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What’s so dirty about a little flirty?

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

I‘ve heard the term the “Dirty Thirties.”

Now I’ve yet to come across a name for my Forties, but hot damn sex in my forties has been good. The “Frisky Forties” maybe? *shrugs* See this fun little article in In Style entitled, “Women Are Hornier in Their 30s — It’s Science” by Dr. Jenn Mann (updated Dec. 29, 2021).

Whatever you want to call this season of life in which I now find myself, I’m more comfortable with myself as a whole, multi-faceted person. And this fact has lit up my sex life.

I’m more sex-positive than I’ve ever been before, and part of this is having a new healthy relationship with my erotic self, including sexual pleasure and fantasies. I’m no longer afraid to speak up and make my needs and desires known in the bedroom. And PM and I are beginning to understand the balance of togetherness and separateness that we need to keep the fires of passion alive in our marriage.

And because of these aforementioned facts, the sex that PM and I are now having is incredible. In short, forties = 🔥🔥🔥.

But none of this greater awareness of self and growing self-acceptance happened overnight when I hit 40. As I’ve said in the past, it has been a long process.

My conservative Christian upbringing had taught me that the erotic side of my being belonged to my spouse. While women in this tradition in which I was raised aren’t taught that they have to cover their hair and most of their bodies, hiding them away for their husbands gaze only, there is still an insidious implication that women’s bodies aren’t their own. And this idea of men having control over women’s bodies begins well before marriage in conservative Christian culture.

Consider for a moment the Christian Purity culture — when I was a teen it was the “True Love Waits” movement — that sees not only God but also a girl’s father as the keeper of her “purity” until it is transferred to her husband in marriage. I think the book by Josh McDowell was required reading for my church's youth group. (I do not support or recommend this book, just to be crystal clear.)

In light of this mindset toward girls and their sexuality, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that the Christian Right believes control over women’s reproductive rights to also be their prerogative. But I digress...

As I have said in the past, it has been a long process undoing the damage these teachings wrought on my sense of self and my relationship to sex and my own body. But I no longer feel like I have to hide the erotic part of myself away, and I have finally begun to truly reclaim this part of myself.

This blog-project has played a large part in this process — in recognizing that I am the sole owner of my sexual self. And I want to honor that part of me, and to the same degree as I do my other aspects of self, by embracing the fullest expression of my sexual self. (I came across this phrase “being the fullest expression of your sexual self” in an Instagram post by @sexually_liberated. She uses it in the context of women freeing themselves from the need to “perform” for their partners during sex and being true to themselves. But it really struck me as an apt way of describing comfort with your whole self. I want to be true to myself in all aspects of self, and this includes being comfortable with my whole erotic self.)

In tandem with a healthier perspective on my own erotic self, I’m more aware (and respectful) of my partner’s erotic self. I can now recognize with greater clarity our need for separateness from one another so that we can maintain a spark of passion for one another. I can also acknowledge the importance of individual privacy to foster the mystery that continually finds PM and me drawn back to one another.

What more, I recognize that occasional feelings of jealousy or possessiveness are natural but do not necessarily mean that my partner (or anyone else, for that matter) has done anything wrong. And, in fact, it is when we become too closely tethered as a couple and forget to honor one another as separate individuals with our own needs, desires, and passions, that we begin to lose sight of the things that attracted us to one another in the first place.

I did not always feel this way about PM’s erotic freedom and his right to privacy. And, in fact, PM likes to remind me of this fact more frequently than I’d like. *scowls* I always felt, from the very beginning of our relationship, that he was too good for me, and I couldn’t see in myself what he saw, the qualities he found attractive in me. This, in turn, created a lot of anxiety for me around our relationship.

To be sure, part of the issue was that PM and I got way too serious in our relationship when we were much too young. I was just a kid. We were both just kids. And I had too much shit and trauma I still needed to work out, and unfortunately for PM, he faced the brunt of these difficult processes.

For the first 15 years of our marriage, maybe more, I often felt threatened when women would show PM attention and vise versa. I worried all the time that I wasn’t enough for him — not pretty enough, not funny enough, not smart enough, not confident enough, not well-adjusted enough.

