The Dismal State of Flirting in English-Speaking Cultures

The Dismal State of Flirting in English-Speaking Cultures

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I went on a bit of a rant on the forum a few days ago about the piss-pour state of flirting in English-speaking culture and decided to elaborate in a full post.

In my previous article about Vulnerability and Manipulative Women, I bashed using teasing/banter as a basis for demonstrating sexual interest. I referred to it as “a horrible mindset” and implied it was dishonest.

As usually, whenever I turn my nose up to this type of flirting someone always chimes in and says, “Aw, come on Mark, it’s harmless flirting. Why are you being so hard on it?” Some people even get upset, saying they “love” the verbal sparring that comes with this type of sexual interaction. They even get angry sometimes, like I just pissed on their dog or something.

But the reason I’m hard on derogatory flirting is because it’s a shitty way to instigate a sexual relationship. Fact.

Some people love the teasing and the innuendo and the “hard to get” stuff and the verbal sparring and the never-ending competition for dominance. These are usually the same people that are complaining that they can’t find a high quality man/woman and will bore you with calamitous break-up story after calamitous break-up story at the drop of a hat. Cry me a river.

Derogatory flirting sucks because it muddies the waters of intention and emotion, possibly the two most crucial components of a healthy sexual relationship (both short-term and long-term).

In derogatory flirting, you’re never quite sure of what the other one is feeling or meaning, and often you lose track what you feel or mean yourself. It’s designed that way. It distorts sexual interest, undermines consent, needles the other person into being insecure around you, and not to mention is absolutely exhausting to keep up.

Pretending you like her less than you do so that she’ll like you more than she says she does so you can then like her more than you say you do so she feels comfortable liking you back more than she says she does — I’m exhausted just writing about it.

But it also tees you up for future headaches. A number of people asked in regards to the previous article, “What if she’s manipulative but you just don’t find out until much later?”

That’s the problem. With derogatory flirting you don’t really see what the other person is made of until way down the road, often after it’s too late to get away without getting your face scratched. You could be going to bed with the most psychologically fucked person and have no idea. And for those of you just looking for a good time, this form of flirting is what creates that gnawing sense of having to constantly convince or even trick someone into sleeping with you. It’s not fun.

When you attract through honesty and vulnerability, you find out who you’re dealing with early on: their values, their intentions, their comfort level with their own sexuality, their beliefs about men/women and sex. You can screen these manipulative people out within the first couple minutes. You can also judge basic sexual compatibility within a couple hours. You never have to feel like you’re coercing anyone into sleeping with you. Since you’ve already been so open about your beliefs and intentions, a simple, “Let’s go to my place,” doesn’t seem out of line or inappropriate at all. It seems like a reasonable question and a logical next step in the interaction.

1. Sexual Rejection is Shameful

English-speaking culture is unique in that rejected displays of sexual intention are seen as shameful. I believe this is the root of our bizarre flirting behaviors. A failed sexual pass at someone is grounds to be shamed and humiliated by our peers and society at large. This has been inculcated in us from a very early age.

(Note: By English-speaking cultures, I mean former English colonies and to a lesser extent Scandanavian countries.)

It’s important to understand the difference between shame and embarrassment or shame and guilt. Embarrassment is a temporary negative state due to an external situation. Guilt is the judgment of an action or external situation as bad or wrong.

But shame is an actual judgment of character. If you feel guilty about doing something, it’s the action that is deemed wrong or incorrect, not you. But if you’re shamed about doing something, it’s you that is deemed wrong or incorrect.

In our culture, we socially reinforce shame in each other for our failed sexual intentions. You see it in movies and TV shows, where the bumbling idiot with the girl is always the loser character, where the sexually expressive character is almost always the bad guy. You see it in high school and colleges where kids make fun of each other for their unrequited sexual intentions. Many families in our culture refuse to openly talk about sex to their children. Kids are discouraged to “experiment” when they’re young. Nudity is something to be ashamed of and hidden. Public displays of affection are ridiculed and people are told to “get a room!” so others don’t have to be exposed to their sexual interest in one another.

There’s just a general discomfort with sexual intentions that you do not find as prevalent in other parts of the world.

Sure, in other cultures, there’s some embarrassment and discomfort around some of these things, but their societies don’t actively shame people the way we do. Ask an Italian guy the last time he felt ashamed of telling a woman she was beautiful. Chances are he’ll look at you like you just crapped on his lawn.

