Mixed signals are the bane of the dating scene. Navigating that cloudy space between the first date and the âwhat are we?â conversation is like crawling through uncharted territory full of words and actions that donât quite add up. Like, the person youâre dating hasnât responded to your last text, but they just watched your Instagram story. WTH does that even mean?
People aren’t perfect at expressing what they mean or need, especially in dating. You donât know how the other person communicates â heck, you might still need to get a handle on howÂ youÂ communicate. True feelings and intentions are bound to get lost in translation. Then add contradictions (like leaving you on read for days, then asking about your week) to the mix, and no wonder you’re left feeling confused, disheartened, and insecure. At the end of the day, the question is: Should you stick it out or move on to the next?
âMixed signals are negative signals in disguise,â says marriage and couples therapistÂ Dr Marni Feuerman, author ofÂ Ghosted and Breadcrumbed, Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart About Healthy Relationships. âUltimately, the antidote is to pay attention to the actions more than the words.â Deciphering mixed messages is a long game of âthey love me, they love me notâ…and no one has time for that ish.
So why do people give off mixed signals?
Keep in mind, youâre not to blame for being on the receiving end of confusing messages. It just means the other person has a lot to straighten out, and the mess affects you. Mixed signals can simply be a miscommunication â or they can be an excuse to hold you at arm’s length because they donât want to commit (or make you believe that they are ready to).
âUsually, itâs used to create distance,â Feuerman says. âItâs a way to say, âIâm not totally sure I am into your or not.â Or, âIâm not sure if we want the same thing here.â Either way, mixed signals can be used toÂ slow down the paceÂ of the relationship without actually talking about it. (Cue eyeroll.)
Before you tap that unfollow button, a quick disclaimer: âEveryoneâs experience is different,â says Alysha Jeney, a relationship therapist and founder ofÂ Modern Love Counseling. Mixed signals can definitely mean that the other person isnât going all in on you, but thatâs not the only answer at play.
Often, those who give off mixed signals have avoidantÂ attachment styles, a learned coping strategy where the person shies away from closeness and intimacy because it makes them uncomfortable. (There’s more to this, but that’s a whole ‘nother story, for another time.)
They might âappear super interested in you, but then engage in sabotaging behaviour that causes emotional or physical distance,â saysÂ Samantha Burns, dating coach and author ofÂ Done with Dating: 7 Steps to Finding Your Person. It’s up to you if you want to try to see it through with an avoidant type â not saying hard pass, but it will definitely take some patience and emotional energy on your end to ever break through their wall.
Now that you know what could be behind all those mixed messages…
These are the 8 most common mixed signals to look out for, to save yourselfÂ a lotÂ of headache:
1. You donât get that call when you expect to.
Who hasn’t sat on their couch waiting for that almost-special someone to respond to plans or a meme you sent hours ago. Sure, the other person might be tied up at work, but if time goes on and on, youâre allowed to feel a little off about it. Maybe they donât follow up days after a great date, or they only text you when itâs convenient for them. Itâs shorthand for theyâre not totally invested in you.
2. You see post-breakup behaviour.
If the other person has you, what use would they have for talking with an ex? Talk about a mixed signal. Itâs one thing if they’re seeking closure or they are real friends, but itâs another if it seems like they use the connection as a lifeline (read:Â get back together) in case things donât work out between you two.
3. They say they canât wait to see you again but are âtoo busyâ to make plans.
Itâs 2019. Weâre all busy. Juggling priorities is complicated AF, but if they want to spend time with you, theyâll make it happen. âIf they arenât in a place in their life where theyâre able to prioritize a relationship,â Burns says, âthey may not be able to give you a commitment, no matter how well you get along or how much chemistry there is.â So sorry, but better learn that now than later, amirite?
4. He creeps your Instagram stories.
Ever refresh the ‘gram waiting for a specific person to double tap your thirst trap? Been there, done that. Analyzing social media engagement (sounds so romantic, right?) sometimes feels like a crystal ball. If someone watches your stories soon after you post them, it has to mean you pop up early in their list and they’re interested enough to tap on it (or at the very least, enough to not stop the stories from rolling on). They commented on that apple-picking pic you just posted with a fire emoji? Itâs a tell-tale sign, especially when youâre waiting for it.
But then, thatâs it. They doesnât respond to your DM when you thought a story was directed at you, or you see them post at home when they said they were too busy to see you. Or they DM about your stories but rarely respond when you DM to theirs.
Here’s the hard truth: If they donât make an effort to be more than a number on your IG page, you mightâve played yourself. âAt the end of the day, if youâre left confused about someoneâs intentions,â Burns says, âthey probably arenât that into you.â
5. They wonât open up, but they expect you to.
A successful relationship requires an emotional connection, and being vulnerable is key to building a path toward that. If youâre the only one expressing your true self, whatâs the other person hiding or holding back?
6. He flirts with other people.
This mixed signal brings to mind the conversation Demi fromÂ Bachelor in ParadiseÂ had with her girlfriend, Kristian, who was being a little too friendly with the other ladies on the island. Demi didnât know if it was because she didnât give enough attention to Kristian, or if thatâs just who she was.
Itâs confusing to know if someone is actually interested in you or wants you around in case other options donât work out. When you bring it up, see if theyâre defensive (a sign to leave) or if they try understand where youâre coming from. They might not be ready for exclusivity, but if they’re really into you, they shouldn’t have an issue toning down any behaviours that make you truly uncomfortable.
7. You still havenât had the âwhat are we?â conversation.
TheÂ transition from dating to being exclusiveÂ is, uh, a trip. Just when you think things are progressing, they dodge any conversation that approaches commitment, or worse, ghost you for a while. Burns says to watch out for noncommittal responses when you ask to hang out again, like âthat sounds funâ without throwing out a real time. If youâre the only one reaching out, you could be more interested in them than they are in you.
8. They wonât show affection in public but has no problem doing so when you’re alone.
I’m not talking “they wonât make out with me on the side of this building, so they must not like me.â Sometimes it can take a minute to get comfortable enough in the relationship to be that open about it, but not acting like you’re together at all in public can also make you feel like the person is hot and cold…or doesnât want to be seen with you.
Burns says the sign someone is truly interested in you is when their actions match their words. âIf they tell you theyâre really enjoying getting to know you, or that they miss you, make sure theyâre actually making plans with you, introducing you to important people in their lives, and making you a priority,â she says. Sounds simple enough…so where are these people?
This article was originally published on Sex & Relationship.