Why I Miss Flirting

In my 20s and 30s, while living in Manhattan, I worked as a journalist, and attended press events, art openings and parties every single night for 13 years. I flirted with everyone I met — older men, younger men, women, dogs.

I wasn’t even always conscious of doing it — smiling coyly, teasing, paying rapt attention, offering praise, withholding praise. It didn’t need a clear motive or direction. Flirting was more part of the background, the emotional soundtrack of those days. It was an attitude, a way of saying, “Let’s take the fun and supercharge it.”

It takes some charm to flirt, some confidence. I was aided by assuming that people wanted to talk to me, that I was, as my mother had insisted throughout my childhood, “like sunshine entering a room.”

I’m not saying I actually was all that attractive or sunny. But if you think you’re sunshine, you can bring in the warmth. As the study of emotional contagion shows, we pick up the body language, tone and enthusiasm of others, map it in our own brains, then bounce it back. If you make an effort to be interesting and engaged, you get a lot of attention back at you.

This flirting didn’t have a sinister underside. I did experience manipulation at work, but not sexual. People in power can bully and exploit younger employees in a variety of ways, it turns out.

My boyfriend was a big flirt, too, which was fine. We always were out, and every encounter was a possible story, a potential connection.

There was plenty to complain about in this lifestyle. Such as being unmarried, childless and living in a tiny apartment in a dirty, loud city of ever-escalating rents. My boyfriend began lamenting our “extended adolescence.” Wasn’t it time to grow up?

So we married. Moved to the country. Had a child. Then fled the country, split up, and moved to Los Angeles. I was 45 and single again.

I assumed I’d step out into the busy, buzzy social scene I’d known. Imagine my surprise — most people my age are married, it turns out. Or super-set in their single ways. And everyone is tired by 9 p.m.

Not that I could go out anyway. My son needs dinner and a bath. I’m in the comfy-fleece-pajamas stage of life, cuddling on the couch with my child and our dog. I’m happy to be here, truly. But for me, middle age and parenthood have dovetailed with a near-total lack of daily flirtation.

Perhaps it’s my age. My neck looks fine, but I feel bad about my chin. Of course, we should value ourselves — and others — by the content of our character, not the elasticity of our skin. We all age, if we’re lucky; the visible appearance of said good fortune is not a moral failure.

Maybe it isn’t about looks. Maybe it’s work. Newspapers and magazines have contracted, grown sober, disappeared. Even if I go to the nearby WeWork, or the WeWork down the street from that, I’m usually hunched over my laptop, alone, as are so many other solo-preneurs.

I could flirt with a man on an OKCupid date, or someone I meet at comedy club or at a theater. But most divorced men my age only want one thing: remarriage. Many older men who have been single for more than three months have had their fill of freedom and its handmaiden, loneliness.

I think there might be a new reticence among men, a prudishness, a fear of making a mistake.

I often don’t flirt these days for fear of being taken seriously. The men seem to worry about something similar. I think there might be a new reticence among men, a prudishness, a fear of making a mistake, being taken as a predator when they meant to add some spark.

Flirting has a real role in human relations, and I miss it. I miss the champagne-like fizz of possibility, the zing of recognition that you’re saying something without using your words. I also miss the innocence that relating comfortably in this way now seems to suggest.

I don’t want to lose the playfulness, the nuance. Constantly suspecting indecency can certainly expose it, but it also can go too far, create a culture of mistrust and fear, which is not decent or humanist or loving.

Eventually, my child will grow up. The sounds of his laughter and running — and of the dog skidding across the wooden floor after him — won’t fill my rooms. Whether I’m single or remarried, I hope the feeling in my life once again will be super-social and a little sexy, light and giddy and free.

Wendy Paris is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is the author of “Splitopia: Dispatches from Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well.”

The Rule of Three

The weird thing about mixed seating in synagogue is that sometimes couples are all over each other. Inappropriate during prayer time for sure, but somewhat more distracting when one half of that couple happens to be a guy you once dated.

A guy you dated until he yelled at you for seven excruciating minutes on your fourth date and then you said you had to go, I mean really go, and did just that.

