A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I were visiting a local shop. While my partner was along for the ride, I was the one who wanted to shop there. After a brief conversation, getting more information from the shop employee, and making my purchase, we left the shop to head home.

“They were totally checking you out!” my partner said with a laugh as we walked toward the bus.

I sputtered. “Wh-what? Really? Like checking me out checking me out?”

“Yeah, really. It’s a thing.”

I pondered this for a while. It’s not the first time someone has pointed out to me that someone else is flirting with me, checking me out, or otherwise romantically interested. Perhaps because I don’t intentionally flirt with others, I find it incredibly bizarre that anyone else would view me that way.

Not long after my husband and I separated, I spoke to a counselor about some tangentially related things. I remember addressing some deep-seated fear of romantic relationships, because I don’t flirt, and don’t conceptualize how a romantic relationship can just spring out of two people meeting each other and vaguely being interested. The counselor seemed very convinced that casual flirtations and hookup culture were foreign concepts to me because I didn’t get the visual context of staring at a guy across a crowded bar or dance floor.

But that never seemed right to me. Even in situations where I should have picked up subtexts of flirtation and romanticism – phone chats, conversational volleys, summer camps where tons of relationships flourished – I never noticed any of that. When watching a movie or reading a book, where I was supposed to intellectually understand how or why the main leads were going to end up as a couple, it almost always seemed to come out of nowhere. Like, you hated his guts and then decided they were hot stuff because they made eyes at you and it’s all okay now?

It’s an alien concept to me, and yet it seems so ubiquitous. Before my relationship with my partner began, we were friends. I remember telling him that I didn’t understand flirting. I remember saying something like “If you’re going to flirt with me, you’re gonna have to make it REALLY obvious. You might even have to say something along the lines of, ‘hey… I’m trying to flirt with you.'”

But there’s hope for me yet. Not long ago I was on a work-related phone call. I don’t remember the entire conversation, but for a minute or two the banter was friendly and kind of fun. I hung up the phone, only for the thought to pop into my head… “Wait, was he flirting?”

I’ll never know. And maybe I’ll never get this flirting thing all right. And maybe… that’s OK.