In short, I was a mess. And I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that a person who felt so unsure about herself would feel so unsure about her relationship (and that this would, likewise, manifest itself in our sex life). And while I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy at times (okay, sometimes more often than I like to admit) — these types of self-image issues run bone-deep and will likely never go away completely — I’ve finally begun to believe PM when he tells me he loves me just the way I am. Not just in spite of my flaws, but for all of me, including my weaknesses and faults and all my messed up crap.

Now that I’m in my forties, married to the same person for over two decades, I’m finally coming to realize that when we attempt to pull one another ever closer and more exclusively to ourselves, we actually accomplish the exact opposite of what we desire. Our zeal for closeness will eventually snuff out our passion for one another. As Esther Perel has said so aptly about this phenomenon, fire needs air. So we, too, need distance from one another in order to breathe as individuals, which, in turn, feeds the flame of passion as a couple.

So four decades have perhaps produced at least a little bit of wisdom. It may not be perfect, but I think both PM and I are growing as individuals and as a couple.

What is something that I have yet to master at 42? Flirting.

You know, that teasing playfulness that has the potential to build sexual tension between two people. Sometimes flirting is a form of play in and of itself, without any real sexual tension. But regardless of the end game, flirting signals that we really see the other person. When we flirt, we’re letting the other person know that we appreciate them as whole persons, including their erotic selves, that we’re seeing them as something more than some asexual blob or disembodied spirit.

Sure, it is true that I am able to express my appreciation for someone as a person I admire without being flirty about it. But it is also true that these benign sort of exchanges ignore  — whether intentionally or not — a whole aspect of that other person: their erotic self. Under most circumstances, as I talk to someone I put aside the fact that we are conversing within physical bodies, and I focus on the person’s words, the emotion and intent — the aspects of the person on the inside. I’m not supposed to notice what they look like, or at least, I’m not supposed to let on that I do. Which is why I said I think flirting communicates that you are truly seeing and appreciating the whole person.

I think this is also why two people can flirt with one another and yet have zero sexual interest in each other. It explains why I am able to flirt with a gay friend, or a heterosexual woman, even though sexual tension may be nonexistent. What I’m doing is expressing my appreciation for the whole package. In playfully drawing attention to the fact that this person is worthy of admiration.

Sure, flirting can involve overtly sexual innuendo. But it doesn’t have to. (Maybe overt sexual language and expression shouldn’t even be considered “flirting”? I’m not sure that a dick pic, for example, can ever be considered flirting. *rolls eyes*)

Flirting communicates to the other person that, for the moment at least, I’ve taken off the blinders that I normally wear to make everyone feel comfortable, and I’m noticing all of you. Flirting, in my opinion, is a way of validating the whole person.

At one point this summer, I had run into my former-crush while I was out running errands. We chatted briefly before going our own separate ways. Immediately afterwards I had kicked myself and texted a friend, “Why can’t I flirt?”

And by that I mean I don’t have the skill set. Never learned it. I was nerdy as a teen, always wanting to fit in but never quite feeling like I did. The guys I liked wouldn’t give me the time of day. Not that girls are supposed to flirt or tease boys, in any case, as my religious tradition demanded that I not “tempt” young men into thinking impure thoughts about me because of my words, actions, or even my clothing. (I didn’t own my first bikini until I was engaged to be married.) *eye roll*

And then I met PM, and he just sort of got me. Somehow he saw through all my anxiety and poor social skills. He more than simply tolerated my ridiculously low self-esteem –– he helped me see something of value in myself. We started dated at the end of my Junior year of high school and got hitched a few years later, though not without some serious bumps and detours along the way as I worked out my family and religious traumas. And the rest is history. And so I never needed to learn how to flirt. *shrugs*

This summer I had an moment where I was feeling particularly confident and playful (it’s also very possible I was a little stoned at the time — which would account for my sauciness and my bravery…or insanity, depending how you look at it). I had just seen my former-crush earlier that day, and he was sporting a newly grown beard. Well, you know how I feel about short beards. I could hardly be blamed for what came next. *bites lip*

Later that same day, I texted my former-crush, apropos nothing, “Btw, your scruffy beard is very sexy 😉” Sure, I had been sending him periodic silly texts for months. But this was the first (and as it turned out, the last) time I tried to directly flirt with him.

Clearly I was experiencing a bout of temporary insanity.

