If reality really is only a series of immediate, empirically measurable phenomena, then how do we account for that most perilous and complex of human activities: flirting? Flirting is a process of reading another person and interpreting reality. It’s a whole series of shunting and shifting, toe-dipping and testing of waters, advances and retreats (most of which are invisible). It is plagued by questions of hermeneutics: ‘Why is she touching her hair like that – what does it mean?’, ‘Why is he looking at me and smirking slightly – what does it signify?’, ‘Did he look at me for one second too long on purpose, or is he just slightly autistic?’. Flirting is one of the supreme arenas of empirical, factual incertitude.
What is flirting, anyway? How do we know when an act of flirtation has taken place? What appears to one person as a completely neutral act – the shaking of a bracelet, or the licking of a lip – might seem to another to be a clear signal that the game is on! In terms of the second example, a bio-chemist could reel off myriad facts about the chemical constitution of saliva, or the digestive capacities of enzymes; an industrial cosmetics manufacturer could explicate the molecular nature of the lip gloss; and a speech therapist could explain the oral muscles involved in the action of lip-licking; none of them, however, could tell you definitively whether the lady in question happened to be feeling particularly parched, or whether she was insinuating that if I continued to regale her with the minutiae of Althusser’s theory of ideology then my reward would be an act of fellatio.
And this is serious stuff. I’m sure we’ve all experienced – especially as teenagers – the pre-first kiss abyss. My lover and I, standing beneath the midnight stars in a run-down park, with empty bottles of White Lightning scattered at our feet: who dares to make the move, who has the audacity to make the leap of faith? Scientific rationalism breaks down here. This is the moment where the objective laws of material reality cease to matter – literally. It is the moment of sheer potentiality, one which threatens to explode in a million directions all at once. If I try to kiss her, will she kiss me back, pounce on me, scream for help, or slap me? Will I be celebrated as a bold and virile Casanova, or will I be decried as an attempted rapist? There is nothing certain about the act of flirting.
In that respect, it is not a million miles from the act of faith.