Elizabeth Davis: My husband flirted with life. The first time I met him, he turned me upside down. It was at a campus party — darkened rooms, lit candles, lots of beer.
Suddenly I was upended and staring at the floor. Strong arms held me secure for what seemed an eternity and was probably three or four seconds. It was exhilarating. I believe he’d done this to some of the other freshman girls who’d been corralled from our independent house and brought across the street. It was his thing.
But it was Andy’s flirting that I think attracted me to the 22-year-old mechanical engineering grad student. It was thrilling. I’d been singled out.
For him, it was possibly a notch in his belt. He’d luckily not concussed any of us. Even inebriated, he seemed able to calculate the millimeters of space between my head and the hard slate floor.
For an unknowing 17-year-old at a big Midwest campus, it seemed not aggressive but oddly pleasing — a split-second act by an awkward, impetuous guy attempting to stand out among his rivals for the attentions of the cheery “new” girls.
And what does it mean to me today? I keep wondering if we’re experiencing the end of flirting. The end of such impulses, which often stem from wanting to compliment a person by doing something out of the ordinary.
I have been guilty of it myself. At work, I find myself calling a colleague Herr Johann, when his name is simply John. I like the casual, European self-assurance he assumes at meetings; his sense of humor; his starched, long-sleeved shirts and his way of balancing one ankle precariously on the other knee.
Don’t all of us find ourselves imagining? Eyeing someone, singling them out? Can’t flattery simply mean “I like the cut of your jib, Herr Johann. You seem interesting and fun.”
A male friend, some years back, was working near Yosemite and, driving through town one Saturday, he realized he’d caught the eye of three women. They were following him. Flattered, he pulled over, and began following their car.
Just out of town, they stopped, rolled down the windows and told him they had husbands and were sorry. “We all went on our way,” he told me, “pretty much smiling.”
After a poetry workshop, a female friend found herself lingering under the awning with an attractive man who’d recently joined the group. She asked him why he never went out with the group afterwards. She wondered where she’d gotten the nerve.
“Why would I want to watch you laugh at other guys’ jokes?” he said gruffly.
She was startled. “Well, then, why don’t we go somewhere by ourselves?” Again, she surprised herself.
After a few minutes, they did wander off together. And they found to their delight that the electricity wasn’t fake. And still isn’t. After 12 years of togetherness.
To this day, my friend admits it was a gamble. What if he’d taken her playfulness the wrong way? Or what if she had misjudged his tone? But neither had.
To others, it might have been a wrong move — as would have Andy’s turning girls upside down that night in Champaign-Urbana. But to me it seemed beguilingly different.
There is no doubt that flirting can be perilous, given the wrong people or the wrong context. But we can’t ignore the fact that when two people feel that frisson, it can be a gift — its beauty felt and unmistakable.
It would be unfortunate if all flirting were painted with the same brush.
El Cerrito resident Elizabeth Davis is a former journalist who writes articles, fiction and poetry, and teaches at UC Davis. She recently published the essay “Jane on the Brain” in “Cocktails with Miss Austen: Conversations on the World’s Most Beloved Author” (Ben Bulben Books, 2017).
Source: Mercury News