Whatever the case — stoned, beard-hypnotized, or temporarily possessed by madness — I had decided to up the ante and open the door to some mild flirting. Instead of my typical nerdy, silly texts, I had made an overture of sorts. Implicitly I was saying to this man,  I’ll flirt with you, if you want me to. But, at its heart, I think my flirty observation was a statement and a question. I see you. Do you see me?

Crickets. That’s how it went down.

And fuck me if his silence didn’t felt like I had been explicitly rejected by this man. He might as well have texted back, “I have no interest. Leave me the fuck alone.”

I only just recently admitted to my friend and confidante that I had texted him this flirty little compliment. I don’t know why I had kept it to myself for so long. I suppose I was a little embarrassed that I had done it at all, but really I think it was the abject humiliation I felt over the fact that “Tom” had chosen to ignore it. When I finally told her, I tried to sound nonchalant, to write it off as nothing. “I was just being stupid,” I told her. “The whole thing was stupid really.”

For months I had been trying to convince myself that the entire thing — both my attempt to start a flirty exchange and his refusal to engage — had meant nothing. I needed it to mean nothing. If there was no deeper significance at play, I could laugh about it and not give it a second thought. If my failed attempt to flirt was just a silly joke gone awry, then there was no reason for me to feel bent out of shape over it. But the fact was that this was exactly how I felt about the whole thing — all bent and twisted and miserable.

“Wow,” was the first thing she said to me after my confession. This friend then made sure she had my gaze before she emphatically said to me, “It was not stupid.” I clenched my jaw and shook my head at her as I felt a fresh wave of humiliation wash over me for what had felt to me like a rejection. “It was not stupid,” she repeated. She continued to hold my gaze before giving me an understanding smile as I took in a deep breath and tried to absorb what she was telling me.

“It wasn’t stupid. It meant something. You were letting him know that you had really seen him. And this changed the status quo of your friendship. You showed him that you had noticed his physical self…and that you liked what you saw. He may have felt uncomfortable with that fact, but it wasn’t stupid.” We sat in silence for a moment as I took in the truth of her observation.

My friend was able to see the real significance that lay in my short little 6 word text. She clarified the meaning behind what I said to him and thereby helped me realize why I was so damn hurt.

I had taken the time — even just that one-second it takes to take note of the form and shape of a person — to appreciate this man’s physical self. And when I had revealed this truth to him — that he was visible to me — I had stepped into a more personal, more familiar space with him. I was letting him know that I had seen him, and I was likewise allowing him/granting him permission to see me, if he so chose.

And rather than lean in, he stepped back. *exhales deeply*

As I talked more to my friend about this text, the man’s lack of response, and how I felt about the whole thing, she wisely pointed out to me that this man’s decision to not engage with me was likely more about him than it was about me. She reminded me that while it was possible that he was simply uncomfortable with this sort of attention from a female friend, it was also just as likely — and in her opinion, more likely — that his spouse would have been uncomfortable with him flirting with me. Not everyone feels okay with someone else seeing their partner in that way and what more, with their partner seeing someone else in that way.

My friend has good reason for reminding me of the jealousy that can rear its ugly head when a person is reminded of their partner’s inherent erotic freedom to appreciate and admire someone else. She has her own tale of being on the bad side of someone’s partner who felt threatened by a flirty friendship, a story that she has given me permission to share. But that crush-gone-bad tale will have to wait for another time.

Whatever the ultimate reason(s), my former-crush chose to see my invitation of sorts to flirt as a faux pas on my part in our safe and appropriate friendship and pretended it never happened. In essence, by ignoring my text, he had re-secured his own blinders and made it clear that I should do the same. He as a married man and I as a married woman, we’re supposed to see each other as asexual, amorphous beings. At least that’s what our compulsive monogamous culture dictates.

Elisabeth A. Sheff, Ph.D., defines compulsive monogamy on her Psychology Today blog The Polyamorists Next Door as “the social mandate that everyone, and especially women, must be in a monogamous relationship in order to be considered a morally upstanding adult” ( “Against Compulsory (Non)Monogamy,” published on December 2, 2018). To buck the societal mandates of compulsory monogamy, a person risks normative censure. Friendships can be lost. Reputations can be damaged. Partnerships threatened. Our compulsive monogamous culture may dictate the rules surrounding couples and their interactions with others, but couples uphold and reinforce these unwritten rules.

