Mixed signals are the bane of the dating scene. Navigating that cloudy space between the first date and the what are we? conversation is like crawling through uncharted territory full of words and actions that dont quite add up. Like, the person youre dating hasnt 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 dont know how the other person communicatesheck, you might still need to get a handle on how you 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?
Mixed signals are negative signals in disguise.
Mixed signals are negative signals in disguise, says marriage and couples therapist , PsyD, author of Ghosted and Breadcrumbed, Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart About Healthy Relationships . Ultimately, the antidote is to pay attention to the actions more than the words. Deciphering mixed messages is a long game of they love me, they love me not…and no one has time for that ish.
So why do people give off mixed signals?
Keep in mind, youre 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 miscommunicationor they can be an excuse to hold you at arm’s length because they dont want to commit (or make you believe that they are ready to).
Usually, its used to create distance, Feuerman says. Its a way to say, Im not totally sure I am into your or not. Or, Im not sure if we want the same thing here. Either way, mixed signals can be used to slow down the pace of the relationship without actually talking about it. (Cue eyeroll.)
Before you tap that unfollow button, a quick disclaimer: Everyones experience is different, says Alysha Jeney, MA, LMFT, relationship therapist and founder of . Mixed signals can definitely mean that the other person isnt going all in on you, but thats not the only answer at play.
Often, those who give off mixed signals have avoidant 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 appear super interested in you, but then engage in sabotaging behavior that causes emotional or physical distance, says , dating coach and author of 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 typenot 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 yourself a lot of headache:
1. You dont 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, youre allowed to feel a little off about it. Maybe they dont follow up days after a great date, or they only text you when its convenient for them. Its shorthand for theyre not totally invested in you.
2. You see post-breakup behavior.
If the other person has you, what use would they have for talking with an ex? Talk about a mixed signal. Its one thing if they’re seeking closure or they are real friends, but its another if it seems like they use the connection as a lifeline (read: get back together ) in case things dont work out between you two.
3. They say they cant wait to see you again but are too busy to make plans.
Its 2019. Were all busy. Juggling priorities is complicated AF, but if they want to spend time with you, theyll make it happen. If they arent in a place in their life where theyre able to prioritize a relationship, Burns says, they may not be able to give you a commitment, no matter how well you get along or how much chemistry there is. 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? Its a tell-tale sign, especially when youre waiting for it. But then, thats it. They doesnt 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.
\”At the end of the day, if youre left confused about someones intentions, they probably aren\’t that into you.\”
Here’s the hard truth: If they dont make an effort to be more than a number on your IG page, you mightve played yourself. At the end of the day, if youre left confused about someones intentions, Burns says, they probably arent that into you.
5. They wont 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 youre the only one expressing your true self, whats the other person hiding or holding back?
6. He flirts with other people.
This mixed signal brings to mind the conversation Demi from Bachelor in Paradise had with her girlfriend, Kristian, who was being a little too friendly with the other ladies on the island. Demi didnt know if it was because she didnt give enough attention to Kristian, or if thats just who she was.
Its confusing to know if someone is actually interested in you or wants you around in case other options dont work out. When you bring it up, see if theyre defensive (a sign to leave) or if they try understand where youre 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 behaviors that make you truly uncomfortable.
7. You still havent had the what are we? conversation.
The transition from dating to being exclusive 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 that sounds fun without throwing out a real time. If youre the only one reaching out, you could be more interested in them than they are in you.
8. They wont show affection in public but has no problem doing so when you’re alone.
I’m not talking “they wont make out with me on the side of this building, so they must not like me. 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 doesnt want to be seen with you.
Burns says the sign someone is truly interested in you is when their actions match their words. If they tell you theyre really enjoying getting to know you, or that they miss you, make sure theyre actually making plans with you, introducing you to important people in their lives, and making you a priority, she says. Sounds simple enough…so where are these people?
It’s not just memodern dating is the worst. Here’s how to make sense of it:
Should you stop dating someone who’s giving you mixed signals?
Ah, the ultimate question. Here’s the expert advice: Let the other person settle into the thing you have going, but dont wait around or cut them slack every time they give you a mixed signal. Investing time and energy in someone who doesnt return the emotional favor is asking for heartache.
We know that those who dont directly communicate their thoughts and feelings might be self-absorbed, lacking empathy, or immature, Feuerman says. (Oof. Those are three words you dont want to use to describe a potential partner.)
When the mixed signals become too muchi.e., you’re feeling abnormally anxious or unsettled, to a point that it’s legit affecting your headspacespeak up about how it makes you feel, figure out where the messages are coming from and make your decision, Feuerman and Jeney suggest. If it helps to give yourself a deadline before initiating a convo about it, do that (but stick to it).
I know its scary, but you have actually nothing to lose if this person isnt interested anyway, she says. You may, however, have a lot to gain. Sometimes we just need that opening to confront our own feelings head-on. I’m not going to sugarcoat itclarity can suck, particularly when you get an answer you were hoping not to get, but theres no fun in wasting your emotional energy on someone who hasn’t earned it. Not to mention, overthinking and reading into every little text and signal is exhausting, if not destructive.
Be brave enough to confront their behavior and ask what it means, Feuerman says. Its okay to express how you feel about the way you are being treated. If anything, that shows someone that you know your worth and aren’t going to stand to be treated for less than you deserve. To the right person , that will be sexyand make them want to step up, because you’re too good to lose. (You ARE.)
If the person acts the same after you bring up the conversation, it may be your cue to exit, since they may not be capable of meeting you halfway, Jeney says. By all means, feel the feelsbut this isn’t a moment to self-doubt or self-loathe, or feel resentment toward them. This is an opportunity to “honor your desires for a relationship,” Burns says. “Walk away with your head held high, and be proud that you’re prioritizing yourself.”
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