I have several further posts I’d like to write that are of a topical nature, and often of an “I’ve seen/heard this idea out there, but do we really need to think of it in that way?” nature. These posts often directly result from seeing something by someone speaking or commenting on a particular topic, and so it might feel like my discussion of their comments is singling people out. I assure you it is never done in that fashion on my part; it’s always “let’s play with this idea” rather than “this person is an idiot.” (And if I actually do say someone is an idiot, then that’s what I mean, but it doesn’t happen often; if I just question their ideas, though, that’s something else entirely.) But, that distinction is often not well-understood nor appreciated by many people…it doesn’t matter, however, because today we’re not going to go down that road at all!
Instead, I’d like to write on something I’ve been considering writing about since PantheaCon or so. It is based directly on an experience that occurred there this year, but also hearkens back to other such experiences I’ve had there (with other people), and likewise with other situations in my life.
A part of me wants to just do what I’ve been able to do with certain terms I’ve coined, like “sci-fi bi” (which, if I were to say that so-and-so, often a female, is a “sci-fi bi,” you’d immediately know what I was talking about without further need of description or definition), and just say the term rather than spending a lot of time defining it, because it becomes obvious very rapidly what it means. However, such a methodology in which one does not define one’s terms, especially if they are new, is not the best thing to assume everyone can cope with, nor is it generally good practice–and probably especially so for one such as myself who does place great emphasis on clarity of language for ease of communication. So, in this instance, rather than defining the term, I’ll instead paint you a picture–or I’ll attempt to anyway–which illustrates why I think the “diagnosis” which I’m going to suggest naturally follows. You can turn it into a hashtag or a Wikipedia or whatever-else entry on your own time afterwards, eh? ;)
So, there I was at PantheaCon 2015 getting ready for one of the events I was responsible for putting on. When I am in the mode of organizing a session–especially if it is a ritual–I’m often not in the best of headspaces beforehand, not in any way that is negative or poorly-disposed (so long as no one is annoying me, logistically everything is in order, and no major problems are expected), and I always try not to be these things toward individuals or groups, in any case; no matter how stressed I am, I try to be courteous, thankful, and hospitable, and I usually succeed. The difficulty for me in these situations is that I’m attempting to focus on my role in what is about to happen, and I’m no longer the social, casual, everyday P.S.V.L that you’ve all come to know and despise. This is, I suspect, exactly the sort of thing which probably should happen to those of us who are about to be taking a sacerdotal role in our various religious practices for public and larger, more-than-myself-or-a-small-group rituals. (It’s as good a reason as any that, for example, Catholics have a sacristy where the priest and others hang out before mass; no matter how casual their conversations at that point are, no one random is going to be introducing anything to the conversation they’re not expecting or to some extent can’t regulate.) Unfortunately, because many modern pagans do not understand, and in fact often actively resist, things which might indicate such a hierarchy of function, that they don’t know how to interact with others in this role, or as they’re getting into this role, and so they continue to act in ways that would be perfectly permissible for casual conversations on the street and elsewhere but may actually not be useful or appropriate in that pre-ritual mindset to the actual ritualists. I don’t “blame” them for doing this, by any means, but it just isn’t the best thing to be doing when someone is in one of those transitional states, and it probably is something that we should develop vocabulary around, and perhaps even practices, so that people don’t interfere with the process.
Regardless, there I was getting ready for a ritual (I won’t say which), and someone that I quite like (I won’t say who) then happened to choose that moment to say something which–despite following on from something I asked someone to do in order to prepare for the ritual, and sort of being funny in the process–still kind of struck me as very odd, not because it was casually social, but because I think I have problems around this particular issue. Saying what this individual said would potentially reveal too much about what the situation is, and then it might be possible to narrow down who it was, and I don’t want to potentially expose them in this fashion, even though there’s nothing “bad” about what they did. Nonetheless…
What was the content of what they were saying, though? And why was I having difficulty with it?
