turned off, what can persuade you to become engaged in a flirtation?
The eleventh snippet was from *The Mind-Body Problem* by Rebecca Goldstein, where a woman and a man begin flirting with each other's intellect, agreeing that mathemeticians are aestheticians.
The twelfth and final bit was from *Self-Help* by Lorrie Moore, with a funny exchange between a man and woman who just met, where the woman is reading *Madame Bovary* in a Doris Day book jacket.
Q: Which style(s) of flirting do you most enjoy, e.g., eye-contact, intellectual, humorous...
I wonder what became of those LGBT youth in Chicago. Today, they would be ages 44-51. Hope that those who wanted to learn to flirt did and found the loves of their lives eventually, like I did.