4 Reasons Why Taken People Flirt

I met someone through a mutual friend — let’s call him John — and we had an interesting chat. The vibe was there and it felt like we were on the same wavelength. John then asked me to grab lunch, and not thinking too much, I went. The conversation was friendly, although at times, it did feel like a bit of a date; for one, he asked for my age, which isn’t something I feel is relevant if it were just a friendly, casual chat (or is it?).

After lunch, he sent me an article relevant to our conversation and I replied thanking him for the article. He sent back three emojis: 🙏❤️🌈.

I consulted my friends about it (as we women do) and they confirmed that there was definitely something there. You got a heart emoji, and you’re still not clear about it? Come on!

A few days later John and I were exchanging a friendly and playful string of messages when he casually dropped into the conversation that he had a girlfriend.

Confused, I directly approached John about the space he was coming from, at which point he pulled back to explicitly say he was committed to his girlfriend and his interactions with me was out of genuine interest.

I was glad to have cleared the air and clarified things, but it left me wondering, why do taken people flirt? Specifically, why did John act in a misleading way if he was “committed to his girlfriend”?

After unpacking this instance and talking to some friends, especially the taken ones who entertain flirting, here’s what I have for you on why taken folks flirt.

1. They’re unhappy and exploring other possibilities

In John’s case, my friends ended up running into John and the girlfriend by happenstance and spending time with them. They reported back to me that it didn’t seem like either of them was happy and that it was a toxic relationship.

He’s unhappy and he wants to see what else is out there, they said. He wants to get out of his toxic relationship.

I can neither confirm nor deny whether that’s true or not with John’s case, but it makes sense that someone in an unhappy relationship would want to explore what’s out there. After all, if they’re happy, why would they bother flirting?

2. They need self-esteem

I asked my married friend why they flirt if they know nothing is ever going to happen, and they told me that it “gives you the feeling of being wanted again.” By getting attention and reciprocation from others, they derive feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.

Indeed, a relationship therapist points out that “when flirting is well-received and reciprocated it feels good and might boost self-esteem. […] People also flirt to compliment or make another feel better about themselves”.

In other words, flattery makes one feel attractive and thus, validated. Flirting with others and being flirted with gives a sense of control and desire, which all feeds back to self-esteem.

3. They’re bored and want some fun

Another friend told me that flirting gives her the feeling of “being in school again” and she feels “free and looking for love again”. She does it to “be in a good mood” and for her own benefit.

In another case, a guy was flirting with my friend and he explicitly told her that nothing was going to happen, but he just wanted to “nurture the fantasy” and live in the possibility.

Put simply, people are bored and motivated by fun and playful times. And research does indeed show that people flirt for fun.

4. They want something from you

This type of flirting is backed by instrumental motivation, whereby you flirt because you want something from someone or you want something to do something for you.

You flirt to achieve a clear goal.

Examples include wriggling out of a traffic ticket or persuading the bartender to serve you up some free drinks.

Is it okay to flirt if you’re unavailable?

It’s up to each of us to judge, but my take is that there’s nothing wrong with flirting and entertaining fantasy for fun as long as you don’t mislead anyone and you make your stance clear.

In John’s case, he shouldn’t have done that and he probably knew that since he later casually dropped into the conversation that he was taken.

As long as both sides are aware of where they stand, flirting can be fun, harmless, enjoyable for both parties, and even beneficial to your self-esteem.

But if it gets to a point where you’re not on the same page and you find yourself in a sticky situation, it’s time to walk away because you don’t need any extra drama in your life.

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