Anything in excess is bad, we've been told, but how much is too much when it comes to flirting? Can one draw a Lakshman Rekha to the game of wits, banter, teasing, and lingering eye-to-eye contact?
"Yes, of course," apologists of flirting would say. It's just an innocuous social pastime, most often harmless, especially when flirting may not lead to anything at all. It might remain forever a light-hearted encounter that feeds one's vanity and boosts self-esteem. For all you know, the flirting might not even involve touching the other person, except perhaps for a deliberate 'accidental' brush... no cause to lose sleep over, definitely.
Trouble erupts when people can't tell the difference between what is accidental and what is intentional, but most can always tell. Here, you have a choice. You can take this overture to the next level, or resolutely look the other way — firmly away from temptation and do what's expected of a "morally upright" person.
But given the strict social upbringing and set moral norms of what is allowed and forbidden, as Indians we often ask ourselves: Is flirting ever okay? If yes, where should one stop? When does "harmless" flirting turn "harmful?"
Harmful vs harmless
The broader questions, however, are relevant to all, and not just to Indians. Flirting with others when you are married or in a relationship could adversely impact it, say psychologists. When people tell you that flirting is just a bit of harmless good fun, they are lying. It isn't and can never be.
To take such a stand would seem like being a spoilsport, especially to the liberal-minded. For isn't that 'friendly' hand on the nape of the bare neck just the hand of a good colleague who is being protective as you cross the road? Well, if you insist. But one can instinctively tell if the hand is being protective or engaging in a lingering caress. Sure, it's up to you to shrug off that hand. But the fact that you let it be is telling. Perhaps you are now crossing the line!
There's more to flirting in the virtual world than a casual 'touch' or 'look'. Total strangers, often anonymously, have conversations on the Internet that even bares personal details. Does the camaraderie and uninhibited banter come from knowing that the chances of any physical contact are remote? Physical proximity notwithstanding, net flirtations, when they get out of hand, are even worse than that playful tug at your hair, that slight brush in the lift or corridor, or that little-longer-than- necessary handshake. As a sage once said, "Sinning in your mind is as serious as sinning in deed."
Social networking is a sphere that often presents a Hobson's choice. Should you post that flattering picture of yourself in your red shorts at Baga beach? Quite plainly, it is nothing to worry about if you are footloose and fancy-free, but it is definitely something to think about if you are married or in a relationship.
Fantasy web world
Quite often, the hits on your virtual pages appear to be directly related to the photo you have posted there. It is so very human to post a flattering picture, and the fact that it could be of a time a few years ago doesn't appear to matter. So, now you have virtual friends tucked away in all corners of the world — and these friends are soon sending you private messages. When you begin to feel that the content is something you wish to shield from your spouse, you know you are crossing the line and it is time to decide — whether to continue or stop.
The virtual world waits for no one — you either click (the mouse) or you don't. Sometimes before you have made up your mind to say 'yes', your hand has clicked 'yes' and lo and behold, the other person has already posted a response, and so what began in all innocence could turn into something that leads to grave consequences. Fed by frequent chats and messages, a virtual relationship could grow so big and unwieldy that it looms over your real-life family. And then there's your conscience to reckon with.
I wonder if Indian therapists are trained to deal with such problems?