A guy you dated now sitting in the row in front of you, caressing — for your and the entire synagogue’s benefit — the brown curly hair of a short, dark woman who resembles you as if you were all interchangeable.

I suppose the good thing about mixed seating is that when they encourage you to join arms across the rows for the final singing of “Peace on All of Us and All of Israel,” you can link up with a different tall, dark stranger wearing a shell necklace who asks you to explain the words to him. So what if during the singing and the Kiddush you find out he’s actually a Lebanese Christian who likes Jewish women? At least he flirts with you on your way out of the sanctuary in front of that ex, who is now clutching his new girlfriend like a security blanket.

Everyone needs security blankets when faced with hundreds, if not 1,000, mostly single people mingling — OK, scoping — after prayer. On this night I’ve got four or five girlfriends here, and we stand together by a high table eating falafel, grape leaves and humus, each of us flitting off for a bit, then returning to the hive to touch base, to recharge.

There in the distance I spot this blue-eyed goatee guy I went out with once or twice a year or two or three ago — the details are vague, but he doesn’t remember me either.

“Don’t I owe you a disc?” he says, as if we had seen each other just last week. Perhaps he has mistaken me for a colleague, I think, but before I can say so, he adds, “Neil Diamond or something?”

And it’s true, he did promise to copy the CD for me, but given that we never spoke again, surely due to some really, really good reason (he lost my number/took a vow of asceticism/was kidnapped by aliens) I’d forgotten about the disc and him and everything but a pleasant feeling, like the feeling one gets seeing someone from grade school that you once really admired but never got a chance to know.

“Nothing bad happened with us, right?” I ask him.

“Don’t tell anyone else here that,” he says, smiling a sheepish grin and ducking behind me like he’s avoiding half the room (the women he never called back?). And then he says he’s off to get a drink but he’ll be back, which is code for “you won’t see me again.”

No matter, this cute redhead Jeremy comes over, and I ask him why I wasn’t invited to his party. He tells me his party has been canceled, but I want to know whether I would have been invited or if we are still not allowed to be friends because I went out with his friend Dan a few years ago.

“He really liked you, you know,” Jeremy tells me, which is a shame, because I’d like to go out with Jeremy (isn’t there a statute of limitations on these things?) who gives me his card. (I don’t think he’ll go out with me — he just wants me to come to his gig.) I palm it, along with the one from the Lebanese Christian — who, aside from being of a different religion, and from a problematic country of origin — lives in New Jersey. Talk about unavailable.

But in social situations I have this Rule of Three: I have to meet three new people before I can leave. They don’t have to be guys, and they don’t have to be guys I’d go out with (see: Lebanese Christian), although it would help, but I make myself do this so the event won’t be a waste of time (and an outfit).

OMG! There’s Brian! I went out with him the night before. This, ladies and gentleman is unprecedented, because I might be fulfilling my Other Rule of Three: If you see three people you’ve dated in one place, it’s time to leave. It means you’ve exhausted this particular supply.

But does Brian qualify as someone I’ve dated, in the past tense? Maybe I’m still dating him. Yes, he was a total bore at pool, not asking me one question or actually making any conversation except to talk about how he could have gotten a better shot (who cares? It’s only pool!), but he gave me a very nice kiss goodnight that made him seem infinitely more compelling.

“Hey Brian!” I say to him as he walks by.

“Oh, hey, I didn’t know you’d be here,” he replies. Which is weird because I distinctly told him I was going to be here.

“Oh, well, gotta go,” he said pointing to his friend walking ahead of him, in what might be the most direct blow-off of my life — less than 24 hours after kissing a guy, he walks away in order to scope out other women! Now I know I’ve fulfilled the Other Rule of Three.

Another guy, a skinny surfer dude I’d been talking to, comes up to me to give me his card — “No wait, I’ll take your number,” he says, and does.

My girlfriends ask if I want to leave and go have dinner. Since I’ve hit both my rules of three tonight, in shame and in pride, I am certainly ready to go.

But not before I pick up a business card from the floor — I thought I’d dropped it, but turns out it wasn’t mine. Here’s what it said:

You are Hot and So am I.

What should we do about it?

I definitely wanted to give this guy a call.

Thanks, Wingman!