The paranoia and fear, particularly in American culture, doesn’t help either. Girls cockblock each other out of some deranged honor code, as if every guy in every bar is America’s next serial rapist. Women are slut-shamed by both men and other women. Men are ridiculed for their lack of sexual conquests and then ridiculed even more for trying.

There’s shame everywhere. It’s a sickness. It causes epidemics of emotional/sexual dysfunction. And it inspires weird and inefficient strategies of displaying affection. There’s a reason dating advice is a nine-figure industry in the English-speaking world and not elsewhere.

2. Showing Affection Through Implication or Exaggeration

Since people in the English-speaking world are shamed into not showing affection or sexual interest overtly, we learn to do it covertly. We imply our interest and our feelings instead of expressing them openly. We’re taught that dating is a series of “signals” transmitted to one another in innocuous, mundane ways such as playing with one’s hair or “accidentally” brushing up against their leg or conveniently mentioning that one will be hanging out at the skating rink at 7:30 or whatever.

Humor accomplishes this well too. If you joke about liking the person, then you can display your true feelings without anyone being able to shame you for them. After all, it was just a joke, right? This then forces the other person to decipher what you actually mean or if you actually feel a certain way. So they might joke back to see what your reaction is.

Another more subtle form of implication is through exaggeration. Everything is “The best thing ever!” Even minor, annoying acquaintances are “best friends,” and mildly exciting occurrences are described as “awesome” or “totally insane”. These expressions get cheapened in our culture because it’s seen as inappropriate to express these emotions in a situation unless there’s been some sort of monumental occurrence. Therefore people pretend that everything is a monumental occurrence.

3. Affection Through Teasing and Insults

flirting

Aww, look. They’re flirting.

In the process of implying affection through other actions and words, it seems we agreed as a society to perceive teasing and insults as a socially acceptable form of affection and attention. This is most common in the UK, but exists everywhere in the English-speaking world. You bond with your friends by trashing them and embarrassing them. You flirt with girls by insulting them. It’s like a playground: boys are smelly; girls are icky.

When everybody decides that insulting someone in a humorous way is an indirect way to show affection, then it becomes the new norm. Guys make fun of each other. Girls challenge guys and are “sassy” when they actually like them. Men tease women and attempt to make them insecure and vice-versa. All of these behaviors aren’t just avoiding the actual emotions and intentions, but they become the socially acceptable way of demonstrating sexual interest.

A society that agrees that sexual interest should be demonstrated through dehumanizing and insulting another person is a screwed up society.

The problem here is two-fold. First, one is never 100% sure of other’s intentions, again leading to that murky area which leads to poor relationship choices. The second problem is that while we may consciously know someone is joking, our unconscious still internalizes it. For instance, if your friends always teased you by calling you “Shorty” growing up, even though they did it out of affection, it’s likely you internalized it and ended up insecure about your height.

So although good-natured ribbing, this derogatory flirting reinforces the already-dominant precedents of shame between men and women. If a girl blows you off and doesn’t sleep with you, not only do you face the shame of the rejection, but she spent half the night joking about your car and acted unimpressed by your job. This is the new norm.

The two best-selling dating advice books for men and women are The Rules (for women) and The Game (for men). In The Rules, women are advised to pretend they don’t like men that they’re actually interested in. They’re told to make him call her multiple times and to pretend to be unimpressed with him at all times. In The Game, men are advised to “neg” women into being insecure about themselves, usually about their appearance.

This is honestly what we’re taught in our culture. Like somebody? Then treat them like shit!

4. Over-Compensation

The social stigma surrounding sexual rejection, the poor expression of emotion, the derogatory flirting, these things give sex a weight in our culture that you don’t find in many parts of the world. In the English-speaking world sex is a really big deal. In most other cultures, sex is an enjoyable side-effect of an otherwise normal existence. In the English-speaking world, sex is something to be worked for, fought for, and achieved. It’s talked about ad nauseam, and dominates our pop culture.

Because it’s taboo and requires so much social risk, people lash out and over-compensate. The English-speaking world has the highest levels of casual sex and one-night stands in the world. We also have some of the highest rates of alcohol consumption and binge drinking. The habit of getting really, really drunk and then finding someone to fuck is a cornerstone of our party culture (see: any movie about college) and few others.

You see this in pop culture: entire movies and TV shows built entirely around sex and the obsessions associated with it. Sure, sex sells the world over, but rarely do I see it glorified/stigmatized as much as I do in English-speaking culture. Sex is a large part of machismo culture for Latin men, but there’s no social shame for being rejected by the women and there’s no confusion about their emotions. Sex appeal is glorified in women in Eastern Europe, but you don’t see the slut shaming that goes on in the West. Prostitution is accepted as a normal part of life throughout much of Asia and men and women are not judged for participating in it.