To put it bluntly, they *might* have been flirting with me…but I’m not sure, because to be honest, I’ve never really been clear on what this situation of flirting is, what it entails, or how it works and in what ways one is supposed to respond. This is all the more odd because it happened on the exact opposite end to me, at PantheaCon 2009, when I was in the awful headspace of having to come down from one ritual, pack everything up and clean up and get out of the room where it was occurring, and then go directly to another session where I’d be portraying a deity in a performance ritual. Ugh. As it happened, I thought the things the person was saying were rather odd, and then someone else (their partner, in fact!) then remarked that the individual was, indeed, flirting with me, and that it was rare for them to do so, and therefore I should be complimented. Not only was I not quite in the right situation to be able to process that type of information, but I still wondered above and beyond it: what is this “flirting” of which you speak?
[A complicating factor, which may be the fodder for another blog post at some stage, was something which has been discussed a bit over the last year in terms of the possibility of pagan leaders abusing their positions or influences to have sex with people who may be under their sway in various ways. This has caused some people to suggest that those in leadership positions should never have relationships with anyone who may in some way be “subordinate” to them in their groups or works. This then means that those of us who find ourselves in these positions, if we are to be as ethical as possible, might have as our only options for relationships either people who are non-pagan, or at least pagans who aren’t in our own groups, and possibly thus only other pagans who may be “peers” in terms of their positions of authority. This is something that I do think should be discussed, especially because the ideal situation, from my viewpoint, would be to have a relationship in which the other people involved would understand the nature of my deities and my commitments to them, and there are TONS of pagans and even other non-Antinoan polytheists who don’t understand the particularities of that in my own situation, so another Antinoan would probably be best…but we’re a rather rare breed, as it happens. Nonetheless, the individuals in the situations I’ve vaguely outlined above were both non-Antinoans, and are outside of my group, and thus could have been considered “fair game,” so to speak, in terms of relationship opportunities that are not at risk of abusing one’s position as any sort of leader or authority…which is good–I guess?!?–but that doesn’t in itself mean that it was *right*, *desirable*, or even *useful* to have pursued these things, if indeed it would have been possible or appropriate to have done so. And, though I’ve mentioned no names or anything else of the other people involved in each case, know that it isn’t any insult to those individuals that I did nothing, nor is it any lack of esteem for them on my part which motivated me to act, or not act, in these ways…But that’s another set of issues altogether! Suffice it to say, it puts one in a quandary if one is “single but looking (actively or passively)” as a pagan or polytheist person in any position of leadership, authority, or stature, I think, and it is something that we should talk about at some stage, I suspect, as I’d really love to hear other ideas on this matter.]
Jumping back to my first year of college, I remember having a conversation with my very fabulous roommate one night about what “flirting” is and means. My roommate is very intelligent, creative, charming, and deeply spiritual (though not “officially” pagan or anything else), and he could also be extremely frustrating in how idiosyncratically he’d explain certain things. (I have always been told that one should not use a word when defining a word, and thus when all of his examples and explanations of “flirting” tended to include the phrase “flirt with,” it confused the hell out of me.) This was one of the occasions on which I felt that I was less clear on the matter afterwards than I was before having asked, and I don’t know if that is because of some in-built flaw or defect in me, or simply because he didn’t explain himself very well.
But, this–and the experiences above, and many others–have combined to suggest to me that I’m what you might call “flirt-blind.” And there you have the term (though you’ve had it since the subject line above!) and some of the background for what it means, which should otherwise be rather obvious. (And, note, I am not using this term to in any way belittle nor disrespect those who are actually blind in various ways; as I may end up joining their ranks eventually due to my own encroaching health complications, the last thing I’d ever want to do is disrespect those who are visually-impaired.)
I think one can have two types of flirt-blindness. There are those who can’t seem to parse when others are flirting with them, for whatever reasons (on which more in a moment). There are also those who may not realize that they’re doing what could be interpreted as flirting with others. In my own case, I do have a good bit of both.
