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Do you miss flirting as much as I do?

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEXI LAPHOR
WORDS BY SARAH ROWE

An elbow bump is the most action I’ve had in months.

I live in Melbourne, which has, for the past few weeks, been under stage four restrictions. This means we’ve only been permitted to leave our house for essentials, like food and medical supplies, and exercise for up to one or two hours a day.

A few weeks ago, I decided to make the most of my allotted hour by taking my dog, Georgie, for a walk. As Georgie and I sauntered alongside the creek trail, the path was beginning to narrow and muddy when I heard the chime of a cyclist’s bell behind me. Based on a brief assessment of the oncoming traffic (a Labrador, a mum, young kids), it was clear that one of us would have to clear the way.

I stopped and pulled Georgie to the side. I turned around to see a rather dashing young man (he was wearing a mask and a bicycle helmet, so I deduced this information based on his eyes and forehead) on a bike. He smiled (again, I deduced this from the way the corners of his eyes crinkled) and said an earnest “thank you”. I gave him a nod and my best eye crinkle (the lockdown-era version of a smile) and he rode on past.

I’ve been thinking about this barely seconds-long interaction for weeks. Why?

It was, quite frankly, the most action I’ve had in months.

We’re living in unprecedented (surely a front-runner for Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year) times. I mean, who would have ever thought that a nod between strangers could be considered flirting or become the fodder of romantic fantasy?

Certainly not me. At least, not until lockdown. These days, when it comes to flirting, I’ll take what I can get.

You don’t need me to tell you that lockdown has been trying. But between the panic buying, sourdough baking and macrame side-hustling, I’d failed to notice one of the more subtle challenges of this period. I’m calling it flirting deprivation syndrome. FDS. Spread the word! (But please, don’t spread anything else).

It doesn’t matter how happy you are being single, you’re probably still suffering some form of FDS, even if it’s just a mild case.

To be clear, FDS is not the same as loneliness. I don’t feel lonely. In fact, if there is one thing I have learnt and am continuing to learn through this whole lockdown experience, it’s that I actually quite like being alone. It’s forced me to confront, challenge and care for myself in ways I never have before. It’s made me realise there are many ways to fulfil myself that don’t involve the company, presence or involvement of a significant other.

So no, I am not lonely.

But I miss flirting – those subtle exchanges that stir just enough excitement within you to believe in the possibility of something more.

It’s so hard to flirt now. Not only are many of the traditional flirting sites (bars, clubs, pubs, cafes, parks, house parties, dinner parties) closed or prohibited, those that are available (groceries stores? Chemists? Crowded, muddy pathways bordering a creek?) are made trickier to navigate with all the mask wearing and directive signposts reminding you to stay 1.5 metres apart from other humans.

It’s hard to share a smile or a laugh when there are two triple-layered cotton masks between you. It’s hard to feel someone’s hand linger just a second too long on yours when they’re only accepting contactless payment. It’s hard to lean closer when you share a laugh, or reach out to lightly touch someone’s shoulder while they share a funny anecdote.   

I miss the thrill of getting ready for a night out, the quiet simmering of possibility as you select an outfit, a hairstyle, a Spotify playlist. I, like many, have exhausted my Netflix watchlists. Indulging in formerly favourite shows – Sex and the City, Brooklyn 99, Love is Blind – is now a somewhat painful experience, seeing characters laugh, kiss, touch, flirt, flirt, FLIRT! I feel a sense of longing for human touch that is different from any other experience of my single life. Yes, I’ve been through dry spells, but this isn’t even about sex. It’s just about the possibility, the tease, the little back and forths that may not mean a lifetime, a night or even a date, but just a moment, together.

I know there are many who are doing it tough right now, and many who are doing it a lot tougher than me. But that doesn’t discount my – or anyone else’s – desire for the touch of another person. This isn’t about seeking validation through the desire of someone else, it’s much purer than that. I simply want to be touched, held, have my body acknowledged by the presence and feeling of another. I don’t want the promise of love, sex or even a first date. I just want a moment.

So, to all the single souls out there, hang on, just a bit longer. I sat on the grass with a friend this week, soaking up the early spring rays. And although we greeted each other with a comical elbow bump, and although we were wearing masks, and although we could only spend two hours together, I felt the exchange of something that felt almost tangible: hope. And I’m holding onto that until I can hold the hand of another.

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