Friendly or Flirting? How to Interpret Modern Mixed Messages

Discerning romantic interest within contemporary methods of communication.

Posted Oct 04, 2019

Image by InstagramFOTOGRAFIN from Pixabay
Source: Image by InstagramFOTOGRAFIN from Pixabay

For many couples, friendship forms a solid foundation on which to build a deeper connection. But taking a relationship to the next level requires a meeting of the minds, which, especially in the modern age of electronic communication, is complicated with mixed messaging.  

The nature of modern interaction adds a layer of ambiguity to the communication challenge. Without the types of in-person contextual cues we use to attribute meaning to words, it can be difficult to fully comprehend the sentiment expressed electronically. And with particular relevance to discerning romantic feelings versus friendship, a click on the wrong emotion can completely change the meaning of a message. 

Thankfully, we do still meet in person, which affords the best cues as to what your potential future significant other is thinking. And in a scenario where you cannot hear your phone buzzing or beeping anyway, there are still good-old-fashioned attentional cues to consider. 

Your Body, Your Brain, or the Ballgame?

A woman on a date is attuned to her partner´s focus. Is it on her mind, her body, or the ballgame on a television set behind her? If suggesting having dinner at a sports bar is not a clue in itself, traditional wisdom indicates that a dining partner whose eyes are riveted on the big game is more interested in the football score than scoring personality points with his dining partner. He probably does not really see himself on a date to begin with, and if he does, there certainly will not be another.

But in an era where couples meet up as a party of four—two persons, two smart phones, often placed visibly on the table between them—how do you really know when divided attention signals disinterest?  The answer is often best understood in context.  

Modern Social Circles

Unlike in generations past when social groups were largely geographical, modern relational partners come with ready-made social groups, both on and offline. Many people have good friends and confidants—whom they have never seen in person—to whom they are comfortable sharing intimate information

Many prospective partners have already examined this social network; on a site like Facebook, interests, values, and experiences are on full display, along with an easy to view list of those who validate the activity of other users by liking or loving posts. Posters themselves take note of how many likes they receive depending on what they share, and of course, who is following their activity. This examination involves both quality and quantity when a poster is gauging the potential romantic interest of a good friend. 

Facebook Official v. Officially Single

For established couples, going “Facebook official” is a way to formalize a relationship.[i]  No longer just “hanging out,” facing the virtual world as a unified duo is an important indicator regarding the seriousness and significance of a dating relationship.

But if you are just beginning a dating relationship, how do you interpret a partner´s desire to continue to broaden his or her social circle?  Social creatures that we are, online social expansion does not necessarily mean your partner is on the hunt for a new relationship. Particularly within relationships that are already Facebook Official, it might be an effort to expand your social connections as a couple. 

How can you be sure? Take note of what type of company your partner is seeking. A desire to pursue online business relationships, such as through LinkedIn, or attend live networking events often signifies desired professional expansion. On the other hand, looking up and reconnecting with old friends, or searching out new ones, in the absence of a business connection, may indeed indicate a desire to explore relational alternatives.  

The same rationale applies if you are gauging the possible romantic interest of a good friend with whom you would like to explore building on your solid but platonic foundation. Social expansion, whether online or off, reveals professional goals as well as personal preferences. However, a current friend who puts the two of you out there as a package deal, particularly in a social context, might be considering the same possibilities that you are, regarding embarking on a more significant relationship. 

Attention Reveals Interest

The bottom line is that regardless of the way we choose to communicate, online or off, undivided attention is always an indicator of interest. Someone who chooses to leave their device in the car so as not to distract from spending quality time with you is transmitting their interest in a way that is loud and clear. 

Similarly, someone with whom you already share a healthy friendship—in other words, not a stalker—and who also follows your activity online, is potentially expressing interest in learning more about the things that matter most to you. In any friendship, authentic attention reveals interest, and in many cases, potentially an interest in something more.


[i]The Relationship Benefits of Going “Facebook Official”