Ethics of Flirtation

Ethics of Flirtation

I would really appreciate your thoughts on this.

There is this beautiful woman who I play volleyball with. Let’s call her Rachel. I have become pretty good friends with Rachel over the last year or two. I have always found her incredibly attractive and cool, not just physically, but all of her. She is a wonderful woman. The reasons I think she is beautiful aren’t really relevant to this question though.

You see Rachel is married with a couple wonderful kids. I have always sensed a bit of sexual tension between us, but until recently I thought it was probably mostly on my part. I think she is one of the coolest people I know, I love her. I love her like I love a person I adore, it is not romantic, it is simply immense affection and attraction. It probably could become romantic, but I would never pursue such feelings since she is married.

Flirting is fun. Recently, I sort of escalated my flirting with Rachel, and I thought it was no big deal. I figured she was happily married, and I never really thought she took any of my flirting seriously. But when I escalated the flirtation to little comments about how attractive I found her, jokingly inviting her to go dancing with me, teasing her asking what her husband would think of that…something may have changed. I initially thought she just trusted me and thought it was good fun with a friend. I figured she would draw boundaries wherever she needed them, and I would observe them. For instance, she would never really go dancing with me. I really didn’t think she actually considered acting on her attraction to me.

But still, after that night I escalated the flirting, she seemed really affected by it. She seemed to really respond and the attraction between us became very obvious to me and everyone around us (her husband not being one of the people around us at volleyball).

So during the drive home that night I was chatting with a couple of my friends, both older women, one who was happily married, one recently divorced. They were laughing about how much Rachel and I were flirting, and they were saying how obvious it was she was really enjoying it.

I asked them if they thought I was doing anything wrong by flirting with her? I mean, I figured out I was evoking some strong emotions in her, but I thought it was all harmless fun. As I said, I relied upon Rachel to draw her own boundaries, but I do have boundaries myself. If Rachel actually propositioned me…I would not have an affair with her. I would never take part in a deception like that. I am attracted to her, but I don’t really know her that well. If she was available, I would love to get to know her better…in fact, even unavailable, I cherish the time I get to spend with her. I consider her a dear friend, one of my favorite people in the world.

I now have a girlfriend…and I have just learned that Rachel may be more than a little affected by my flirting. My girlfriend has “suggested” to me that it is highly inappropriate to flirt with a married woman, especially when I know it affects her.

My question is, I know most people will simply react with, “It is wrong to flirt with a married woman.” But, I sort of feel this is overreacting. What IS wrong is to lie to your partner. If you are attracted to a friend, is it better to just repress and hide that, or to have it out in the open, talk about it, and even joke about it?

Could my flirting with Rachel cause the destruction of her marriage? The only way that could happen I think is if her marriage was already in bad shape. To a healthy marriage, a little playful flirtation shouldn’t be a threat…even with a friend to whom one is strongly attracted. If Rachel’s marriage encounters problems, flirting with me may serve a spark to see those problems, but it would not have created them.
But speaking to my girlfriend, has made me think a little differently. But basically it suggests to me that I should not give Rachel, or other people, as much responsibility for their own actions as I am inclined. I know my boundaries, but other people may be enticed by attraction and flirtation to cross boundaries they really don’t want to. Is it my job to try and see that and prevent it?

Ok. So let me have it. What do you think? What are your ethics of flirting with a married person? Yes, no, or it depends…and upon what does it depend.



Just one major flirt’s opinion.

According to my ethics of flirting, if I feel that someone is taking my flirting more seriously than I intend them to take it, I feel it is my responsibility to “break role” long enough to have a honest discussion about how seriously or not I am behind the flirtation.

You said that you escalated the flirting, but you don’t mention why. For me, escalating flirtation usually means that my intentions have changed in some way.

Could your flirting cause harm to her marriage? Well, every relationship has it’s ups and downs. Hypothetically, if it were true that your flirting with her causes her to be more inclined to break off her marriage, than she is inclined to work to save it, is there any reason for you to feel guilty? I can’t say. That’s one of those elements of personal ethics that will vary from person to person.