I have gone into bars and thrown myself into situations unprepared. I have struggled to find something impressive to say and ended up highlighting my brief stint as an extra on “The Office.” And I have walked away from a girl with a number suspecting that it was lifted directly off a billboard.

It doesn’t have to be this difficult.

We all remember the buddy system from grade school. When you’d go to the ocean, you’d have a buddy. When you’d go to the museum, you’d have a buddy. And now that you’re old enough to hit the bar scene, you should still have a buddy.

You, my friend, need a wingman.

There you are with a friend, seated at a bar. You put out “the vibe,” as you casually make eye contact with a ridiculously hot, seemingly hygienic female.

Your buddy, whose girlfriend is thankfully home for the evening, encourages you to approach. He reassures you that he’s a few steps away in case disaster strikes.

You walk up to her with high hopes, employing the confidence that only four shots of Maker’s Mark can provide. You offer to buy her a drink. But when the pool of standard chitchat/bar talk dries up, you find yourself at a loss for words.

Terrified and annoyed that your game has once again failed you, your mind reels as you reach for topics. You panic, unsure of what to say next.

However, just when you thought the situation was doomed, your buddy sidles his way into the action. With a mix of Sinatra charm and Dino comic relief, your steady, reliable, trustworthy wingman has successfully resuscitated the conversation. As you are reborn, he quietly slips away.

Thanks, wingman.

Your supportive third wheel, a wingman is the guy stopping you from saying or doing something stupid. Typically a close friend, he should possess both a good working knowledge of your strengths and an impeccable talent for masking your weaknesses. He’s your sidekick, and depending on the success of the evening he could also be your superhero.

There are two things I know never to leave home without: my American Express card and my wingman. Without these two things, the chances of a hookup are practically hopeless. But just like choosing a credit card, choosing a wingman requires some serious thought and planning.

The main thing to consider is personality. You definitely need someone who can carry a conversation, but you don’t want someone who will steal your thunder. You need a guy who knows you well enough to recall the time you spent at the soup kitchen, but who’s also smart enough to leave out the fact that it was for 50 hours of court-ordered community service.

In addition to making you look more Brad Pitt than Brad Garrett, the wingman must also keep a close eye on the social lubricant situation. If the glasses look dry, he’s the guy who will trek over to the bar and order the next round. (It is proper etiquette to pay for your wingman’s drinks that evening. This also ensures his loyalty and support for future outings.) This time alone surreptitiously provides you and your lucky female subject with the appropriate amount of alone time. The wingman’s absence is simply a test to see if you can handle the situation without your trusty insurance policy.

If all goes well, upon his return, he gets the nod and searches for an appropriate exit in the conversation so you can exercise your “closing” techniques.

If things don’t go so well during his minutes-long excursion, you know that the chemistry isn’t there. A good wingman should have full knowledge of the signals in play: a single nod for “you can leave now” or a double nod for “we both can leave now.” Not to mention, the mutually convenient triple nod for “stay, she’s got a friend,” or the extremely rare, yet somewhat selfish quad-nod for “she’s got friends, but they’re all mine.”

Once you have found and trained someone to serve beside you as wingman, practice your routine as much as possible. The only thing more embarrassing than an idiot with nothing to say are two idiots with nothing to say. Unfortunately in this case, two idiots do not cancel each other out.

When used correctly, the wingman can be extremely valuable and the system is relatively easy to perfect, based on the intelligence and sobriety of the parties involved. He is your safety net, your backup plan in case of a sour evening. He is the Aaron to your Moses (hopefully not the Cain to your Abel).

And if all this still doesn’t work and you find yourself totally hopeless, unable to meet a woman in a social situation, wingman or no wingman, fear not my troubled friend — there’s always the option of a shidduch.


The grunion were running last weekend, so I went down to the Venice Beach breakwater just before midnight to watch them mate. The sight of thousands of slim, silvery fish wiggling desperately out of the surf and struggling to spawn before the next wave crashed upon them made me think, of course, of those birthright Israel trips.

This summer, a record 23,500 participants are expected to visit Israel as part of TAGLIT-birthright Israel. The program offers free 10-day tours of Israel for Jewish young adults, 18 to 26. This year, the organization received nearly 32,000 applications — also a record high.

