Cyber-flirting: playing at love on the internet

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54 Citations (Scopus)


While there exists some research on offline flirting, there is currently little in the way of conceptual theory or empirical research on flirting in cyberspace. This paper attempts to help redress this balance. The paper initially presents a summary of the behaviour of offline flirting and particularly identifies what constitutes offline flirting signals. Given this background context, suggestions are made as to how we might better conceptualize online flirting. The prevailing wisdom has been that we should focus on the absence of the body in cyberspace. This view is challenged here. Instead, it is argued that researchers should re-orient their focus to how the body is reconstructed online. Winnicott's notions of ‘potential space’ and ‘transitional objects’ are drawn upon in this paper to advance an argument that online flirting should be considered as a form of play. In making this argument, it is contended that online flirting has unique aspects in comparison to offline flirting. In particular, while realistic elements are present in online flirting, there is a blurring between what is reality and fantasy when one engages in flirtatious behaviour on the Internet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-357
Number of pages19
JournalTheory & Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • cyberspace
  • flirting
  • Internet
  • online relationships
  • play
  • psychoanalytic
  • Winnicott

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