I have actually spoken to many people who seem to be flirt-blind on the receiving end, and a good many of them happen to be women, and in particular queer women (of many different stripes). I recall one queer woman of color I knew very casually in college who was describing her own flirt-blindness (though she did not use the term) in this regard, and was essentially giving a narrative of how she was practically being molested by another woman and yet still didn’t realize the other woman was flirting with her. (The matter of “flirting” in queer subcultures often involving what elsewhere might be considered “sexual assault” is yet another matter we’ll have to leave for another time at present.) I wonder if this kind of flirt-blindness, especially when it occurs with queer people, might be equal parts at least two different factors. Firstly, ours is a culture that doesn’t have entirely well-known or established norms for how to interact romantically in the genders we are in and then find ourselves attracted to; a teenage boy’s father might tell him how to “be a gentleman” and interact with young women, and so forth, but few (if any) of our parents–through no fault of their own–have instructed us queer folks how best to interact with those for whom we might feel attraction. Another part that may be at stake, not only for queer people but for many of us who find we are flirt-blind on the receiving end, might be a matter of insecurities, self-esteem, and lack of confidence–in other words, “Why is this person flirting with ME?!? Do I deserve this person’s attention–or anyone’s attention at all?” I’m sure there are other factors at play in these situations as well, but those are the ones that I think might often be at stake, and which have played some role in my own struggles with this issue.
But, as I mentioned, I have problems on the other end as well, and while they’ve generally not landed me in any major difficulties, giving people “the wrong idea” is something that has and can be said to people who might be flirt-blind in the other direction. I am happy, with almost anyone, to talk about any subject, no matter how taboo or risqué or unusual or even uncomfortable it might be, and this extends to sexual matters. I have noticed that oftentimes, people are eager to discuss these things casually and would love to have a sympathetic ear on them (not to mention an articulate discussion to follow!), but are afraid to do so, and the best thing to do in situations like that (at least from my viewpoint) is to actually talk about them and try to model good behavior and intelligent discourse in doing so. I’ve had more than one conversation in my life with people, whether my own age or slightly older or slightly younger, in which they’ve said afterwards “I’ve never had a conversation like that before with anyone, not even my significant other(s), much less someone I hardly know, but it was nice to do that!” I think that’s a really good thing, and thus I encourage it in others, too! :) But, it seems that some people get “the wrong idea” when these kinds of conversation occur, and assume it means that the other person is being suggestive towards them. How can it be “suggestive” if it is being stated outright and is really declarative? And, more often than not, what I’m stating outright is not “I’d like to do the following things with you,” but instead “This is what I’ve heard about this” or “I’ve had experience with this” or “I was reading a book that told about this,” etc. The mis-reading going on there is not mis-stating things on my part, I don’t think, it’s an active choice on their part to hear what they’d like in what I’m saying, which is not always accurate.
Much of this has to do with interpretation and the reading of inference, and as we should all be aware in this very broken and confused overculture in which we live, people mis-read things all the time, and what are interpreted to be sexual signals are among the most confusing and confounding for many people. (And I don’t know that we can reduce all of these things to flirt-blindness in such cases–probably not, in fact.) The entire defense of “she wanted it” in the justifications rapists often give, or the “just look at how she was dressed” and so forth is another species of this, I think, and is something to be worried about a great deal. People making such claims have tended not to place as much emphasis, in these situations, on their own active choices of interpretation in these matters. Perhaps this person who smiled at you was just being cheerful and wasn’t asking you to do anything with or to them; perhaps this person who is dressed in a provocative fashion is dressed in that way because it makes them feel good and attractive, and they’re not doing so as an invitation to you and you alone, much though you might wish it was the case; and so on and so forth. People shouldn’t have to apologize for or explain the actions that they take, whether in a perfunctory fashion or deliberately, which are then mis-interpreted by other people, particularly when those actions are mis-interpeted as sexually suggestive. (Yes, rape culture is a thing, and this is a very big part of it.) So, some people have had conversations with me and have thought I was coming on to them or flirting with them when I wasn’t intending to do such; and as I said, generally it hasn’t resulted in anything other than a bit of awkwardness or embarrassment for either myself or the other person, thankfully.
