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The Real Lessons of Adam Levine’s Cringey Texts

Gen Xers aren’t too old to flirt, but know your medium

Adam Levine photo with animated icons of hearts and fire over the photo
The Arrow/Getty Images

You’ve likely heard all the details of the Adam Levine scandal by now but, if not, here’s the short version: The Maroon 5 lead singer, who’s married and has a third kid on the way, was caught flirting with half a dozen women who aren’t his wife. And he did it all by text or Instagram DM.

It’s easy to laugh at the awfulness of his come-ons. “I may need to see the booty,” the 43-year-old wrote to one woman. He told another that he wanted to buy her butt “a steak dinner and whisper sweet nothings into it.”

I’m not surprised that a dude in his 40s wanted to flirt with someone who wasn’t his wife. But I am surprised that, as a Gen Xer, he thought he could pull it off via text.  

Remember a few years ago when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, then 54 years old, texted to a woman not his wife: “I love you, alive girl. I will show you with my body, and my lips and my eyes, very soon.”

He’s one of the richest people alive, and even he can’t compose a sexy text that doesn’t sound like a 13-year-old boy programmed a computer to talk to girls.

When it comes to flirting, technology is not our friend. If a Gen Xer who was voted People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” can’t pull off a flirty text without looking like an absolute doofus, what chance do the rest of us have? 

I know people in their 20s who communicate almost entirely in texts and social media DMs. It’s what chatting up a stranger in a bar was in the ’90s or, God forbid, lighting their cigarette. For their generation, flirt-texting comes naturally. But for guys like Adam (or any of us) who came of age in a time when flirting happened face to face, we’re out of our element. It’s like we’re trying to talk in double entendres in a language that’s not our own. 

Flirting with an attractive stranger isn’t a clear relationship no-no. It can add a little spice and excitement, allowing you to exercise some of the verbal dexterity that isn’t called for as often in a long-term relationship. And as long as you aren’t a creep, it can be healthy and even fun. 

I am completely aware that a cute verbal exchange with an attractive woman I meet standing in line at Trader Joe’s isn’t something worth destroying my marriage over. But still, being able to pull off that interaction in person can make my afternoon, if not my entire week. 

So why is flirting in person so breezy, and text-flirting so fraught with peril? It’s not that texting is difficult; just the opposite. The thing that makes texting dangerous is how easy it is. Flirting in person, you have to hear the words coming out of your mouth, and see her reaction in real time. With texting, you can write anything and if it sounds good in your head, you just hit Send.

One editor friend, when giving me an assignment, confessed that he once sent a flirty text to his wife before an anniversary dinner. “I texted her, ‘Get those boobs ready,’” he told me. “What does that even mean? Like, put them on ice or something? Did I think I was being cute or sexy? What a moron!”

Can we get better at text-flirting? Maybe. But when we interviewed nearly two dozen women on what texts from their partners actually worked, guess what we got? Bupkis. Nada. Not one of them said, “This text made me swoon.”

That’s the ultimate lesson of Adam Levine. He’s the Gen X canary in a coal mine. And fellas, that canary is dead.

It’s okay to flirt. With your wife, with the girl in line at Trader Joe’s, whoever. But, as we say to angry toddlers, “Use your words.” Remember how you persuaded your wife or partner to fall in love with you in the first place? It was probably something you said right to her face. 

And it probably wasn’t, “Get those boobs ready.”