To put it bluntly, most English-speakers are still on that same playground, calling boys smelly and girls icky, while sneaking behind a tree to kiss each other, still hoping nobody else finds out. We’re stuck in place, and largely because our society shames us for going any further than that.

Perspective

Now before I get 500 comments telling me that I’m a reverse-bigoted asshole and that I generalize and that I don’t know anything and blah, blah, blah; let me pull this all together and throw a big floppy bow on top.

First off, teasing and some natural jibing between friends or two people who trust each other, there’s nothing wrong with it. It can be good, honest fun. The problem is when it becomes a basis of showing affection and appreciation to one another.

I recognize that no culture is perfect and other regions have problems that are just as apparent as ours. Let me take a step back and explain my little theory.

Historically, to thrive all societies needed to figure out a way to enforce cultural cohesion and create social order. As Freud pointed out decades ago, historically, for a civilization to thrive, it had to have a way to cull and organize its people’s sexual impulses into a neat system. A civilization can do this in two ways: through formal institutions and laws, as well as through cultural norms and societal beliefs. And different culture developed different cultural norms to enforce this social order.

Latin cultures have an intense fixation on romance, jealousy and possessiveness (it’s no coincidence that they have more infidelity than anywhere else). Islamic cultures do it through pure fear and retribution. Hindu culture does it by arranging marriages. Japanese culture does it through codes of honor and integrity.

And the English-speaking cultures do it through shame.

There is no “good” solution in any of these. All of them are repressive in their own way. Ours is repressive in that it inhibits open communication. It’s no surprise that the English-speaking countries have the highest divorce rates in the world (and it’s not even that close).

I suppose you could have the argument that our way is better/worse than the ways other cultures do it. But that’s a discussion for another day.

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105 Comments

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  • Reply

    Chente

    27 weeks ago

    Great article. As a native Spanish speaker I’ve noticed that we don’t use words like ‘awkward’ particularly often. Probably because we don’t have as much social shame or fear of failing social settings. In fact, I don’t think ‘awkward’ as it is used in North America translates easily into Spanish. People just tend to be more direct about their desires and any awkward moments are just sort of brushed off and laughed off rather than dwelled on. That being said there is always a flip side to any cultural differences. With our directness comes machismo or overbearing males in general tend to be a problem in Latin American societies. Still, it’s funny that ‘mad awk’ moments (I really hate that term) tend to be an Anglo-American phenomenon.

  • Reply

    Luca

    27 weeks ago

    Hello Mark, I been reading several of your articles, I like most of the topics, but this article regarding “flirting-insulting culture” I find it quite unique.

    I spend more than half of my life amongst the so called “english speaking side of the globe”, although I was born and raised in the north of Italy, and meantime I had several relationship with woman from Asian cultural background.

    In my experiance, I find Italian (Northern) culture been influenced by the Anglo-Saxon culture (Movies, TV), with a mixed of Catholic shame and repression regarding sexual interaction. And most of my Asian partners noticed and suffered from my “teasing interaction” with them. I thought it could had be mainly about differences in personalities, I like in your article the way you descrive the misleading
    I personally like the Northen European (the Netherlands) situation more balanced, woman are equally to man to the extend that “”if a man can do, a woman can di it to” and this killed the femininity in Dutch woman.

    I agree with you about this behaviour in English speaking countries (Western?) as a sick and it can demolish the self-esteem of each other person and create false signal in communication, this is EQUAL to: why we make life so difficult when it could be easier? Luca

  • Reply

    JBone

    26 weeks ago

    Feminism also is most advanced in the Anglophone world.

    Is it the cause or the effect of derogatory flirtation?

    I suspect both.

    But mostly the former.

  • Reply

    Sam

    24 weeks ago

    This article is certainly very interesting, but it would’ve been helpful for you to provide some concrete examples for “derogatory flirting” – I felt like I was trying to come up with scenarios in my head to prove your point as opposed to reading ones you provided.

  • Reply

    Jessica

    24 weeks ago

    Very interesting topic and I agree with you, for the most part. Do you have any sources for this article, specifically something to support the statement about prostitution in Asia?
    I have not read any of your other pieces, but this one is very hetero-normative. I would be interested in hearing LGBTQ perspectives on this.
    Thanks for covering a very important topic.

    • Reply

      Mark

      24 weeks ago

      Sources are: living as a hetero white male in Asia for 1.5 years, Latin America for 2 years, and Europe for 1 year.

      Mainly… from what I’ve seen no one else is talking about this stuff. As for prostitution in Asia… it takes a plane ticket and about 30 minutes to find more prostitutes than you know what to do with.

      • Reply

        Crystal

        17 weeks ago

        I agree on how you describe your culture. But so sorry to correct you about what you said “Prostitution is accepted as a normal part of life throughout much of Asia and men and women are not judged for participating in it.” I am from Asia, to be specific Philippines. True, sex is cheap in most countries in Asia, but what you are referring to are those less fortunate people, who trade sex for money just to survive. These people don’t have much choices. These people are mostly the victim of disrespect and abused. We never really accepted them like you said. What you failed to see is the courtship and relationship of the people in working class and upper class in Asia. In terms of flirting, we do derogatory flirting too, but not as much in English country. In my country, we do courtship first (that means a man expressing his interest directly to a woman he likes, thus wanting to be the love of her life), a woman on the other hand gives this man a chance to express his love through courtship, at this time he proves to the girls’ parents, friends and whoever is important to her his intentions, values, beliefs, and family background…and at this point the girl is also checking if she likes him or not and if she like him, then she’ll say yes and be in a relationship before they go further into dating and knowing each other. Men are direct and women allows them to be direct, and if they are rejected it’s just part of the courtship, however if they wish to court again they can until the girl says yes or brave enough to accept another rejection. We don’t call it a mind game here, it’s simply respecting people who has feelings. That’s how we court, that’s how we find our partner to spend the rest of our lives with.

        Unlike English speaking countries, you date a lot of women/men to find your match…and then you court that person whom you find very different and very challenging. And later on, you got disappointed because he/ she is not what he/she thinks he/she was. Some even realize this after divorce. The thing is, relationship is about respecting yourself and other people…being with someone who has same goals and same beliefs.. and if you find one, by all means be brave and go for it. Accept all the other flaws that is really not very important for a relationship to work. We are not perfect. We just need to learn to respect and accept each other.

  • Reply

    Tony

    21 weeks ago

    Very intriguing article, I’m very happy to have come upon it. Yes I agree, it is definitely a shitty shame for how men and women can’t express their affections and intentions directly, always wondered why that is and now I know that it’s all cultural. I occasionally hear in the news how women have been raped/attacked/murdered and in the newspapers at times on how certain ladies have been divorced and/or cheated on by their husbands/boyfriends. I have pointed out the toxic effects on women, but still it effects men. We may believe that these things are personal problems between folks but they are also sociological problems that affect everyone. As a man I have always wondered why I couldn’t just be direct with women about my intentions and feelings, but instead, like how other folks have reiterated earlier, they have to resort to bullshit just so men and women couldn’t and wouldn’t “shame” themselves, their families, and society.

    News flash! There’s rape going on, slut-shaming, closet porn, and porn shaming, all a vicious cycle that continues to lead to our own psychological demise. Sure we criticize porn abjectly, but do we not realize that slut-shaming/neglect of open sexual conversations and honesty leads to porn, which leads to porn shaming? And yet we watch violence in movies. Why has America come to this? Just when can there ever be a change for open sexuality in society? I’m not advocating that we have to be nude in our schools, or flash our naked asses full of shit to our neighbors, but I wish there was something better to this, an America that can allow both men and women to approach one another without the fear for most honest, harmless guys to be thought of as perverts/rapists and for honest, harmless women to be sluts/victims. Though there still is oppression occurring in every place and to every people of different ethnicities, creeds, classes, and ages, nowhere is it as prevalent as sexuality, one of the most fundamental things that make us human. Perhaps patriarchy is to blame? Hopefully there will come a time when we will finally be liberated and men and women can live fully in acceptance of their sexual needs and differences.

    Apologies if I may have argued from biased standpoints or made any generalizations, but all these correlate to what I have experienced. Here’s to America, the land of the free…

  • Reply

    Kane

    19 weeks ago

    Hello Mark,

    I agree with you and at the same time i disagree, these acts of showing love and affection by being sarcastically brutal and using Irony on each other might seem unkind, but when you own something uncontestably, it’s value depreciates, it goes with everything, when you acquire your innermost desires, over time they become boring, it almost leads to one of the stories of Creation, where ”God was bored of making creatures that lacked the ability to turn him down or say No, they just couldn’t, they weren’t made that way, and that’s why he created ‘Humans’, he gave us choice, and at the same time still offering to us love and afection and even when we make wrong choices, we could still go to him for errh ..what’s that word? Between Forgiveness and Retribution? Anyway in General, this ironic hate is something like sparing, sparing bonds even real enemies to the point that they can have some good laughs over their weaker antics. It isn’t generally a bad thing to spar, it’s just one of such numerous ways to bond, teasing someone makes people more determined and willing than being dejected, teasing often provokes an inner strength, a natural human desire to want to prove someone wrong.