So, here’s a few further, non-pagan situations with potential examples of flirt-blindness in my own life.
There was a situation which happened a few years ago that comes to mind, and sticks out all the more to me because, if indeed the other person was flirting with me, it was a major compliment because he was extremely attractive (he looked like Talbot from True Blood!). I was at a queer milonga, a night of tango dancing, where we first learned how to do it for an hour or two before the event proper began, and as I’d never done that form of dancing before, I really needed that extra time beforehand. As we were learning how to do it, the instructor–the attractive individual I mentioned–was coming around telling people how to improve their technique in various ways. I was dancing with a partner I’d never met before, and the attractive instructor came around to me and put his hands on me and showed me how to have slightly better posture and an easier stance with one of the positions we had learned, and I was pretty sure he kind of did it slightly over one shoulder with perhaps some winking involved at one point. Later on, I asked my friend that I had come with what she knew about this individual, and whether or not he was flirting with me at that point. According to her, he was, and I kicked myself that I didn’t try and do anything about it (later), as it would have perhaps ended up being an interesting situation for me, at very least. Oh well. “Take it as a compliment, keep it as a memory,” as a friend of mine has often advised.
At this stage, I’m reminded of another situation from when I was an undergraduate. I became highly infatuated with a bisexual guy a few years older than me, and he worked the night shift on Thursdays at the college’s coffee house (which was called the Coffeehaus!), which was open from 9 PM until 5 AM. Being more than a bit of a night-owl myself, I thought this was a really good opportunity for me to spend time with him and perhaps eventually muster the guts to tell him how I felt. However, I took the long-game approach on this, and likewise the “so subtle it’s almost subliminal” flirting approach, it turns out–me attempting to be as open and direct about flirting as possible seemed to be indistinguishable from how I’d interact with this individual, and any other he’d seen me interact with, under ordinary circumstances, it appears.
My plan was that I’d show up at the coffee house not long after his shift began (around 1 AM), and then I’d just talk with him for as long as possible about whatever came up. Oftentimes, I didn’t even order anything from him, given that I didn’t always have pocket change to be doing that with, but when I did, I would always tip him really well, which felt a little bit dishonest and weird, but nonetheless if it made it more likely that he’d be well-disposed toward me, why not (especially if it was a slow night and the tips were thin on the ground)? So, for about a month and a half, I did this every week when he worked, showing up at about 1:30 or 2 AM, hanging out until 5 AM when he closed. Then, because he lived near me on campus, it didn’t make any sense for me to just disappear when he was closing up, so I’d ask if he wanted me to hang around while he closed and then we’d walk back toward our respective residences together, and he always said “Sure!” I always hoped that the little practical matter involved there might end up turning out to be advantageous at some point–“Well, would you mind taking a slight detour and coming to my room with me instead of going back to yours?”
I did this for that long to establish a pattern–“Another night at work this week, and another night of P.S.V.L. turning up and walking back with me”–or, at least, that was my plan. Then, I decided very deliberately to break that pattern by not turning up, which–if my plan worked–would have then caused him to ask himself “I wonder where P.S.V.L. is tonight” (and, if all worked REALLY WELL, he might think, “Gosh, I miss P.S.V.L.”), and perhaps be thinking about me in my absence. Then, instead of turning up like usual, I went out and sat on a rock near the path where we walked home when he was likely to come by on his way back, and my plan was to then tell him what my nefarious plan had been (!?!), how I’d been building up to this for those past several weeks, and then if all went really well, we’d end up going back to one of our rooms with one another. Sounds reasonable, right? Perhaps a bit creepy (on further consideration)?–yeah, probably. But, that was my plan, and I stuck to it.