Part of the success is undoubtedly the attraction of all-expense-paid foreign travel. When I was in college the simple words “free trip” would have had me packed and ready to go to Jonestown without thinking twice.

But birthright’s success is more genuine: it combines education and spirituality with a search for roots and meaning, and anchors the whole experience in a 10-day nonstop party.

It’s no wonder that birthright, founded seven years ago by philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, can count as one of the few unmitigated successes the Jewish establishment has had in involving younger Jews in Jewish life.

Since 2000, the program, jointly funded by private philanthropists, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israeli government and the North American federation system, has sent more than 120,000 young Jews from 51 countries to Israel for free.

But let’s be honest about what accounts for a good part of the program’s runaway success — hormones.

“No one tells you it’s about hooking up with other Jews,” one 20-something participant told me, “but there’s plenty there to make it happen.”

There is no curfew, chaperones who are in some cases only a couple of years older than the visitors and lots of booze.

“What happens among the Diaspora,” one happy birthrighter from Pittsburgh told me, “stays among the Diaspora.”

Which is why I’m not quoting anyone by name here.

One 21-year-old UC San Diego sophomore I spoke with said the subtext wasn’t that hidden. Her Israeli organizer told the group the best thing about birthright and Israel is that they could hitch up with other Jews and make Jewish babies. She recounted his exact words in a thick Israeli accent: “When you see a cutie on the beach in Tel Aviv and you say, ‘Hey, what’s cooking?’ you know you’re talking to a Jew.'”

Her friend, a young man who also attends UC San Diego, said the message wasn’t covert, and it didn’t bother him at all.

“I was fine with it,” he said. “We get to go on this great trip, and they get to tell us what they want.”

The message, he said, is that you need to make Jewish babies, because Jewish babies will save the Jewish people. If birthrighters needed any more nudging, each trip culminates in a kind of mega-meet-up. Held in Jerusalem, it brings every birthright group together in an amphitheater in Jerusalem, the Holy City, where they hear some great rock music, then adjourn into a raucous, beer-fueled party. (The party is free, the beer you pay for).

“I faked an Israeli accent to hit on girls,” another birthrighter told me. “It works better.”

Again, I think of the grunion. If you haven’t seen them, it’s worth grabbing a warm coat and a thermos of mint tea and heading down to the beach during mating season, which occurs between May and September during the full and new moon.

The fish, which are relatives of smelt, ride the waves onto shore. The females use their tails to wriggle down until only their heads, bug-eyed and vulnerable, poke from the sand. Into this nest, they squeeze their eggs.

Meanwhile the males find females to squirm around, and in a frenzied swarm release their milt. The murky liquid slides down the females’ backs and onto the eggs. Some females deposit eggs though no males surround them — but I’m sure there’s a guy for them on some other beach.

Two weeks later the fertilized eggs, hidden under the feet of countless sunbathers and sea gulls, hatch, and a new generation of grunion swarm the tides.

It’s remarkable — the utter implausibility of fish finding one another on dry land, the rush to hook up, the race to meet and secrete. That there are still grunion in the world is nothing short of miraculous — and one could say the same of the relatively few Jews who manage, against the odds of persecution and assimilation, to reproduce. If the alcohol-fueled all night hotel room parties that our philanthropic dollars support help, who’s to quibble? If the birthright mega-gathering is closer to a grunion run at low tide than a Zionist congress, so what?

Like most Jews in a generation that missed out on the birthright junket, I’m jealous, but supportive. I understand that, as my friend Jon Drucker is fond of saying, Jewish survival is not in the genes, but in the jeans.

But I do wonder if the message is getting through that there is more to Jewish survival than hooking up. The rabbis teach that all the Jewish souls that ever were, were present at Sinai. But us plodding literalists would argue that it is the unerring emphasis on Jewish values — or rather, the debate over those values — and on Jewish deeds, or mitzvot, that determine, truly, how many Jews there are in this world.

Two Jews can create such a person, but a non-Jew can become that person too.

For ultimately, unlike grunion, Jewish souls are made, not spawned.

New video of Taglit-birthright trip. Contains no spawning