Adapted from a recent online discussion.
With flirting, as with most things, moderation is the secret
Question from a Repentant Flirt: Over the years, I've periodically been told that I am a flirt. I'm surprised I come off this way when I'm trying to be friendly. I think my personality is just like that: I laugh at people's jokes, when I meet a new person I ask questions and listen attentively, at any time of day I'm most likely to be smiling . . .
At any rate, I like who I am, that people feel comfortable talking to me, but I don't want to give people the wrong idea. Even more, I don't want to hurt feelings by making my friends feel like I'm flirting with their friends. For what it's worth, I'm a woman in my 30s, and have been accused of flirting with gay, straight, women, men — I'm apparently an equal-opportunity flirt. How can I still be my bubbly self but tone it down?
Carolyn: Is being told something "periodically" really sufficient grounds to change? Full disclosure, I don't think flirting is a terrible thing, unless you're targeting people's mates — and equal-opportunity flirting suggests that's not happening here. There will always be people who think you're targeting their mate, but if a friend thinks that of you, then she's not really paying attention. The burden of changing would be hers, not yours.
Of course if this is something you don't like about yourself for your own reasons, I'll be happy to suggest something. I just don't want to be a party to pathologizing charm.
Anonymous: To the Flirt: Although there is a fine line between friendly and flirting, it does exist. Watch body language. When you are leaning forward to express interest, be careful how far you lean. You need to think about how you touch a person and how often. Although it may seem second nature to you to caress someone's hand to show concern, that can come across wrong.
Try to imagine how you would react to someone in the workplace versus a social setting, and you will probably find you have very different body language. That should give you a start on how to moderate your actions.
Carolyn: Not to make everyone self-conscious! But, thank you, these are good for anyone who is drawing unwelcome attention and trying to locate the source. Another thing to watch is the time. You can be flirty without design — yet if you have a habit of monopolizing one person's time, even if it's always a different person, you flirt with (get it? flirt?) a bad reputation.
Re: touch-talkers: I completely agree about the importance of touching in giving an impression of inappropriateness. My husband had a friend who was an awfully touchy close-talker, and it made me extremely uncomfortable to see him in conversation with her. They could have been talking about unicorns and rainbows but it LOOKED very much like flirting, and it didn't really matter to me that she was that way with most everyone.
Carolyn: Hmm, I don't know. I think that's on you, to override a bias against touchyness when you clearly know, intellectually, that this person isn't trying to steal your spouse. A conversation about rainbows and unicorns, on the other hand, would be legitimate cause for alarm.