If Rachel were to tell you that she’s leaving her husband tomorrow and wants to be with you (or even more disturbing, she’s already left), what would you do?

As I implied at the start, if I were in your shoes I would have a talk with Rachel and clear the air.


You have a girlfriend. You have no intention of having an affair—or a relationship—with Rachel. Stop fucking with her head.

Only if you BOTH agree that it is “innocent flirtation” that will go no further should this sort of thing go forward. If one of you is not totally up to speed on the fact that there will be no relationship and never will be, you are being very unfair and ungentlemanly.

If you truly have no interest in anything romantic with this woman, why did you increase the flirting intensity? And now that you see it is causing a lot of confusion for her, why are you continuing to do it? Do you think it’s helping in some way? Yes, it’s her responsibility to set boundaries and not be tempted to stray from her marriage, but why are you pushing it?

I’m not sure I believe you completely. I think you do want her romantically, but also don’t want to give up your current girlfriend and/or feel responsible for her divorce. So you’re pretending you’re just innocently flirting with nothing behind it.

Don’t get me wrong – I think flirting is great. But when I’ve flirted more intensely with some people, I usually had a crush on them and was pretending that it was just flirting and nothing more. If you really don’t want to cheat, or want her to cheat, then slow things way down.

That’s one good way for a women to end his flirting REAL quick. Start talking about relationships.

Funny thing, a similar dilemma has happened to a friend of mine. We’ll call her Mary. Mary has an acquaintance who she sometimes catches staring too long and then blushing. That’s ok, Mary is flattered by that. And maybe she batted her eyelashes back or something on accident, sort of. But then this guy has started mentioning his great job with benefits and things like that. Mary’s like, “Oh goodness. This is like a 30+ version of a 15yo doing a backflip for no reason.” Considering that Mary and her husband are having financial difficulties and Mary wants more kids but her husband doesn’t and the flirt is already a great dad (single custodial parent), it really screws with Mary’s head.

Hmmmmm… sounds like there are some issues here. You have awful strong feelings for someone who you don’t know very well. And if you do feel so strongly for her, why would you want to put her through the possible trauma of wrecking her family?

I would also submit to you that your outlook on this will be different one day, when you’re married, with kids, with a wife who comes home from volleyball practice giggling and blushing like a high school cheerleader.

This is what my girlfriend and my friends keep telling me.

BTW, i didn’t have this girlfriend while I was doing all this flirting…

I don’t know. I recently heard some things that made me realize that the flirting was having more of an impact than I thought…and I don’t know how I will behave the next time I see her, now that I know this.

So, if my wife comes home from somewhere, giggling and blushing like a high school cheerleader,…i don’t know how I would react. Is the problem that some guy flirted with her, aroused in her a real response of excitement? Or is the problem that she responded that way? If a marriage is healthy, can’t both parties be expected to be responsible for who they choose to interact with, how, and why?

I’d say it’s both. But obviously, this is different for each person. IMO, the latter is something you can hope to work out through good communication. The former, taken to its extreme (him and her in bed together) is a line that, once crossed, ends the relationship. So, do you really want guys prowling around her? Relying on her sensibility to avoid getting in trouble is fine, but unless you remove the threat, you’re stacking the deck against yourself. Think about your crush’s situation: She’s married. There may well be problems in the marriage. She meets you. She’s attracted to you. She knows you’re attracted to her. You flirt together. The flirting gets more serious… these are all links in a chain that you’re allowing to get longer, and despite your “I’d never do anything, I know my boundaries” claim, I think you’re fishing for approval from your friends and from this board. You’ve crossed the line from harmless flirting to harmful flirting and trying to rationalize it by thinking her marriage is cracked already, and you’d only be the catalyst, not the cause, of a breakup. You’re a part of the problem.

This isn’t the Pit, so all I’ll say is, If this is ok with you, you have problems. My ex was fooling around with another guy. He was also in the Navy, which is what stopped me from kicking the shit out of him. I can only hope that if you do something to end this marriage, her husband kicks the shit out of you. If you act to defuse the situation, you’re a good guy.

