I actually thought that the word was "flirteous." I was in my early teens and it sounded perfectly fine to me. I had written a short story and had used that very word to describe one of the character's behaviour. However, I was still unsure and when I later asked my brothers about it, they said the word was "flirtatious." Who had ever heard of "flirteous" ? Well, what did I know? At the time, I was a naive and sheltered teenager and whether it was flirteous or flirtatious, it was obviously something that was not within my experience.

So the girl in my story was flirtatious. She, too, was a teenager, a little older than myself, and I was writing about someone I was not. I was writing about a behaviour that was totally foreign to me. It was interesting to write about characters whose personalities were the opposite of mine. Whether or not I portrayed them correctly didn't really matter. Or maybe, during those years, I thought that I did portray them correctly.

As I grew older, I thought -- and believed -- that I was not flirtatious. I suppose I thought that the shy ones couldn't be flirtatious. If they were too shy and inhibited to make eye contact or speak at length to a member of the opposite sex, how could any flirtation take place?

I think I was fooling myself.

It was true that I was shy -- painfully shy -- but maybe there was also something else going on, something else that came to the forefront every once in a while. A pen-friend once gently chided me for my false modesty. I was shy because I was afraid. I was shy because I had no self-confidence. I was shy because of other people's opinions of me.

As I entered my early and mid twenties, I grew into my skin a little more, not terribly afraid, but not terribly confident either. And whatever it was -- and I suppose I still don't completely understand it to this day -- whatever it was, I did feel that I was a bit of a flirt, especially on two occasions.

Having accompanied a female co-worker to dinner, we were walking back to the office and waiting to cross the road. Two young men jogged by and our heads turned. They were tanned and muscular and wearing shorts and running shoes, the proper attire for such an activity on a warm evening. I made a comment -- although I forget what it was -- and made sure to turn to look pointedly at the young men, who looked decent enough, even though they were complete strangers. My companion was surprised by my bold behaviour. I'm not sure why I did that but I know that I did. I was merely looking, after all, looking at something specific and being very obvious about it. Where was the flirtation in that? But it did feel somewhat bold for what if one or both of them had stopped to talk to us? They were two young men and we were two young women. I had merely acted on the moment; I don't think I was prepared for what would have happened next if they had stopped. Would I have welcomed it, even if it was just a brief exchange? Something tells me I would have.

I remember that I liked it, though, that it even felt daring. Of the two of us, I was actually the quieter one and yes, even the shy one. And yet, I still managed to surprise my co-worker. I'm not sure what that said about me but I know that it happened.

Another incident was when I was having lunch on a Saturday afternoon with a good friend. We were seated outdoors, she and I enjoying our food and conversation. To my surprise, and apparent delight, I felt a hand gently encircling my waist and a familiar male voice spoke close to my ear. We were surprised by the appearance of a male friend that my girlfriend and I knew quite well. My friend, who was seated opposite me, had seen him come up behind me and reach down as he slid his arm round my waist. And I believe that I even smiled -- as if I were a co-conspirator -- as soon as I heard his voice. Recognition, perhaps, or was it something else? He chatted with us for a while and told us that he was on a date with his girl friend, who hadn't seen what he had done, obviously, as she was waiting elsewhere while he came over to talk to us. When my friend later recounted the incident to a mutual friend of ours, she seemed appalled at our male friend's behaviour -- which had been too forward for her liking -- especially when he was supposed to be on a date with his girlfriend. (That he even had a girlfriend was enough to find fault with his behaviour that afternoon.) While she was telling the story, I was surprised as well but I also remembered that I had smiled and reacted favourably. I didn't mention any of that to my friends for it didn't seem the thing to do. It even seemed as if I was the innocent party in that scenario. Was I really that innocent?

Why hadn't I flinched when I first felt an arm sneaking round my waist? He spoke almost immediately, that's true, but it almost felt as if I had welcomed it. But it could have been a complete stranger. Couldn't it? It felt flirtatious to me, especially after I recognised who it was. It was a platonic friendship, but his arm around my waist, followed by his teasing voice. It was flirtatious behaviour. And I had been a willing participant. Was it, perhaps, a safe flirtation?

These days, and after all these years, I am not as shy as I used to be. I tell myself that flirtation is harmful -- or can be harmful -- whether one is married or single. It just wasn't the proper thing to do. And I tell myself that I am not a flirt and probably don't even know how to be one. But something does come to the forefront every once in a while. And I recognise it for what it is. I may not always have a name for it, or know what to label it. Maybe I was resisting it all those years ago as I still resist it now. Surely a shy person couldn't be flirtatious. Maybe all those years ago, my shyness protected me from more outrageous flirtations. Or could it also be that sometimes even the shy ones could very boldly -- and uncharacteristically -- break out of their shells for a moment to say or do something totally off-the-wall that it surprised others around them before retreating into the safety of their shells once again?

As I grow older, I wonder about these things, and I realise that by being the shy one, I was hindered a lot of ways. But perhaps I was also protected. Protected from what? Myself? I was terribly naive, to be sure. And I know that, in some ways, I still am.

At least now I know that if I want to, I can write a story about a young woman who could be flirtatious, but who once believed that she never was.


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