Charlotte -- The Lost Art of Flirting - US 1.jpg

Illustration by Charlotte Dijkgraaf

The afternoon of their third date, they went for a long walk through the woods. Now, their cheeks flushed from the June sun, they sit next to each other in my living room. Two of their friends join them on the couch to watch the soccer game. Manchester City versus Chelsea.

The two hopefuls, both in their early 20s, found each other via a dating app. It turned out they went to the same university, only a couple of years apart. Also, they found out they both frequently order food online from the same Asian restaurant, where they both opt for their favorite garlic shrimp.

They would have run into each other, normally. Waiting together in line for the restaurant. A quick look at his hands, a glance at the small of her back. Bold, shy. Longing, lustful maybe.

Pre-covid they would not have filled out a computerized questionnaire about their favorite pastime, nor indicate on some list what physical features they are attracted to.

The girl has dark hair and a flawless skin. Dangling between her breasts is a necklace with a silver “S”. She fidgets with a kneaded eraser, left in a drawer since our kids were small.

“I could hardly close the zipper of my jeans,” she tells me when I run into her in the bathroom. “I let myself go during the pandemic. Too much chocolate, you know. I almost cancelled today.”

When he opens the fridge for a beer, he says to me. “I did not work out for over a year. My six-pack? Gone.”

I wish I could make them see how beautiful they are.

On their first date, they walked along the canal. Around cocktail hour, they sat on a bench and watched the sunset. Quarantine rules forced them to go home. Their own homes, that is.

Second time around, they decided on a drink in the park. He brought the glasses, tucked in a towel in his rucksack, she brought a plaid table cloth. When they had poured the rose, it started to drizzle.

She now moves her face towards his, whispers something in his ear. His hand moves towards hers. She wets her lips. For a split second, they forget the soccer game, the room, all of us around them. Then Chelsea scores. Everyone jumps on their feet. Startled, so does he. The magic between them instantly vanishes.

Pling! One of the boys receives a text message. They all look at him. He says it’s from the girl he went out with on two dates. They kissed on the last one, he tells us. Then she never called him back. He is confused. What does she suddenly want from him?

He turns her down with a text message. “I think it is better not to meet anymore.”

“Woohoo,” I can’t help saying. “Not sure how I would take that.”

The game is over. They all stretch out their legs, pour more drinks, chat about what to do next. The evening is still young, but all bars are closed. As are the movie theaters.

The dark-haired girl glances at her watch. “I want to be home before dark,” she says.

“Do you want me to give you a ride?” the boy asks.

“I’ll be fine,” she says and stands up.

We all watch them, feeling their confusion. The boy hesitates for a second, then stands up.

“I’ll take you home,” he says.

“Oh really,” she says and flips a lock of hair behind her ear.

We all sigh, relieved.

Nothing is lost forever, but the art of flirting could use a brush-up, too.

Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. She can be contacted at pdejong@ias.edu.

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