12/01/2011 01:33 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2012

Memo to Single Men: Man Up or Shut Up

A few weeks ago, I got a random Facebook message from an attractive man I know. I was excited for approximately three seconds before feeling, instead, furious.

Would I go out with this man if he asked me? Yes. Would I go out of my way to ask him out? No. (I'm hibernating, remember?) Do I have time to exchange trivial, mildly amusing flirtations on Facebook? No. Will I do it anyway? Of course.

Hence, the fury: I do not have the time, these days, to indulge such ambiguously flirtations banter: banter that may or may not lead anywhere. (Besides, of course, more mildly amusing, ambiguously flirtatious banter.)

And yet, I cannot help myself. Who, after all, doesn't enjoy flirting? (Many people, I've heard. Many people who have about as much in common with me as that land-walking octopus in the epically boring Youtube video my brother made me watch. Can we agree, not only that the video is unwatchable, but that the thing looks startlingly like a hippo?)

Flirting is fun. Once, I actually caught myself flirting with my cousin. (In my defense: he's my second cousin, or first cousin once removed -- does anyone know the difference? And, obviously, I would never do anything about it.)

And that's just the thing: when you're flirting with your cousin, you don't expect it to lead anywhere. You're just doing it because both of you are flirtatious and drinking martinis and the only other people available to talk to are over eighty and can't hear very well.

But when it's someone with whom there might actually be potential -- when both parties are young and attractive and single, and not, so far as anyone knows, related by blood -- I get annoyed pretty quick. If you intend to ask me out, please: go for it. Man up. But if you're not? Just leave me alone. Stop sending me messages and go look at your ex's vacation photos. In other words: man up, or shut up.

This syndrome comes in varying degrees.

On the extreme end: a friend of mine once had a highly romantic tryst in an obscure Eastern European country, where she was vacationing for a weekend. The guy she was with told her he wanted to have her babies. She started crying.

"Elizabeth!" she moaned to me over Skype. "You just cannot say something like that to a 31-year old woman! I am in the prime of my fertility!"

In other words: of course she wants children. Of course she would want this man, potentially, to be a partner to have them with. But under those circumstances, it clearly wasn't going to happen. She knew he had no intention of following through with those words. How could he say something like that without sincerity? We are fragile creatures! The emotional turbulence simply wasn't worth the flattery.

Less extreme: a guy I've known for a while, a guy who habitually treats women like shit, and to whom, of course, I have long been attracted, recently, drunkenly, felt inclined to profess all the reasons that he and I cannot be together in spite of our (apparently, mutual) attraction.

Same thing: flattered for about a minute before pure anger set in. Why say this to me? What is the point of setting me off on a tear of neurotic emotional confusion? You think I'm hot? Great: let's try and date. You can't handle dating me, for whatever reason? Fine. Keep it to yourself.

Man up, fellas, or just keep your mouths shut.