It starts out innocently enough, doesn’t it? A coy smile here. A wink there. A couple of drinks out at the bar and a hug that’s kept going for just a second too long. No, this isn’t a Friday night date with that cutie from class. It’s your guy friend. We’ve all had those fun, flirty first date feelings: those butterflies-in-your-stomach, goose-bumpy feelings. But what if you had those feelings for a friend? A guy you know really well? Like, your old friend from high school or that guy who lives down the hall in your dorm?
I’m talking about flirtationships–that tricky in-between stage when you regularly flirt with a guy friend but for one reason or another, you do nothing more than that. Flirtationships can be fun and silly, but they can also get awkward really fast (and potentially mean bad news for having a real relationship with that guy). So how do you navigate this tricky territory? This guide will give you the rules to live (and flirt) by. And with some advice from Julie Spira, best-selling author and the Cyber Dating Expert, and stories from real collegiettes, you can take charge of your flirtationship.
So, what’s a flirtationship?
Spira breaks it down to the basics for us. “A flirtationship is that fun and flirty in-between place of being just friends and without claiming that you’re in a relationship,” Spira says. “More often than not, it does become a romantic relationship. It’s a friendship filled with flirting.”
How do you know that you’re in one?
“Hey, are you and so-and-so dating?” If you get this question a lot, along with raised eyebrows and winks from your mutual friends, chances are you’re in a flirtationship.
Flirtationships typically develop in one of two ways: they can grow into a romantic relationship or revert back to a friendship. Or (worst-case scenario) they can fall apart completely, leaving out the idea of a possible relationship and the friendship too awkward to fall back on.
So are there any pros to a flirtationship?
It sounds like flirtationships can get emotionally complicated, and they can. But sometimes, they can be an easygoing alternative to a relationship.
Rachel, a senior at New York University says that her flirtationship with a longtime guy friend Hunter means having someone to depend on.
“Hunter is always someone I can rely on to listen to me when I need to talk out something,” she says. “The thing with friends is they’re always there for you. It’s sort of like having a boyfriend, but without having to worry about him judging you.”
And as Tammy, a junior at Boston College says, a “no strings attached” flirtationship can be the best of both worlds in the dating scene. “There’s no real commitment involved,” she says. “What’s great about a flirtationship is that you can still date around with whoever you want without the drama of being ‘attached’ to someone or people calling you a cheater.”
A flirtationship, much like a friends with benefits situation, means having all the benefits of a relationship without the obligations. You don’t feel obligated to spend money on date after date or have the awkward meet-the-parents dinner to please your partner in a flirtationship. You can save your weekend nights for clubbing with the girls and splurge on those to-die-for heels you just hadto have.
Can this hurt my friendship?
Like any gamble, in a flirtationship, you run the risk of ruining the friendship.
“It starts off really simple, light, easy, fun and uncomplicated,” Spira says. “And as soon as one person has more feelings than the other or as soon as one person meets someone else and moves into a relationship, all the rules change and someone can get hurt.”
Say you meet a new cute guy and say this guy asks you out. If the guy you’re in a flirtationship with had feelings for you, this could cause jealousy between the two of you as friends. The same thing can happen if you saw the flirtationship developing with your friend and he started a committed relationship with a new girl. Jealousy is the number one cause of destroyed friendships that developed into flirtationships, according to Spira.
“The number one way a flirtationship can hurt a friendship is if all of a sudden with all of this flirting foreplay you get this false sense that you’re in a relationship and maybe one person wants to be in a relationship with that person,” she says. “They wake up one day and they say, ‘Wow I really have feelings for this person. I’d like to take it to the next step.’ If the other person doesn’t feel the same way, then you basically run the risk of losing the friendship.”
Collegiettes in flirtationships agree. “I have found that they never work. Either they want to be more than friends or don’t act the same way back,” says Heather, a freshman at the University of Arizona. “I have found that on the rare occasion that it does work out I was starting to develop a relationship with another guy. They might work out for other people but for some reason they just don’t work out for me!”
Kerry, a senior at Hofstra University, found herself in a dire dilemma when her flirtationship with a taken guy went a little too far.
“My good friend Paul used to live in a house off-campus with me – directly next to my room. He's had a girlfriend for four years and he's incredibly loyal to her except for this flirtationship we've established. We've kissed a few times and I've slept in his bed without taking any further steps than that (though we're usually pretty physical and affectionate with each other). I know it has a lot to do with sexual tension and repression on his end considering that his girlfriend lives hundreds of miles away from him... but we definitely have fun with each other. It's a mutual understanding that this is just how our friendship works, but I do know that his girlfriend would be devastated if she knew how we act around each other.”
So far, it hasn’t ruined her friendship with Paul, but she cautions collegiettes that flirtationships are definitely “dangerous territory.”
“When his girlfriend came to visit in December it was so awkward,” she says. “We always hug each other so when she was around I had to monitor my behavior to avoid any trouble.”
The worst case scenario can happen when the whole flirtationship falls apart. If it all falls apart, not only do you lose the chance of that perfect boyfriend, you lose the chance of keeping him as a friend.
Emma from Mount Holyoke College found herself in this situation. “I've had a few flirtationships, and they were entertaining, but I went too far when I accidentally got into one with my best guy friend,” she says. “We had previously considered dating, but decided against it because we thought it would damage our friendship. I started texting him and we flirted for a month or so. When I got home for break, I realized what a mistake I had made, because we both were being flirty, yet expecting more to come of it, and it didn't work out so well. We haven't spoken in two months.”
“So beware!” she warns. “They are fun if you're not close to the guy, but if you value the friendship, don't get into a flirtationship with them.”
So is a flirtationship worth it?
Despite how complicated a flirtationship can be, Spira says they can be healthy. A close flirtationship with a guy can even turn into the best relationship.
“Some of the best relationships start off with humor and wit and joking,” she says. “Anyone who is looking for love, is looking for someone who is smart and funny, someone who has a great sense of humor. It’s like the first phase of what attracts someone to another.”
Whatever the reasons are behind the flirtationship, Spira says that there are some common sense boundaries you should never cross, like don’t become too emotionally attached and never keep up a flirtationship with a guy who is in a relationship. This avoids hurt feelings on either side. But with a flirtationship, you can be single and available. You can be single and bro-down with as many guy friends as you want. You can be flirty as friends, as long as you don’t hurt him in the process. Or more importantly, hurt yourself.