[sub]sorry to sound mean… I know you’re making an honest effort to try and sort this out, which is good. You’ve just hit a small nerve with me.[/sub]

I think the “it wouldn’t effect her if thier weren’t already problems in her marrige” excuse is really no excuse at all. It’s like blowing smoke in the face of someone who has just quit smoking and telling yourself “Well, if they are really dedicated to quiting this won’t effect them.” Sure, if they then pull the cigarette out of your mouth and start puffing it is thier responsibility, thier actions, but you are still an asshole.

The same goes for marriges. For one thing, the fact that a relationship is having “problems” does not make the fact that it is doomed a forgone conclusion. All marriges have bad periods, and it is not unusual for these bad periods to last for a long time–like a year or more. This seems to be esp. common in the years you are talking about–when the kids are in elementery/middle school, money is tight, you don’t have much time for each other. Many marriges go through periods like this and arrive on the other side better and stronger than ever.

So I look at it this way: if you have two women, both of whom’s marriges are undergoing a serious case of “blah” and into Woman A’s life comes this man who makes her feel young, makes her feel excited, makes her feel pretty, and more or less reminds her of all the things that are taking a little vacation in her own relationship, well, I think that she is much more likely to do something rash that woman B, who meets no Prince Charming in this period. Does this mean that it is the man’s fault that woman A behaves like she does? No, but it does make him an asshole.

What I would do is a) tone down the flirting ASAP b) Tell a mutual friend that you find it funny how much you enjoy flirting with Rachel when you know the two of you could never, ever, be a good couple and c) start double dating with your girlfriend and Rachel and her husband. On these occasions be very affectionate towards your girlfriend and very friendly with her husband. We humans shape our attitudes based on our actions as much as the other way around–if you see each other as part of a different couple, you will start thinking of each other that way more.

Flirting is the best thing since nacho cheese. Well, I suppose it probably preceded nacho cheese by a bit. I am a terrible flirt. There is nothing wrong with flirting, ever. Flirting is a game played by two consenting adults. It is itself innocent. Allusions and innuendos do not make it wrong. When innuendos materialize, that’s a different story. I’m married, and obviously, so is my wife. She’s a flirt too. I love the fact that she does it. It’s an ego stroke to know so many people feel she’s a hottie. I’m secure enough not to be intimidated by her flirting endeavors. Flirting is fun–married or not. I like to know she has fun and I like to have fun as well. As to where the flirtation takes you in light of your commitments, the ethical implications are quite clear. Regarding the destruction of her marriage, it’s possible. If you think it’s even more than remotely possible, I would seriously considered the outcome and how that may affect your thoughts of yourself.

The boundaries should be set and agreed upon by both people. However, the other person’s committments are their responsibility. My opinion, of course.

I think the word you are looking for is “rationalization.”

You said you’re really attracted to her, and if she were available you’d be interested in getting to know her better, trying something romantic. But you don’t want to be a homewrecker. Seems like there’s some tension there within yourself.

She’s responding back strongly. You imply there might be trouble with the relationship, but you’re not aware of any. You’re just wondering if by offering her the attention that would motivate her away from her marriage.

Flirting is a delicate business. No one response is all-purpose. Some people can handle flirting as innocent, some can’t - they’re emotions get too involved. Some people can trust their SO and let them flirt, others get really upset over it. These considerations should be looked at - all parties involved. (Especially yourself - sometimes the hardest to understand.)

Sounds like you need a talk with Rachel to clarify what’s going on. Also, if your current girlfriend is bothered by it, you should consider her feelings as well. Plus, consider that as strongly as you are flirting, some word could get back to her husband. Nevermind if you don’t know him and never see him, someone else in your group could see him often, or have a mutual friend. These things have a tendency to get around. Consider how this could affect their relationship (and your health) if hubby should hear about it second-hand. He may not trust you have boundaries.

Bottom line - you feel uncomfortable with it, that’s probably an indication you should back off a little.