Did Millennials Finally Kill Flirting?

Many women dream about how they will finally meet the man who becomes their husband.

By Julie Mastrine4 min read
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Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk

They think up numerous romantic scenarios – maybe he’ll approach while I’m sipping a latte in a small coffee shop. Maybe he’ll strike up a conversation with me in an elevator. Or he’ll spot me on the street and not be able to resist saying hi. He’ll approach, we’ll flirt, exchange numbers, and the rest will be history.

But in the modern age, it’s just not so. Young people increasingly meet online, and the Millennial destruction of traditional social mores has pretty much killed flirting.

Gone are the days of meeting in the park, at a dance – or even at the bar, really. Men just don’t approach women to flirt these days – and it’s largely feminism’s fault. But there is something we women can do about it.

How We Killed Flirting

The death of flirting occurred under the perfect storm of the #MeToo movement, campus sexual assault panic, “street harassment” hysteria, growth in feminist ideology, and a newfound obsession with “consent.” 

During #MeToo, the media (and social media) was flooded with stories of women retelling instances of misconduct. But what started out as tales of genuinely immoral behavior soon morphed into something else – women were claiming misconduct when a man was simply approaching her to signal his interest. Even if he had done so rather awkwardly, or misread her and failed to comprehend her lack of interest, the idea was that he had crossed a line he shouldn’t have.

Women claimed misconduct when a man simply approached her to signal his interest. 

Suddenly the phrases “unwanted advance,” “unwanted hug,” or “unwanted kiss” were everywhere. Despite the behavior being branded as “unwanted,” in many instances, the woman hadn’t made it clear that she wasn’t interested in the first place. Women seemed to be expecting men to read their minds and claimed zero responsibility for their role in holding a boundary. Then, they branded the man as a predator.

Now, many of these women probably genuinely believed it was the case that they were harassed. This is because we have expanded the definition of “harassment.” In the past, something was only harassment if a boundary had been clearly established or communicated, and then someone repeatedly transgressed it. Not any more. Now the mere expression of interest can be considered a potential violation. 

It’s the natural progression of the false idea that men are the oppressors of women and should be viewed with suspicion. This worldview has totally killed flirting.

Men Are Now Too Afraid To Approach

After years of being told that unwanted advances = harassment, men simply don’t want to risk approaching women out in the real world, for fear of being accused of a dark motive later. 

Before this sterilized culture emerged, we would naturally send signals, some subtle and some overt, that acted as clues for us to determine if someone were romantically interested. Maybe we caught their eye across the room and held their gaze. Maybe we smiled at them on the bus. This would be the signal for a man to make a more overt move – approaching us to chat or ask for our number.

But why would a man make a more explicit move – or start the flirtatious dance at all – if he fears he’ll be rebranded as someone sinister just for doing so? 

Men now approach only on dating sites, where a woman’s presence signals openness to being approached.

Instead, men now approach only where it’s safe – on a dating site, where a woman’s mere presence signals openness to being approached. How very safe and tidy – but it also takes a lot of the excitement and spontaneity out of life.

Feminism sought to shift the power dynamics between men and women, and shift them it did – right into total sterility. We’re now firmly held inside a bubble-wrap culture in which women view the mere expression of interest as a potential violation and men are too afraid to make a move for fear of being branded “creepy.”

How Women Can Bring Back Flirting

The saddest thing about the death of flirting is that it eradicated the air of potential romance and hopeful expectation that a young woman could feel when she leaves her house. If men weren’t so afraid to approach us, the right man for us could always be just around the corner, lending our experiences an air of magic and mystery. Instead, that hope is never present. We find ourselves swiping on dating apps instead.

If we want to revive a culture where it’s okay to flirt, the onus is really on women to make it clear to men that we’re okay with being approached in public – that we’re either going to accept their offer or politely decline, not brand them as a creeper if we’re not interested. (Men, of course, also need to clearly read our signals, whether they’re signals of interest or disinterest, and be willing to go away when we say no.)

Feminism has told women that we lack power, which is a lie. The reality is that women are alluring, and as such, we hold a lot of power. Masculine energy pursues, while feminine energy responds and receives. Being on the receiving end of romantic advances means we have all the power to say yes or no. We’re the gatekeepers of romantic encounters.

The onus is on women to make it clear to men that we’re okay with being approached in public.

If we women want to reverse this culture where men think they shouldn’t ever approach us, we need to learn how to be open to advances while also clearly communicating our boundaries when necessary. Instead of being quick to accuse men of predatory behavior when we simply aren’t interested, we can learn how to gracefully rebuff unwanted approaches while still being open to making new connections.

We could learn when it’s time to say “no,” but also how to be polite while doing so, instead of automatically branding him a creep. For instance, if a man you aren’t interested in gets the wrong idea and asks for your number, you can politely decline –  “I’m very flattered, but I don’t have romantic feelings for you.” Or if he touches you in a way you don’t want him to, say, “I’m sorry if I gave the wrong idea, but I should let you know that I’m not interested.” 

It’s largely up to women to end this culture of fearful puritanism. We need to stop assuming that every time we’re approached, it’s some gross violation. Women need to remember the power we have when it comes to men – we have the power to decline an unwanted advance firmly without treating every advance as an assault.

Closing Thoughts

The feminist Millennial culture that has equated any discomfort with the violation of boundaries has eroded all the fun that men and women used to have in flirting and seeking a partner out in the wild. Many men have responded to feminist ideas that they ought to be viewed with suspicion by refusing to approach women in the real world entirely. But we can revive flirting if we handle male advances with grace, class, and a willingness to clearly communicate our boundaries.

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