The irksome ritual that is Valentine's Day had barely faded from memory when writer Christine Schoefer filled up a couple of pages at to complain about how Americans seem to have lost the knack, if not necessarily the urge, for flirtation. She suggests a number of factors that may be in play: the curious American notion that any show of interest whatsoever is somehow a threat to All Things Sacred, drilled into high-school students way before PDA stood for Personal Digital Assistant; the insistence by feminists that flirtation is somehow a tool of the patriarchy; and, maybe, our overwrought work ethic — we're just too damned busy for such things, and if we do participate, it's purely as a means to an end.

I read this over, and I tried to relate it somehow to my own existence (I have almost enough box tops for my Junior Narcissists Club mirror, so obviously this was a must), but there was insufficient evidence to reach any kind of conclusion. Seldom if ever am I the flirtee, let alone the flirter — either that, or I'm too stupid to know when someone is coming on to me. (Given my penchant for romantic delusions, this is entirely possible.)

So I made no response to Ms Schoefer's premise, and I figured that would be the end of it — until a couple of days later, when one Rob Anderson wrote in with the following:

"Christine Schoefer's article was quite interesting and informative, but missed one salient facet of flirting: It's cruelty. For any man or woman who is unattractive to the opposite sex -- and especially those for whom this has always been the case -- 'flirting' might better be described as 'taunting.'
"It is one thing for a person to flirt or be flirted with when they are confident in the knowledge of their own attractiveness. They can enjoy flirting in its more innocuous social context. But for people who are the opposite, whose self-knowledge is of a sadder sort, flirting becomes inherently degrading.
"This is best summed up in a short passage I read in a book many years ago: 'She stroked his hand in the friendly and familiar but uninviting way women had with un