As the parent of a young toddler, the idea of “flirting” has been on my mind for a while. Whenever we’re at a restaurant, my daughter – like many other young children – enjoys catching the eye of new people, and making them smile. Our society likes to call this “flirting.”
Our perceptions of babies tend to be skewed by the cultural beliefs we’ve inherited, and then reinforced by the language we’ve been taught to use, as well. This is why I’m calling out a seemingly innocent – yet omnipresent – word like “flirting.”
Google turned up the following definitions of the verb FLIRT:
1. Behave as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but without serious intentions: “it amused him to flirt with her”.
2. Experiment with or show a superficial interest in (an idea, activity, or movement) without committing oneself to it seriously.
I have several qualms with the “innocent” idea that babies are flirting.
First, flirting implies a romantic overture. Clearly, this is out of the realm of babies’ developmentally capabilities or interests.
Second, flirting is defined as creating a superficial interest or connection.
Adults know plenty about superficial connections. We’ve been taught to erect walls, and strategically vary the way we present ourselves to increase the likelihood of getting what we want. Some like to say babies are manipulative, but in fact, by the time we’ve reached adulthood, most adults are master manipulators.
Babies, on the other hand, are beautifully untainted. By learning from them, we can regain some of our innocence, some of our original beauty.
When babies create a connection with another person, it is intentional and inspirational. They open themselves entirely to the interaction, smiling widely to elicit joy and establish a connection with the other person. Any one of us can attest – when we’re engaged by a smiling baby, we’re flooded with appreciation and love.
Babies are our teachers. They can help us let go of the superficial layers we’ve collected in the long years of our lives. They can show us how to open up and show the love that lies at our very core. One of the ways they teach this vital lesson is by reaching out and grabbing our hearts with a dazzling smile.
I’d argue that what babies do in restaurants has nothing to do with flirting. It is an intentional act, and it reflects a sincere interest in connecting with the truest self of the person they’ve engaged.
I’d also like to propose that we rename this beautiful act that babies do. Ascribing a more accurate name is another step to reclaim babies’ value in public perception. Some of my thoughts: Connecting. Engaging. Shining. Dazzling.
Please share your thoughts and ideas!