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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Flirting Days

Two months shy of my 16th birthday, I was a counselor-in-training at a day camp and had met a 17-year-old junior counselor who seemed brilliant and funny. We arranged for him to come by my house one evening and I looked forward to it all week.

The night he came by, my older sister was in the kitchen, getting ready to go out. As we crossed the room to go downstairs, he looked at her and she said hello.

I could tell she had caught his eye in a way I never could, and suddenly, he and she were chatting and laughing and circling one another like they were about to go off into the sunset. Where I was tongue-tied and spent most of my time listening and laughing at this guy's jokes, she was joining him in making them up.

Within minutes, my sister and my would-be, hoped-for boyfriend were finishing each other's sentences and he was clearly admiring her. It felt like the bottom had dropped out of my world.

I didn't understand how my sister could not see the effect her actions were having on me, but when guys came around, I don't think she even noticed anyone else. For her, that may have been a coping mechanism for a difficult childhood.

To give her credit, she understood when I explained things from my point of view the next day, and apologized. Many years later, I turned the events of that night into a song about the first time I had tried to get out from under my family's shadow and failed.

More importantly, though, the experience made me more determined to be myself, rather than double over backwards to please somebody else. Because no matter how much you may want to be like your sister, friend or whoever, that will always be a battle you lose.

You may want to flirt effortlessly, but what if that just isn't who you are? And how do you explain that to your tween or teen without sounding like you're preaching?

I think most of us flirt because it can make us feel more confident, especially when you're having fun with it and when you feel good about yourself. Otherwise, it can be a disaster, like the situation I experienced.

Of course, my situation with the counselor guy ended any chance of him and me getting together. In hindsight, though, it helped me think of what I liked and didn't like about interactions with the opposite sex. I realized I had a ways to go before I could really get into something with someone else. The main thing I needed to know was who I was, and who I wanted to be.

I liked writing and acting best, and the stage felt like the safest place in the world to me. I loved to sing and make up stories about the people I knew and didn't know. But if I had a chance to talk to myself when I was say, eleven or twelve, what would I tell me about flirting and how to make it work?

I guess I would say, think more about what you want, and less about what some guy wants you to be. Think about what your dreams are and what makes you happy. Because if you care a lot about something and start to talk about it, you will definitely be interesting, since you know something others may not. Don't feel you have to rush to be the life of the party. Let the party rush to you.

All of this, of course, is easier said than done. But I think it's the only thing that will make flirting easier. And maybe, even fun.