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Teaching your teens the difference between flirting and real love

TEENAGERS, LOVE, PARK

Guas | Shutterstock

Edifa - published on 04/20/21

Let’s help them discover that they are capable of it. Let’s not joke around with love.

Even if etymologists do not all agree on the origin of the word “flirt,” the term is related to the old expression: “I love you a little, a lot, madly, not at all!” When we are very young, five or six years old, we pull on the petals of a daisy to play this game while reciting a nursery rhyme, with bursts of laughter and mischievous winks. Ten years later, things are quite different, and daisy or not, the words “I love you” are no longer trivial. Is flirting wrong, or is it a necessary phase everyone goes through? 

What does flirting mean exactly? 

Words can be a trap because they can include anything and everything. And beyond words, the notion of flirting itself covers a whole range of pseudo-relationships: we play at loving each other, we act as if we are in love for good, without taking the time to strengthen this love and develop it; we go too fast, too far, too soon.

Some people flirt to test their power of seduction or to exercise dominance. Others allow themselves to be flirted with, out of thirst for love or out of fear of being seen as a dork, incapable of pleasing anyone. Some flirtations remain platonic, others end up sooner or later in a sexual relationship. But what they all have in common is that they imitate love, sometimes unconsciously, or they experience it as a game, not as a gift that bonds. 

How do we distinguish flirting from true love?

In some cases, it is clear: for both partners flirting is recreational, an entertainment, nothing more. But very often, romantic feelings come into the picture. Jerome enjoys collecting conquests. He likes showing off with a pretty girl next to him. He knows how to “sweet talk” them into spending time with him using his charm and manners. “I’m not doing anything wrong” he says. How can he be sure that one or several of his conquests didn’t think she was loved for good and wasn’t deeply hurt when she discovered that this was all a game? Do we have the right to play with each other’s feelings? The damage is always serious and you cannot clear yourself by accusing your victim of being naïve. 

The dangers of flirting

Do we have the right to imitate love just for the fun of it? Some young people, convinced that they don’t want to have a physical relationship before marriage, think that as long as they don’t sleep together, there is nothing wrong with having a boyfriend or a girlfriend, hitting on a boy or a girl. But if you think about it, doesn’t this type of a relationship make you incapable of experiencing the richness of a real friendship between boys and girls (which is quite different from flirting)? Doesn’t the mere fact of “playing at loving each other,” even if we don’t go as far as sexual intimacy, damage our hearts? Finally, doesn’t a certain physical familiarity seriously jeopardize the decision not to have sex? 

Flirting is a lie. This is not surprising, as the enemy of Love is the Liar. Since the Liar knows that young people are thirsty for love, he diverts them from true love by trapping them with appearances of love, fake love. And this is very clever on his part, because by pretending all the time, young people end up not believing in true love anymore, and think they are not capable of experiencing it. It’s a vicious circle: you become disappointed, discouraged, or outright cynical, because you pretended to be in love, and you continue to settle for fake love because you no longer feel capable of true love. Encouraging young people to flirt is the same thing as having contempt for them. It is like saying they are not capable of true love. Young people are thirsty to love “in a big way,” so let’s help them discover that they are capable of it. Let’s not joke around with love. 

Christine Ponsard

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