How to Deal With Mixed Signals

The world is full of books and articles about how to interpret communication from the opposite sex as though men and women were a species unto themselves and unable to extrapolate meaning and sense from emotions and verbal expression. We are not a separate species however. We are all human beings with the same basic needs and mechanisms for communication.

So Why Do We Get Mixed Signals?

It’s important to understand that mixed signals start with mixed intentions. If someone is very clear about how they feel about you they are likely to send you a very direct communication aren’t they? They aren’t going to risk having you misinterpret the meaning if starting or building a relationship with you is something that they actually want to achieve. If they want the relationship to be successful they will invest themselves in learning how to communicate with you in a very direct way. One of the great benefits of relationships is that with time and learning, the communication is enhanced between the man and woman and the possibility of misunderstanding is lowered because the skill has been honed over years of familiarity with the other person.

However singles are not as lucky. They are thrust out into the dating world trying to interpret the signals of other single people. These people are essentially strangers and yet it is never more important than in the introductory phase to interpret signals correctly. Is someone single? Look for the signs. How do they present themselves? Is someone fun? What evidence are they showing that they are pleasant to be around? Is someone interested? If you get that signal wrong then you are guaranteed to have that awkward moment of rejection and no one really wants that.

Deliberate Mixed Signals

Mixed signals can also be sent deliberately which makes matters even more complicated. A girl might send you the signal from across the room that she is really interested. As you move closer to her the signals may become more vague. She might even ignore you slightly or pay more attention to another guy, leaving you wondering if you entirely misread her intentions. Who would blame you? But the reality is that human beings will deliberately mix up the signals in an effort to look cool, suave and disinterested. It is less appealing to be an overly enthusiastic single person who appears to be excited to meet you. That might come across the communication channel as overly desperate which doesn’t exactly make a great first impression.

Men often comment that women say one thing and mean another. The same can be said for our body language which women use consistently to cloud communication with men. Men prefer and adopt the direct approach. Rarely does a man say or do opposite to his intentions but women frequently do. The reason is simple. A woman that appears to be an “easy catch” is less desirable than a woman that appears to be difficult to acquire. Men love a challenge and the thrill of the hunt, and so a woman that presents as being aloof or disinterested is ten times more likely to get the attention of all men in the room than the exuberant “eager to please” type of girl next to her. And what is funny is that the more attracted we are to a man, the less likely we are to show it in the beginning. Our sympathies to men!


Women are also insecure. This is an entirely undisputable fact of the nature of the gender. Women are risk adverse for the most part and by sending mixed signals they want the man to demonstrate his level of interest. Dating is risky business and there is always the potential of physical or emotional harm that can happen if you misjudge a person’s intentions. By sending mixed signals and essentially making a man “work” for her attention the female is establishing that she is a quality individual that is worth the effort to get to know. It establishes a certain expectation right from the start that she intends to be treated well and that it is the guys job to do so.

Mixed Signals From Men

While men tend to be more direct they are definitely not without their fair share of sending mixed signals to the opposite sex. When they are young they will engage in attention seeking behavior even going so far as to almost bully a girl they are interested in to garner her attention. They may rough house and demonstrate other acts of male dominance and strong attributes around her. They may even flirt with other girls in front of her to try to ferret out her level of interest in him by demonstrating he could have “other girls” too if he wanted. By no means immune to the crime of deliberately sending mixed signals, males are definitely less subtle about it.

So How Should We Deal With Mixed Signals?

For both sexes dealing with mixed signals is a skill that that must be mastered. Consider some factor when you begin to receive mixed signals. Where are you exactly? Who is around at the moment? The environment has a big influence on the type of mixed signals that are sent and the reasons that they are being sent in the first place. A competitive environment for singles is a club or party where there is a proliferation of other options. Sending mixed signals for a man in a crowded social setting would look like rough housing or perhaps carrying on in a loud and boisterous way. He can’t exactly wave a red flag that says “Hey, I’m here!” without losing cool points so creating a diversion is a great way for him to get all eyes on him fast.

For girls this looks more like grooming or preening. She may play with her hair or lounge out with her friends in a casual pose that makes her look approachable. Of course if she is approached she may adopt a look of disdain. She is selective and she wants all eligible men to know that. But she always wants to be noticed and so her actions will be deliberately aimed at attention getting.

A mixed signal that might be misinterpreted is a woman that moves away from her friends or boyfriend in a social setting. It might appear on the onset that she is looking to meet someone new, breaking away from the herd so to speak in order to create an opportunity for someone new to come up and introduce himself right? Wrong. It’s more likely that she is upset with one of her friends and establishing that she “doesn’t need them” to have a good time or in the case of an argument with her boyfriend, she is moving off his geographic radar in the hopes that he will pursue. Tricky business!

It would be far better if people demonstrated more confidence and decisiveness in their actions and body language and avoided misfiring signals. But then again perhaps the peril of it adds to some of the excitement of the “hunt” and builds intrigue for male and female relationships. If we always knew what the other person was thinking or what they meant by a certain action it would be a lot less fun wouldn’t it?

1 Comment

  1. Intriguingly eloquent.

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