Flirting with other men when you are in a committed relationship. Can it ever be a good idea?

September 16, 2019
Flirting with other men when you are in a committed relationship.  Can it ever be a good idea?
Lady Grey TeaHesitate by Dave Gerard and the Watchman

Dear Erica,

Do you think it is bad to flirt with other men when you are in a committed relationship?

Flirtatious in Fairford

Dear Flirtatious in Fairford,

There are many different types of flirting aren’t there? Flirting with a colleague at work? An old boyfriend who you reconnect with on social media? A handsome stranger at the bar. And if you are in a committed relationship, is it right to engage in flirting? How far do you take it? Is there ever any positive to be gained from flirting?

There is no doubt that a little flirting can boost your esteem. The mousy and unhappily married, Rose Arbuthnot, in Elizabeth von Arnim’s Enchanted April, finds herself the object of her holiday landlord’s affection, the single, wealthy, and lonely Mr. Briggs. However, when he transfers his affections from her to her fellow-traveller, Lady Caroline, she doesn’t mind because she never really fell in love with him. But his appreciation of her charm and beauty, even though fleeting, leads Rose to “buzz, tingle, just at the remembrance. What fun it had been, having an admirer even for that little while. No wonder people liked admirers.They seemed, in some strange way, to make one come alive.”

In fact, it is only after she has a glorious holiday in Italy and enjoys Mr. Briggs’s company that she allows herself to open up to love again. His admiration gives her confidence and her estranged husband recognizes in her, “the Rose of his youth, the best part of his life, the part of it that had had all the visions in it and all the hopes.” Luckily, Rose never develops any real feelings for Mr. Briggs, and instead reconnects with her own husband.

However, even an innocent flirtation can have devastating consequences if one does not recognize its limitations, as George Eliot shows in Middlemarch. Finding herself unhappy in marriage, Rosamond Lydgate, imagines a romance with her husband’s friend, Will Ladislaw. Instead of dealing with her unhappiness in her own marriage, Rosamond “constructs a little romance which was to vary the flatness of her life: Will Ladislaw would have an understood though never fully expressed passion for her.” This little romantic fantasy is smashed when Will’s real love Dorothea walks in on Will and Rosamond in a tender discussion and gets the wrong impression.

But as Eliot writes, Rosamond's discontent in her marriage was due to the conditions of marriage itself, to its demand for self-suppression and tolerance, and not to the nature of her husband; but the easy conception of an unreal Better had a sentimental charm which diverted her ennui.” And when Will lashes out at Rosamond for putting him in such an embarrassing situation in front of his true love, Rosamond is devastated. Her real problem being that instead of dealing with the unhappiness in her own marriage, she creates an escapist fantasy which provides no real escape.

In sum, I would advise that there is nothing wrong with a little flirtation between a man and a woman. As human beings, it is only normal that we are flattered and happy when another person thinks we are fabulous. However, it can have devastating consequences if you use a flirtation to avoid dealing with real issues in your own marriage, or create unrealistic fantasies about the other person. As such, I say go ahead and flirt, but tread carefully!