Dear Margaret,

I’m single at the moment and taking a break from actively dating, but am open to it if someone dateable comes my way. I wanted to take some time to focus on building some more solid friendships, and it seems to be working! I’m making a friend from yoga class. I’ve known them from around town for a while and have had a bit of a teeny crush, and when we finally got to talking it sounds like we have a lot in common. I’m also picking up on a flirty vibe from them. They’ve said that they’re in a relationship, but I don’t know if it’s monogamous/open/poly etc. I don’t want to mess up the potential friendship (or intrude into a monogamous relationship), and I’m historically awful at flirting or making friends, so I don’t know what to do next. The safe bet is to just leave it at friends and try to ignore the flirtiness, but I’m curious. How would I know (without being totally awkward and/or ruining everything) if it’s ok to flirt back a bit, or should I just avoid that altogether and just try to go to know them better first – temper the flirting and just stay friendly?

Friend or Flirt?

Dear Friend or Flirt,

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what the meaning of “okay” is.  It’s always okay to flirt back a bit, or to be friendly, or to act in a way that combines the two; society draws a line between friendly and flirty, but you don’t need to toe it.  And, as you’ve rightly noted in your question, the assumption of monogamy does not necessarily apply to everyone.

We grow up in a society that encourages women not to speak up; to express their needs indirectly, or not at all.  The wonderful news is that society can entirely piss off – you get to define what a friendship means, or what a relationship looks like.  You ask me what’s okay; a relationship – or a friendship, for that matter – where a woman can speak up about her curiosities without risking it “ruining everything” is well within my definition of okay.

The next time they do that flirty thing, ask them; Are you flirting with me? Their answers will tell you lots.  Are they willing to engage in honest conversation about what they want?  And consider what you want; under what circumstances would you be willing to take your crush further? What conditions would be dealbreakers?  With that knowledge in place, getting to know each other better – and flirting back – will be more straightforward.