    Why does value depreciates? It’s Natural, Why is it Natural? I don’t know, but it is. When all you do all morning and all night is telling someone you love them, and they also do the same, it gets old, really really boring. But the social norm of sparing is like having some money in the bank and having to stress out to retrieve your OWN money every single time unlike taking money out of your pocket which is a less concious process. You want to be challenged by this same person you love, i prefer a witty partner or friend than a submissive one, it makes you feel good knowing your partner is a tough rock on her own terms, you debate what restaurants to go to, what movie to watch, all in friendly banter.

    You limit your theory to the English-Speaking world but it’s not entirely so, even in cultures of the romance-languages, men and women do spar but more respectfully.

    I have a female best-friend with whom i spar alot with, some times i call her brother and she calls me sister, i call her dude and sometimes she’s like ‘Hey girl’ to me, it’s all these little things that ignite excitement in friendships and relationships and makes it more fun and less gloomy.

    I am a big fan of yours and this is just my opinion, this “dismal” state of flirting is just another method, doesn’t necessarily make it something negative, and perhaps my input might help you address your perspective on the aformentioned, and if not goodluck sire.

    ENAK.

  • Reply

    Will

    16 weeks ago

    My only quibble regarding your article–which is otherwise something I agree with–is in regards to what you said about prostitution in Asia. While prostitution may be accepted as a part of life in many Asian cultures, it certainly does carry an intense stigma and participants, particularly women, are harshly judged and stigmatized for their role in it. In Cambodia, for instance, it is sometimes considered socially acceptable for a group of men to gang rape a prostitute, as it is assumed that–given her trade–she is either a willing participant or in some way “fair game.” This would never be considered socially acceptable if it happened to a “proper” or “regular” Cambodian girl.

  • Reply

    Anais

    12 weeks ago

    I really like this article. I never understood why there’s so much emphasis on “teasing” and making sarcastic remarks as a form of flirting. I’m not turned on by a guy teasing me by my appearance. So many couples seem to have this as the basis of their relationships. It’s mind boggling

  • Reply

    John

    9 weeks ago

    I just found your blog and I have to be honest it is amazing. I have a lot of respect for you mainly because you don’t shame one gender or the other but tell both sides and work towards common ground between them. I hope more people pick up your views on things.

  • Reply

    Mick

    1 week ago

    Thanks Mark!

    All I can say is no fucking wonder there are so many lonely (and disheartened) souls out there (myself included), at what point and by what fuckwit was it decided that we treat each other this way?

    Stop BULLSHITTING!! if you like the girl / guy just say so – don’t fuck them around with “false” dislikes or “negs” or my favourite “gaming” just be straight up and yourself. Sure the idea of the “chase” and being “chased” is “romantic” and exciting but we don’t need to be at the point of having to decipher what the other is thinking with “signals” and the like.

    WE ARE NOT FUCKING MIND READERS.

    I’ve become disenchanted with the whole PUA thing for this reason but that’s only because of the society we live in has created a need for PUA culture and society and political correctness needs to pull it’s fuckin head in. Honestly half the reason we’re so fucked up is because we have become so petty.

    Example, 2 work colleages, the bloke likes the girl, he kindly states this and asks her kindly for company over coffee, she doesn’t like him for whatever reason. (Also consider vice versa situation – the girl likes the bloke)

    Law allows her to bring up a sexual harrasment claim! really?! Now I imagine a lot of women would not go down this path and be reasonable about it………… and then there are some who would, however the fact that this is law is in itself completely preposterous.

    Societies like that of the South Americans and some European that Mark mentions are closer to the natural human beings that we should be, honest and open, not mysterious, hard to get, false negging, gaming bullshit that has become us and unfortunately the future generations.

    This article covers a lot of ground for the direct impact on individual lives as well as society (see another of Marks articles about school shootings) and the damage it can cause.

    Oh and by the way, just to be clear – ofcourse I know it is my own fault for not adapting to unnatural human practices.

    Disenchanted out.

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