I have a very close friend who insists that, lacking stamina, she flirts maybe once, twice a year - and even though not very well. This is lie. She flirts very well indeed, and I should know because on at least one occasion (that she before I knew her), she flirted so proficiently that she ended up with the man I was then dating.

It is always wise to make good flirts your best friends, thereby hopefully ensuring in this era of sisterhood that they will limit their expertise of the men friends of women they do not know or like.

There is no way to provide you with a good definition of flirting; it is possible only to explain what flirting is not.Flirting is not, for instance, necessarily the same thing as making a pass, although it can certainly land you in as much trouble, and in this hasty age one is often confused for the other. Flirting does not have to result in (a) a compliment, (b) a date or (c) the divorce court - although it may get you all three. It is a slow, leisurely process that is unto itself, and very few people know how to do it well.

And absolutely no one knows how to do it well all the time. Try flirting in February, for instance, and see where it gets you no matter how many Valentine's Day cards you insists on sending. The only time flirtations can prove wonderfully successful is in the spring. This being spring, and this being Washington, it is best to start examining the most recent invasionary forve that responds so keenly to climbing temperatures.

Southern men: Who do not know how to flirt well at all, although they try it often in the kind of rowdy but essentially efeatist fashion that marked their efforts during the Civil War. It is for them a half-hearted gesture, generally accompanied by a bottle of Jack Daniels and at least three of their best buddies - both of these there strictly for morale rearmament purposes in case they are snubbed. Both of these also there as an invitation to be snubbed, which they invariably are since opening lines too often allude to some part of your anatomy not generally visible to naked eye.

The opening crudity, however, is not meant to be taken either seriously or literally, lust-in-the-heart being to them what liver complaints are to the French: A malady that offers its victim more status than pain. In fact there is only one known and proven aphrodisiac for the Southern man: William Faulkner. Any reference no matter how casual and fleeting to, say, "The Sound and Fury" is likely to make them faint and desire. "Sanctuary," needless to say, is mentioned entirely at your own risk.

The counterpart to all this - the Southern Belle - is everything the men are not. She is first of all not a myth, or at least not an invalid one; it's just her age-old methods, always potent, have lately been streamlined to fit today's needs. "You so clevah, yew may-ake mah li'l hay-od beuhst," for instance, is no longer considered by them to be an enviable rejoinder; but they manage to leave someone else's husband/date with that impression anyway, which is all that counts. In fact there are only two people the Southern woman will never flirt with in public: her husband or her date.

Northern women who have spent the better part of her lives striving vociferously for financial and spiritual independence will have no way of counteracting these advances, although lighthearted references to the Belle's male relatives and their gun collections do work their own special magic. Especially when the fearful party is a

New Yorker: New Yorkers are very earnest types, men and women alike, and so it is hard to call what they do flirting. Actually, it's more like a pop-quiz. Opening lines are likely to consist of brief queries designed to test the limits of your sophistication.

"Did you see Roth's piece in 'The New York Review of Books'"? is their idea of snappy foreplay. you read only the personal want-ads in that publication or any other are advised against revealing this and/or the astrological sign you were born under. Many New Yorkers have abandoned the what's-your-sign comeon to the Californians who the original copyright on it, anyway, and they do not like to be reminded of what they all did six years ago.

On the other hands, all references to the trials and tribulations of publisher Clay Felker are considered most seductive. Unless, of course, you happen to be talking to Clay Felker. References to any other part of the nation are considered poor form. New Yorkers feel betrayal most keenly, especially since about 50 percent of them have ended up as wholly converted.

Californians: All Californians flirt in what must be called a laid-back fashion. It is their word and their style and - like most things Californian (including EST) hard to describe and so entirely laconic, you don't even know they're doing it.

This is why a lot of people are under the impression that Californians don't flirt, something that couldn't be farther from the truth - it's just that their signals are all mixed up. If for instance a Californian saunters up to you with that glassy-eyed, laid-back look, it could mean one of five things: 1) he or she has just been thinking about Werner Erhard; 2) he or she has just been listening to Barry Manilow; 3) he or she has just been thinking about the Guru Maharaj Ji; 4) he or she has just installed a Jacuzzi in a bathroom carpeted by Astroturf; 5) he or she has decided to flirt with you by bringing up No. 4. "Wow, I just carpeted my bathroom in Astroturf and took a bath in a Jacuzzi," demands only one rejoinder from you: "Heavy." If you can bring yourself to say that you are, like the Californians, golden. If you cannot, if you insist on offering the use of your lawn mower, you are clearly uptight, which is about the worst thing you can be and you would do better flirting with a

Midwesterner: Especially when they come from places like Cedar Rapids or Des Moines, Midwesterners tend to flirt like Adelle Davis warming up to Brewer's yeast. If you light up a cigarette, they stage great coughing spasms and fan the air violently - but say nothing. If you drink something other then unhomogenized goat's milk, they smile politely and inquire solicitously about your liver.

Although pure cane syrup drips from their mouth when they talk about things like the open plains or elm trees or real yoghurt, they have for some reason all moved here to work as oil lobbyists. It would be easy to avoid them, except for one thing. They all look terrific. Flirting with a Midwesterner is enough to make you go home and plant an elm in your living room. On the other hand, they are neither regional nor male chauvinists, which is a lot more than you can say for the French, who persist in the notion that flirting begins and ends with them. Which brings us to the subject of.

Frenchmen: The only good Frenchman is the one who does not correct your accent or get that strangely pained expression when you forget to use the subjunctive after beginning a sentence with "I fear that . . ."

A Frenchman's opening gambit is generally an inquiry: When was the last time you were in France? If you have never been to France, his eyes cloud over and sorrowfully roam the room for someone without your peculiar defect. If, however, you reply that you were, in fact there, you immediately are subjected to the Guide Michelin tour guide quiz: Aren't French tomatoes better than the miserable ones you get here? Why did you spend only four days in Normandy? Don't you know that his wife and his mistress never spend less than two weeks there?

It is maintained with annoying consistancy that Frenchwomen, for their part, do everything perfectly, a facility they never bother to hide when they flirt perfectly. They are charming men; they are kind to ladies. They are, of course, wonderfully clever about clothes, food and conversation, and when they reach a certain age, men call them "handsome" instead of, say, "old," Shrug this off if you like, but keep in mind that Claudine Longet has managed to find herself yet another boyfriend, it is alleged. There is nothing to do about French ladies except to be born one.

There are only two conclusions I have come to about flirting. One is that it can be a very pleasant thing ig someone agreeable is doing it with you or you are doing it with someone agreeable. The other is that is can be a very unpleasant thing if someone agreeable is not doing it with you but with someone else. Under these circumstances it is possible to think that someone else is most disagreeable and so, for that matter, is the person you had originally considered agreeable. It is possible to get, in a word, jealous.

I realize that all of this is paradoxical and quite irrational. i have tried to reconcile the vagaries of flirting with reason and common sense.

I have failed.