The Flirty Medium

Welcome to Fertile Medium, an advice column for people who live online. In this special Valentine’s Day edition, we tackle online flirting from two different perspectives.

Article Continues Below

How should you react when you suspect the guy you’re dating is flirting with other women on Twitter?

Anonymous 1

My boyfriend doesn’t want to “play” on Twitter. Why is he being such a grump?

Anonymous 2

I remember the first relationship I had that started with flirting online. I was shy, and this new digital world gave me a chance to show off a bit. I like to think that those witty late-night e-mails helped me form a relationship with a girl I otherwise would have never had a chance with.

We dated for a while. She was crazy. So was I. It was great. But I always felt that we were somehow more honest in e-mail. We were both writers, and establishing our relationship digitally let us be more our true selves. Our real-life dates would be followed by far more intimate digital conversations. Giving that intimacy a place to live outside of our in-person communication had the side effect of allowing us to be less than totally honest in person.

This digital world we’re creating is an enormous gift to those of us who might not feel totally comfortable expressing ourselves when real, live eyes are focused on us. The screen is a shield. Some say that this is isolating, but in my experience, it’s the opposite. We get to learn how to express ourselves in a safe space before trying it in person.

Our two anonymous callers are both grappling with the complexities of online flirtations. In one case, the caller wants more digital intimacy from their partner. In the other, the caller is threatened by the intimacy their partner seems to share with others online.

In both cases, the real issue is what kind of boundaries have been established in the relationship. The boyfriend who is flirty with others online may have established their relationship with the caller by being flirty online. Now in a real-life relationship, his flirting with others may be a valid concern (is he shopping for his next relationship?). Then again, maybe the caller needs to acknowledge that the guy is just a flirt and find a way to be okay with this. Perhaps the way to keep his attention is to restart the flirting that established the relationship. If he’s flirty on Twitter, flirt with him there! It’ll also serve as a subtle reminder that his flirtations with others are visible to you.

As for Anonymous 2, whose boyfriend has said he doesn’t want to “play” on Twitter, well, that’s some clear communication right there. You’re in a real-life relationship, and he’s setting clear boundaries about where his comfort level is, so you’ve got to respect that.

But perhaps there’s a middle ground. If his discomfort lies in the public nature of Twitter (assuming that you two have public accounts), then maybe you can flirt in more private ways. You could each register additional private accounts and send your flirts privately. Just remember to make sure you’re using the account you think you’re using (ask Anthony Weiner). There are apps designed just for this. Couple is especially nice—I’ve used it with my wife when we’re away from each other, and it’s fun.

Remember, you have a real relationship with this person, and that’s more important than any of this digital noise. When Twitter is down, you’ll still have each other. And that’s what every online flirt really wants.

Got a question or comment about living online? Send your flirty tweets to @fertilemedium or call (415) 286-5446 and leave a message.

1 Reader Comments

  1. While I agree with Derek’s points on the second concern, his response to the concerns of Annonymous1 jump the gun. The question’s context is far too vague to start hypothesizing solutions and the clear answer to this is the very essence of relationships via any medium: communication. Whether asked in person, email, or twitter, Anonymous1 needs to establish if their significant other is intentionally flirting or even aware that they are perceived as flirting. Before suggesting solutions, are both members of this couple even fully aware that there is a problem. Reacting to a concern without discussing it with your partner can be one of the most unintentionally damaging acts you can do in a relationship.

Got something to say?

We have turned off comments, but you can see what folks had to say before we did so.

More from ALA

Voice Content and Usability

In this excerpt from Voice Content and Usability, author Preston So talks about the messy, primordial nature of human speech and challenges with programming computers to deal with these complexities.

Designing for the Unexpected

As devices continue to diversify in dizzying ways, how can we make sure our work on the web stays as relevant as ever for the long haul? Cathy Dutton shares how practitioners must perfect designs both for the paradigms of the present and the twists of the future, come what may.

Asynchronous Design Critique: Getting Feedback

Receiving feedback can be a stressful experience: will an open-ended question attract helpful guidance or harsh criticism? Erin “Folletto“ Casali coaches us through a process to ensure that feedback always lands gracefully.

Asynchronous Design Critique: Giving Feedback

You’ve heard the term “constructive criticism” countless times but do you know how to deliver it? Part one of this series from Erin ‘Folletto’ Casali gives you a framework for it! Flex your feedback muscles and practice these skills to empower and inspire others without deflating or confusing them.

That’s Not My Burnout

If, like many folks during the pandemic, you’ve begun confusing burnout for achievement, Donna Bungard will show you how to recognize that you’re low on fuel and give you a map of rest stops where you can refill your tank.