If my flirty text to my crush was a way of letting him know that I really saw him, his lack of response seemed to be a request for me not to do so. A plea not to look at him in that way. I also took it as an implicit assertion that he was unwilling to look at me in return. In our relationship, if we were to stay friends, I had to remain invisible.

I’ll likely never know if he disliked the very idea of my gaze, or if it was the fact that I had made my gaze explicitly known that made him uncomfortable. (Or yet still, if it was the potential for a poor reaction by his spouse.) But I was dancing on a line set by compulsory monogamy — the societal expectation that persons in relationships should not feel attraction for other people, and certainly never express that attraction, because they should be fully satisfied by their partner.

I’m feeling all the feels about being a woman approaching middle-age. There’s almost a sense of desperation in knowing that I’m now half-way done with life and in wanting to live with no regrets. And, no surprise, but part of all this is the feeling that my sexual shelf-life, if you will, is quickly approaching expiration. I’m yearning to feel visible, wanted, desirable.

I admitted to PM the other day that I had previously tried texting "Tom" and that I hadn’t really gotten much response. Mostly zero response. And that I assumed that he just didn’t like my attention. (I did not tell him about the beard comment. *shrugs* I’m entitled to a degree of privacy as well as a smidge of personal pride.)

I asked PM why he thought “Tom” would just ignore my friendly attempts at banter. “When I occasionally text other male friends of ours, I always get some sort of reply,” I told him. “I send the same sorts of silly things to [name of a very close male friend of ours]. And he ALWAYS texts me back.”

“That’s because [the friend that texts you back] is a gentleman,” was PM’s matter-of-fact reply. I put a pin in the fact he was implying that “Tom” was being un-gentlemanly toward me with his silence — I decided to give some thought to this assessment of my former-crush at a later time.

“So do you always respond to your female friends’ texts?” I ask PM. I’m quick to add that he doesn’t need to tell me anything about their content but that I’m just curious about whether he always responds or not. “Women don’t text me,” was his quick retort.

“Bullshit,” I immediately respond. He laughs and goes on to say that yes, I’m right and they do, but that he’s a gentleman and always sends some sort of response. In other words, he’d never leave these female friends hanging and just not reply at all. Again, another slight poke at “Tom,” and I’m not sure what to think about that — firstly, that PM’s making an unflattering remark about this man, but also the idea that maybe “Tom” hasn’t been as kind and considerate as I had convinced myself he was being.

But it did give me food for thought. Maybe “Tom” was being a bit of a shithead in all this, after all… It hadn’t occurred to me to think that maybe I wasn’t the problem and that perhaps "Tom" had actually handled the text situations poorly.

I mean, really. Is it so difficult to respond to a funny observation someone sends you with an “lol” or a “Ha!”? Or to reply to a compliment with “thanks” or with an upside-down smiley face 🙃? *shrugs* I suppose it isn’t.

PM also said that he thought the more likely reason for a lack of response was that "Tom" feared his spouse’s reaction if she found out that he had been conversing with me over text, just as my friend had suggested earlier. This may or may not be true, although my constant self-doubt would have me believe that it was about me. It was helpful to have folks who know me (and my former-crush) reframe it that way. It gave me a much needed boost. *shyly smiles*

In all honesty, before it was brought to my attention, I really hadn’t given much thought to his spouse’s possible reaction. PM has several straight female friends with whom he texts frequently. Work colleagues mostly. I don’t ask what they talk about. I don’t really think it’s my business. We’re both entitled to some privacy, after all.

But not everyone sees things that way. Not everyone is comfortable enough with their relationship or themselves to be okay with their spouses chatting up people to whom they potentially could be attracted. And PM reminded me (again) that 10 or 15 years ago, I would not have been okay with it.

But whether PM and my friend were right or not, the reason I tried to initiate a playful, flirty exchange with another man remains the same — a desire to feel seen. I wanted to be appreciated for the whole person I am now, at 42.

And while, yes, this particular attempt left me feeling like crap, I like to believe there’s hope in the future for my finding some other person with whom I can feel seen. I’ll keep you posted.

Until next time, stay kinky 😉

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