BY TAMAR KEVONIAN
A group of mature women, in their late 50’s, perhaps 60’s, is clustered on the sidewalk on yet another hot autumn day. The weather is better suited for a mid summer beach vacation than an average Thursday in September. It evokes the feeling of lazy summer afternoons where one has nothing better to do than be just bored.
The women are giggling and stealing glances towards a second story window. From this distance I assume they are talking to one of their friends in the apartment above. As I approach them, the upstairs window slowly comes into view from behind the branches of a tree. The window is shut tight against the elements but the curtains are pulled aside and, towards the bottom of the frame, is a man’s head. With a full head of grey hair and a happy grin, he is admiring the women below. He is the focus of the women’s attention. Very aware of his presence, they act dismissively towards him but it’s clear that they are flirting and are enjoying his attention as much as he is enjoying theirs.
In this predominantly Armenian city in the heart of a major American city, this small scene, which took place on a busy street surrounded by the symbols of the 21st century, their behavior erased all the modern sounds and images and pulled me back into an era that existed long before my time. An era when most Armenians lived in villages, perhaps surrounded by the lush fields of the Ararat plains or along the shores of the Mediterranean, when young women giggled and flirted with boys while under the watchful gaze of their elders.
During the course of the summer, several outdoor festivals drew crowds of young people where groups of girls walked shoulder to shoulder by groups of young men with low slung shorts and carefully coiffed hair. Neither group would look at the other but each was highly aware of the other. Their nuanced interactions, made up of sidelong glances and physical posturing, was apparent only to those still in tune with their inner teenager.
Despite the forty year gap, the women on the street were no different than the teenagers at the festival. Now it seems there are health benefits to flirting. Engaging in a little harmless flirting helps you feel good, generates positive energy and builds confidence and self esteem. Unarguably humans are social creatures. We crave attention and even if we are getting sufficient amounts of it from those closest to us, we still want more.
First of all, flirting reminds us that we are still attractive. A well placed, sincere compliment, especially from a stranger, boosts our self esteem, which some studies show increases our brain functions.
Second, in a healthy relationship, flirting can only bring the couple closer to one another. A little harmless competition rebuilds a little of the mystery that drew the couple together in the first place. This certainly can reignite the passion of the early days of courtship when everything was new and fresh, conversations lasted into the night and the evening help many other possibilities.
And lastly, flirting is a well known stress reducer. It allows us to escape, no matter how briefly, the weight and tedium of our overscheduled daily lives.
In an informal poll conducted by Yahoo, 50 percent of respondents said they felt “young and sexy” when flirting and 37 percent said they were in a better mood after flirting, like a “natural high” possibly caused by a surge in hormones.
Admittedly there is a fine line between innocent flirting and the kind that gets one classified as the office slut or the unfaithful spouse. The goal is not to “score” but simply be charming without crossing physical boundaries or becoming sexually explicit.
Although our social norms have evolved since the days living in the village, not much has changed in the interactions between men and women. Given the stressful conditions of living in a big city, with its myriad of challenges, it seems this time worn activity has kept its appeal and is actually good for you. So indulge your sense of fun, whether it be one-on-one or in groups of friends, just like the women on the street, so that those watching from a distance don’t see the grey hair or the wrinkles but the lighthearted teenagers we all once were.