What I didn’t realize, of course, is that we always walked on the path that we did together because my house was one way and his was the other, and we’d part ways at the last reasonable point where it made sense to diverge considering our separate destinations. It was on the rock at that divergence in the path that I sat awaiting my crush, thinking he’d come by there in a short while. I had not taken into account that if he was by himself, he might not take that same path since he didn’t have to consider another person’s separate destination. So, what eventually happened, after I had been waiting there for twenty or thirty minutes (it took him longer to close, it seemed, when there wasn’t someone standing by waiting), was he finally appeared on the horizon and he came over the hill on the path, only to then cut across the lawn and not go on the path at all, and head toward his house. I was so excited when I finally saw him appear that my heart caught in my throat; and I was so surprised when he didn’t walk on that same path we would usually walk on, and he didn’t look ahead to see me (it wasn’t “he didn’t notice me,” which is what I thought at the time), that I was then too stunned and was feeling so foolish that I couldn’t bear to yell out at him to stop, as it would have been embarrassing to both of us, I suspected, and weird and possibly disturbing to do so at 5:30 AM. Oh well.
So, after going over all of this in as painstaking detail as I’ve given above (and worse!) with a few of my friends, I decided I’d just do it the “right way” the next week. I went to the Coffeehaus later than I would usually, had my chat and my hot chocolate with him, and then waited as he closed up, and we walked back in the dim light of the approaching dawn. When we got to the usual path divergence spot, I paused for a moment, and asked him, “Do you think there’s a reason that I come to the Coffeehaus and then walk back with you when you’re working?” He said, “To hang out and chat.” I replied, “Well, yes, but do you think there might be other reasons as well?” (Ever the Socratic, me, always asking questions and hoping to draw things out of people!) His answer was then, “What–ulterior motives?” I believe I smiled and raised my eyebrow at this stage, and he continued, “Oh…Ooooohhh.” I then followed up with something like, “Now do you see what I was getting at?” What then followed is something I’d heard, almost word-for-word, innumerable times before and since, “Well, that’s very flattering, and thank you so much, but it isn’t really right in my life right now.” No happy ending for the creepy situation in this particular story, folks, so I’m sorry to disappoint you.
But, I think there might have been a bit of flirt-blindness on both of our parts then, made no easier nor less complicated by the fact that I was perhaps rather awkwardly and weirdly (and even creepily) trying to deliberately and overtly flirt with this individual. Needless to say, I have not since then (and this is 20 years ago now, I just realized!) done anything like that with people I have liked, and am well aware that what I was doing then, in that totally naïve and foolish way, could have been interpreted as “stalking”–the only reason it wasn’t is because this guy actually did like me as a friend and found me an interesting conversationalist and not some awkward annoyance (even though I often feel like I am that when in the presence of people I like). Though, like it usually did in situations of this sort, the “I think we should just be friends” statement on his part meant, and in my experience generally means, “The less I see you in the future, the better.” I don’t think he avoided me actively, on further reflection–I hardly saw him outside of the Coffeehaus, actually–but we just didn’t see a lot of each other after that before he graduated and school was over for the summer since there was no longer any point for me to keep going on those late nights and potentially causing more oddness with my presence.
Gosh, I had planned this to be a relatively short exploration of a little personal issue I’ve always had, and after dredging up a story I was not expecting to tell (and have actually not thought about in many years!), now here we are edging over 4,600 words! Crikey! Thank you for keeping on and reading all of this, in any case, if you have read all of it and still are reading! :)
I wonder if others have any insights on these matters. Do you find yourself being flirt-blind on the receiving end or the giving end? What do you think causes it? Are certain situations where it has occurred to you problematic for reasons apart from the difficulties created by the simple existence of this phenomenon? If one ever has to ask oneself aloud, or must inquire of another, “Was that person flirting with me?” does that mean one is flirt-blind, or is this simply what one is always supposed to ask if someone else is flirting with oneself? There are certainly many people who seem to get when others are flirting with them, and I envy them. My skills at telepathy are just not that good.
I look forward to hearing more on this from any of you who cares to comment and discuss below.