This week it finally became legal in the UK for friends to meet up, as long as they stay outside and maintain an appropriate physical distance.
My friend, Ella, and I were overjoyed, and for our first day ‘back’, we went on a three hour walk around south London, stopping off at a takeaway bakery for a bun and a lemonade. We ate it on a wall, ecstatic to not be on Zoom, or in our own houses.
A car went past and some men shouted out of it. For a second, we are terrified: have we broken a new rule? Did the government walkback their new policy?
“No,” Ella finally said. “I think they were just being perverts.” “Perverts!” I cried, relieved. “Oh, thank god. The world must be getting back to normal.”
There are three things that will exist at the end of the world: cockroaches, Cher, and cat-calling. There will always be more men in cars to yell at you, and, yes, I think we all wish that the car wasn’t so frequently a van. Vans make men feel powerful, like they’re the Allies rolling a tank into the newly liberated streets of Paris. They are the handsome American GIs throwing cigarettes and chocolate, and we are the grateful half-starved French women who are ready to put their dreary war-lives behind them. Women do not tend to share this feeling about men yelling from vans.
Men yelling from vans generally make women feel like we are about to be knocked out and dragged into the back of one.
It’s a shame that cat-calling and its elegant older cousin, casual flirting, are often put in the same bracket. Flirting, like many of the arts, has been subject to a mass cheapening in the last ten years.
I blame the internet. It’s watered down the value on TV and music, and has diluted flirting — our oldest and grandest cultural distraction of all — down to a tangy plastic cup of warm fruit squash.
A private message on Instagram from a man that refers to you as ‘m’lady’ is not flirting. Saying “nice dress — although I suppose I can’t say that anymore!!!” is not flirting.
Cornering someone on a bus until they agree to give you a fake phone number is definitely, definitely not flirting.
It is perfectly possible to be respectful and polite of a woman’s personal space, to say non-embarrassing things, and also flirt outrageously.
I have not, for six years, been in a position to respond to flirting with anything that continues the narrative. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a flirt when it’s done well.
Now that we’re in an age where physical contact is limited and people are desperate to have social interactions with people outside their home (the “smiling eagerly at everyone in the supermarket in the hopes they will validate your existence” thing has surely been a universally accepted truth at this point, right?), I predict that we will all get good at flirting again.
I forecast a rise in playful chatting, lingering eye contact, the occasional ‘let me pay for your coffee’.
Our constant awareness of one another — who is near me, who looks sick, who do I need to step around to avoid touching — will eventually decrease as the threat level does, into a more keen-eyed observation: who looks nice? Who is looking at me? Who looks like they might enjoy a small chat?
Good flirting is like good driving. It requires a steady hand, an observant eye, and a keen sense that you don’t look like you’re trying to murder someone.
Men, in particular, need to keep this in mind. If a woman’s eyes are darting around like she’s trying to find the nearest exit, bring the car to a complete stop. She needs to always have right of way, because she’s statistically the one more likely to get hurt if the interaction goes wrong. I don’t drive so I will now conclude my car metaphors, I have no more, thank you for your patience.
A tip: if you wish to flirt with someone, please wait for absolutely any indication that they might want to flirt with you. At the very least, you need eye contact that has lasted for more than three seconds.
Do not approach someone just sitting on a bench.
Do not ask a person to take off their headphones so they can talk to you.
This is the sole reason that you will never see a woman sitting alone on a park bench. We have been burned too many times. If you see one, she is most likely a spy.
If this feels like too many rules for you, or too much to remember, then sorry, you do not get to flirt today.
Stick to dating apps, blind dates with friends of friends, and yelling from vans.