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7 Common Mixed Signals in Dating and Relationships

Don't allow mixed signals to get in the way of your relationship.

Billion Photos/Shutterstock
Source: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

Let’s face it: We, as people, have a difficult time understanding each other, especially when it comes to dating and relationships. Since we see the world through our own unique lenses, based on our story and what we’ve been through, each of us takes in information differently. We’ve all made assumptions and jumped to conclusions. We’ve all exhibited behavior that wasn’t justified. Dating and relationships are hard enough, even with great communication. Misunderstandings cause us to build on sand. Trust becomes difficult to produce and keeps healthy and lasting love at a distance. Mixed signals leave two people reacting to false information. Add to that our ego and fear of being vulnerable, and our dating experience or relationship can go south pretty quickly. When you add to the mix texts, social media, dating apps, and emails, there is even more room to miscommunicate.

Let’s go through some common mixed signals and see if you can relate:

1. Not responding to texts right away means they are no longer interested, or that something went horribly wrong.

I am totally guilty of falling into this trap; I still struggle with it. When we don’t get texts back quickly, our mind starts to race, and we assume the worst. You start to play things back and wonder where the holes were, especially if this person is someone you recently met. Then, of course, you find out the truth: They were in a meeting. They were swamped at work. They forgot their phone today. Their ringer was off. And the panic subsides until down the line, they don’t respond to a different text within your expected time window, or their response time changes, and you spiral downward once again.

It’s not the obvious dropoff that gets our mind spinning. If their response time goes from a few minutes to two days, yeah, something has changed — most likely feelings. And you may not be happy about it, but you get it. Not giving someone an answer is an answer. But when the inconsistencies are subtle, like minutes turning into hours, or the tone and energy changing, it can drive us nuts. It’s the grays that cause us to spin. So what do you do when you notice a slight delay or change in tone? Don’t jump to conclusions until you get all the information. Most likely, you’re pulling from your own insecurities or comparing this person’s response time to others from your past. Be patient: The truth will eventually float to the top.

I have a friend who will engage in lightning-speed text banter for hours, then suddenly go dark and completely ignore a question I asked for days. At first, I was offended (hurt) and questioned our friendship. Without even talking to him or getting the facts, I made a decision to distance myself. I thought if he’s not going to give me as much as I give him, why invest in this? I took it very personally. Then I slowly got used to it and learned that that’s just the way he is. Our relationship in person was great. He’s still the same friend. He’s just an inconsistent texter. So I accepted that and adjusted, and we’re still good friends.

2. If they don’t try to kiss you on the first date, it means they’re not into you.

There are so many reasons why a kiss doesn’t surface on a first date that has nothing to do with you or the chemistry. The person may want to kiss you, but the timing may be off, or the activity doesn’t allow for that moment. For example, if you go hiking during the day on your first date, it’s kinda tough to go in for the kill on a trail. Or your date may be waiting for the perfect moment because they fear rejection. So if the environment makes it awkward, they’re probably not going to force it. Or maybe kissing on the first date just isn’t an option for them; maybe they don’t kiss someone until the third or fourth date. So then it’s more about their patterns and comfort level than it is about you. Then again, the first date may not have ignited fireworks. It may be more of a slow burn; some people don’t feel the attraction until they're a few dates in. So try not to put so much weight on when the kiss lands. It’s not about when it comes; it’s about how it feels.

3. If they don’t show public affection, it means they’re embarrassed about being with you.

Some people just aren’t comfortable showing affection in public. It’s not their style. Or maybe it’s a cultural thing — being Asian, I have never seen my parents show any public affection. Ever. I’m sure part of it has to do with their relationship dynamic. But public affection also just isn’t promoted in their culture. They’re not used to it. But I get it: Not getting affection returned can be hurtful and lead to questions. I’m actually very tactile and do enjoy public affection. But I’ve learned that many others aren’t like me, and so I don’t take it personally. The bottom line is everyone has their own comfort levels, and that may not be tied to how they feel about you.

4. Not wanting to discuss an issue at the time you want means they just don’t care.

I used to believe this; it was the fuel of many unwarranted fights. You see, I’m a talker, and when there’s an issue, I want to talk about it—immediately. It weighs on me if I don’t. And if you don’t want to talk about it, I feel like you don’t care, or that it’s not important to you. But through my relationships, I’ve learned that many people are not wired like me. They may avoid conflict, not because they want to, but maybe they don’t have the tools, or it’s how they’re wired from their upbringing. They may not be used to expressing themselves. Usually, people in this category just need some time. They need to think about their thoughts, so that they can respond instead of just react. Not everyone is wired the same. Today, I believe it’s actually healthy to take some time before tackling an issue. Time makes people less reactive. If someone isn’t ready to talk about an issue when you are, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. That being said, they do have to eventually come back to the issue to discuss it, or they probably are avoiding.

5. If they don’t feel like having sex, it means they are not attracted to you anymore.

You would have had a hard time convincing me in my twenties, but now, at 43, I know that not wanting to have sex doesn’t mean your girlfriend isn’t attracted to you. Not everyone wants to have sex all the time. We have long days that leave us mentally and physically exhausted. We have issues with our bodies. We have anxiety. We get headaches. But so many of us instantly internalize when our partner shies away from our sexual advances. Usually, the first thing we believe is that it’s us, and that they’re not attracted to us anymore. They don’t want to be with us. Or there’s something wrong with the relationship. They’re mad at us. They’re holding on to something. Just find out what the real reason is, and don’t make a big deal out of it if it’s not a big deal. Just not being in the mood is enough of a reason—one day, you won’t be feeling like having sex when your partner wants to. You’ll be consumed with life issues, or maybe you won’t be feeling good about your body, and you will hope your partner understands and doesn’t make it all about him or her.

6. If they’re not ready to say "I love you" when you are, they’re not interested in the relationship anymore.

Many believe that saying “I love you” should come after a certain amount of time in a relationship, so they start saying it when they feel they should, instead of when they actually feel it. Then, when they don’t hear it back, they internalize, thinking it’s them. Or maybe they actually do mean it. Either way, an unreturned “I love you” doesn’t necessarily mean your partner is no longer interested in you. The thing about “I love you” is it means different things to different people. For some, it’s an extremely big deal. They’ve only said it once or twice in their life. For others, it’s an often grasped sign of security. But here’s the bottom line: Would you rather they say it back because they mean it, or because they feel like they have to? Give your partner space, and don’t tie how they feel about you to when they say it. You said it when you meant it; now allow them to say it when they feel the same.

7. If they treat waiters, valets, and others in a service role like garbage but treat you well, it means they’re really a jerk.

No, this one’s true.

Find more ways to relationship and date better here.

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