I am looking for terms in the Japanese language which can describe the act of flirting in a positive light. This probably requires inventing terms to close a lexical gap, because as far as I know, all terms that are related to flirting in Japanese carry a negative connotation.
"Flirting" has a couple of meanings in English. However, here I am speaking specifically about flirting in the sense of when a person shows their attraction to another person. It's a deliberate act, and can range from covert to overt.
The thing is, where I come from, flirting generally is seen as a playful, positive thing. It is flattering to the recipient. It is also can be considered harmless, in that it might be that the person doing it does not necessarily intend to seduce the other, but that they want to test the limits of their attractiveness by provoking a small response.
The only time flirting is negative in English is when a larger context makes it so. If a person flirts with a third person while in a committed relationship, the action of flirting itself is not what defines it as negative, it's that the committed relationship comes with an implication of promises that are being broken.
In Japanese, however, all the terms I know of that approximate the act of flirting tend toward the negative.
浮気する【うわきする】 is all about cheating, so this is clearly the dark side of flirting.
ナンパする I would translate as "to hit on," and it is clearly much more aggressive than "flirting". With
ナンパ one necessarily has the goal of seducing the other. The feeling of the word to me is of a meat-market night club, although I know it can be used in much more mild and neutral circumstances.
いちゃつく might be the most mild, and therefor the closest to the English. However, it does seem a bit cutesy, like a child's view on flirting ("... sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g..."). Also seems almost entirely on the overt end of flirting, in that it is more like a public display of affection, like kissing and holding, than it would imply any clever or subtle behaviour or words.
In essence, I want to convey the idea of being at play with showing and getting signals of attraction without it necessarily taking on an aggressive sexuality. Flirting can be a sophisticated interaction between adults.
Is there a way to convey flirting in the positive light I am describing?
Is there a way to say "I'm not really hitting on you, I'm just flirting." Something like: