Human relationships have a lot of gray areas. You’ve got acquaintances, frenemies, and situationships that will keep you feeling confused about where you really stand with someone. It’s like being in a slow-burn romcom except much worse because you’re not guaranteed the happy romcom ending. A recent addition to the confusing bag of non-relationship relationship labels is the “flirty friendship” which is a non-relationship situation where you flirt with friends and they flirt back (so you know you’re both kind of interested in each other) but it never really moves out of that flirting stage.
The end result? A flirty friendship limbo where neither of you are sure what exactly is going on. If you’re still on the fence about where your relationship with a friend is going, here’s a look into what a flirty friendship is, how to tell if you’re in one, and how to navigate the murky waters of one.
What’s a Flirtationship?
Flirty friendships are exactly what it says on the tin. They’re friendships where you and a friend flirt with each other either to test the waters or to have a bit of harmless fun. Flirty friendships also go by another name: flirtationship.
A flirtationship — like its relationship hell cousin, the situationship — is a portmanteau of the words “flirting” and “friendship”, but you can also interpret it as a “flirting” + “relationship” situation due to the issues it creates. It’s not uncommon for a flirtationship to make one or both parties feel jealous when they see the other person flirting with other people or starting a relationship with a different person because of the expectations it creates. As fun as flirting with someone can be, it does make people expect that there’s a possibility you’re interested in being with them and when that expectation isn’t met, there are a lot of hurt feelings.
While it’s hard to tell what does and doesn’t count as a flirtationship, what is clear is what it isn’t. A flirtationship isn’t a formal relationship and it also isn’t a sexual relationship of any kind. Unlike situationships where sleeping with the other person can be part of the connection, a flirty friendship doesn’t cross into that territory. Think of it as the before of a situationship.
Is It Normal to Have a Flirty Friendship?
Flirty friendships get a bad rep for their undefined status, but many relationships go through a flirty friendship stage especially when a potential couple are still getting to know each other or a pair of friends realize they want to be in a romantic relationship. Whether you call them a situationship, flirtationship, or a flirty friendship, these types of relationships are perfectly normal for people to have.
That said, there are situations where a flirty friendship breaks the boundaries and expectations of existing relationships.
Does a Flirty Friendship Count as Cheating?
Cheating is a contentious issue for most people, but when you start trying to identify what does and doesn’t count as cheating, you’ll find that different people have different answers. Just like the many shades of relationships, there are gradients in what people consider as cheating.
If you and the person you’re in a flirtationship with aren’t officially attached to anyone else, you’re good to go. But if one of you is, a partner may consider it cheating because it goes against the expected exclusivity of a relationship.
Other people may not consider a flirty friendship as cheating because there’s no relationship being formed between a partner and another person and, usually, there’s no sexual activity or emotional attachment in a flirtationship. Ultimately, whether a flirty friendship is cheating or harmless fun comes down to how your personal view on cheating.
5 Signs You’re in a Flirty Friendship
1. You’re always complimenting each other’s appearance
It’s one thing to say someone looks good in a new outfit, but another thing entirely to always notice what they look like. If you find yourself swapping compliments with a friend a lot, you’re likely getting into flirtationship territory with them.
You might also be wondering if noticing each other’s looks counts if there are no compliments exchanged and it does. It might sound strange, but try to read between the lines with me. Why would someone pay so much attention to what another person looks like if that person isn’t occupying their thoughts?
2. You’re always talking and updating each other about your lives
We’re not saying it’s wrong to talk to friends and let them know how you’re doing, but the extent to which you’re doing it and what you communicate says a lot about the true nature of your relationship with someone. You might be lying in bed reading this right now while talking to your “friend”…but who talks to a friend so late at night?
You might also find yourself updating this one friend more than the others about what’s going on in your life. If you get a promotion and there’s a friend you want to call or message right away to talk about it, and you know they aren’t exactly your best friend, you’re likely starting to have flirtationship-type feelings about them. The same goes vice versa and even more so if you’re doing it to each other.
3. You have special names for each other
Pet names don’t have to be outright affectionate. Just like with #1, it’s less about what’s being said and more about the implication of the fact that there’s anything being said at all. Even if they’re not calling you their honeybunch sugarplum, pet names like “dork” or the controversial “work husband/wife” are signs that this person is thinking about you way more than friends usually think about each other.
4. You spend a lot of time in just each other’s company
There are friend hangouts and then there are dates that aren’t explicitly called dates but may as well be one. If you’re always hanging out together without other friends around and doing stuff that would pass for a date if it were called a date, you’re already dating without the label.
Sound confusing? That’s kind of the point because…
5. You’re confused
Flirty friendships are ambiguous so they always keep you confused even if your gut tells you that there’s something else happening between you. The fact that you no longer feel like you’re clean-cut friends but you can’t put your finger on exactly what things you do break the friendship boundary, congratulations, you’re already in a flirtationship.
How to End a Flirtationship
Ending a flirtationship may be a little nerve-wracking, but it’s more simple than it seems and more complicated at the same time. The first thing to do, though, is to stop flirting back. Stop giving the other person signals that you want to engage in flirty behavior with them. Usually, people stop flirting if you ignore them. If someone just can’t take a hint, that’s when you need to be more direct. Let them know that you’re no longer comfortable flirting with each other. Some people will tell you to make it clear that it’s okay with you that a friendship continues, but for people who can’t take a hint, this can be seen as playing coy. Leave it at no and wait for the relationship to develop different, if it even does, after the awkwardness passes.