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My married (not to each other) friends won't stop flirting

The question

In my large group of close friends, there are two married (not to each other) individuals who are constantly flirting with each other. This occurs to the point where everyone is suspicious - including their spouses - and more often than not, results in some kind of needless drama. Both couples continue to bicker, deny and ultimately ignore the situation. Some friends who have grown weary of the situation have stopped extending invites. Personally, I don't feel that I've gotten to that point, but I do wonder what my course of action should be.

The answer

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I'm not opposed to extramarital flirtation per se.

But there are two types: "flirting with intent," and flirting to see if you still got "it."

What is "it"? "It" is the knowledge you are attractive, or at least not invisible, to the opposite sex. But "it" is so much more. "It" is about connection, subterranean subtext, words unspoken. That endorphin/serotonin-injected rush of mutual attraction. The magical moment when you realize that the person you're secretly attracted to is also secretly attracted to you.

What a rush! What a buzz! It's like a drug. And, like a drug, "it" can be hard to kick.

There are even a few sad, misguided souls capable of sinking to farcical depths to convince not only themselves, but the people around them, that they've still got "it."

Recently, for example, walking with my 14-year-old son Nick, I bumped into a friend of mine, an actress who just happens to be a platinum-blond bombshell of such kilowattage that she's been cast to play Marilyn Monroe in a coming movie.

Later, watching TV, an evil scheme began to percolate in my cranial cavity. I turned to Nick, who's something of an aspiring thespian himself: "Hey Nick, I'll give you five bucks if you go upstairs and tell your mother, in really sorrowful tones, we bumped into [Marilyn Monroe]and she was acting flirtatious and, like, she had the hots for me."

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"Dad, I'm not doing that …"

"Come on, it'll be funny." I pulled out a fiver and waved it at him. "Think of it as your first paid acting gig."

After a couple moments, he snatched the bill (Good boy! "People don't turn down money: it's what separates us from the animals," as Jerry Seinfeld says) and went upstairs and into his act.

My wife's mild response: "Well, your dad'll be happy to hear that." Then, when Nick broke character and snickered: "Hey, wait a second!"

And I, tragicomic, commedia dell'arte pantaloon-esque figure that I am, was just happy she believed it was actually possible, for 0.75 of a second.

When you get married, you lay so much of "it" at your spouse's feet. Is it so bad if, from time to time, people engage in a little harmless flirtation to see if we still got "it"?

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It's true, too, though, that "harmless flirtation" can be a dangerous game. One that can edge - quite quickly, sometimes even suddenly - through various shades of moral grey and become its darker cousin, "flirting with intent."

Next thing you know you're having drinks with the buxom new intern at the office, telling her your relationship with your wife is "complicated" (my favourite cheese-ball gambit), and suggesting you continue the discussion over a little room service.

Gauging from your level of discomfort, sounds like your friends are engaged in this latter type of flirtation, and making a bit of a spectacle of themselves at it, to boot.

On the other hand, maybe they're just having fun, engaging in a little harmless byplay to pass the time and feel alive again.

Only their bellhop knows for sure. Either way, I'm not convinced it's appropriate for you or anyone else in your social circle to do anything.

If you're really good friends with one or the other of them, and you seriously think they are on a train to getting their ticket punched to "the cheating side of town," you could take one of them aside and say, "Hey, I think you're playing with fire here."

But as my wife always reminds me to ask myself whenever I'm contemplating any course of action: "What's the upside, what's the downside?"

Sticking your proboscis into the people's flirtatious behaviour strikes me as all downside. At the very least, you'll be tartly told to mind your own business.

With some justification, it might be said. Nothing's happened! No adultery has been committed, at least as far as you know. You, to this couple, are like a homicide detective who thinks someone might commit a murder. Frustrating though it might be, you can't do anything until a deed has been done.

Even then I'd stay out of it. Anyway, why do you and everyone else in your social circle care so much? Could it be you're jealous and/or envious and/or have too little going on yourselves?

I mean, I understand their frisson is causing friction and generating drama in the midst of your milieu, especially if their spouses are squawking and flapping feathers.

But what is there for you to do about that except rise above it? Anything else comes off as judgmental and interfering. And if you try to get involved you could catch a cap in the crossfire of this emotional shooting-match.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, was released in March.

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