As it appeared in “The Twentieth Century Home”, May, 1905 by Rafford Pyke
To the mind of the average woman the two words which head this paper mean one and the same thing; but there is in fact a real distinction to be made between them. Coquetry is one of the charming little arts which are intuitive in every girl, and which are altogether innocent and pleasing. It is nothing more than the assumption of a winningly capricious manner, just the least provocative, just the least impertinent, just the least imperious. It assumes that man is a pursuer who may be alternately attracted and discouraged, by experiencing first a show of favor and then a simulated indifference or disdain. It is all the merest play, and it enables a young girl to bring to bear all the weapons with which nature has provided her for the harmless delectation of the other sex —smiles, pouts, frowns, arch looks and pretty gestures of command or of reproach. Many a girl who has just begun to practise coquetry upon her male acquaintances imagines that she has been flirting desperately, and she so speaks of it, with an excited little air of having done something very daring and pleasantly reprehensible. She thinks over all her saucy words, her flashes of repartee and the pertness of her bearing toward her amused admirers, and she feels like a little queen who has just succeeded to her throne and who is experimenting with her newly acquired power.
But all this sort of thing is very different from flirting, which is a much more serious affair. Coquetry is practised openly. The more who witness it the better pleased is the coquette. Indeed, she is anxious to have as many as possible observe her prowess. She can coquet with a dozen men at once, and the presence of persons of her own sex simply enhances her sense of triumph and general beatitude. Moreover, in coquetry, laughter is seldom far away—at least from the lips of the coquette. It is all such fun! In the crude young girl it takes the form of giggling, but in the better-bred it sounds in little peals and ripples of laughter which are a joy to hear. But just because coquetry is, so to speak, an open, public thing, and because it has mirth for its concomitant, it is wholly harmless. The coquette in reality is always thinking of herself alone, and very little of those on whom she practises her coquetry. They are merely opportunities. Her unconscious egotism is a sure protection against any serious harm, either to herself or to others. In fact, the whole thing is a bit of play, a little social comedy in which grave looks are only momentarily assumed, and in which the denouement brings a peal of happy laughter.
But flirting is very different from this. Its very essence is the solitude a deux and the
air of rapt and thoroughly absorbed attention. Just as coquetry aims at the pretended conquest of many, so flirtation seeks the actual subjugation of one. Its most effective form is where it begins in a perfectly indifferent acquaintance, which passes slowly into a confidential but unsentimental friendship, and then deepens and strengthens into an apparent intensity of feeling that intimates unutterable things. There is little mirth in a genuine flirtation. Laughter and lightness would belie and contradict the emotions which are at least supposed to sway the pair who flirt. And this is why flirtation makes a much more stirring appeal to every woman than mere coquetry—since every woman desires to be taken very seriously. She may be humorous and full of gaiety in all things else; but when it comes to sentiment, she will not even seem to yield unless her yielding can be made to bear the look of a surrender to superior force or feeling.
Coquetry is essentially the pastime of the debutante. It is a rather silly thing in itself, and becomes attractive only through the artless grace and pertness and unstudied naturalness of the innocent. As the years go by and experience comes, then coquetry is but an artifice. It hardens into a manner and ends in an affectation which is either pitiful or ludicrous.But flirting, since it has the air of seriousness, belongs to every age, and the passion for it only grows with time. It is in reality unworthy of a truly womanly woman or of a manly man; for it involves the cult of insincerity, and thereby impairs the power of loving truly or feeling deeply. A practiced flirt becomes at last a very paltry creature, for the lack of truth and earnestness is in the end perceptible to every one who knows the world. And so, the woman who has flirted away the possibility of a genuine affection, yet who craves the emotional stimulus of the jeu d'amour, spends the last years of her middle period in befooling inexperienced boys; while the male flirt, more wisely or at least more harmlessly, is apt to take an easy refuge in misogynism, professing a low opinion of women as a sex, and passing his idle hours in concocting epigrams of cynicism. The male flirt and the female flirt of long and constant practice never try their arts upon each other. They know each move of the game so well as to anticipate it, and thus all possible excitement is eliminated; and if they looked each other in the eye they could scarcely keep their faces straight. It is a sorry business altogether, and those who enter on it for the first time with a thrill of pleasurable excitement, should know that before very long there is nothing which becomes so great a bore.