Ah yes, mixed signals, the bane and x-factor of our collective romantic lives. In this article I will discuss how I feel we can best navigate the treacherous waters of pan-sexual psychology and to come out swinging at the other end.
Before we begin in earnest, however, I feel I should make a distinction between what constitutes a mixed signal, and what isn’t. Where do we draw the line between our innate pattern-seeking tendencies (over-analysis) and a real case of the ol’ hot-and-cold? The answer is that we can’t. Well — why did I mention it in the first place then? Only to make the point that there are no absolutes when it comes to communication, and that this article serves merely as guide, and an opinionated one at that.
Typical mixed signals and their meanings
Almost everyone I speak to claims that there are two distinct cognitive and behavioral languages — “womanese”, and “manese” (if you will). While I agree in principal that there are some differences, not all of our behavior is all that dissimilar. Here are a few examples of mixed signals that I feel bridge the gender divide.
One minute things seem to be progressing nicely, and the next they’re nowhere to be found. What gives? This is extremely common in dating, and often serves three distinct purposes.
- Selection – At a subconscious level, when many of us feel things are going to fast, or the prize is now ours for the taking, we feel the sudden urge to back off. When dating reaches the event horizon of having genuine feelings for the other person, our innate fear of abandonment cuts the trees down to prevent a forest-fire, meaning, our ego attempts to protect itself from hurt by pre-emptively detaching itself from a potential new dependency. Subconsciously, this is a way of filtering out those who we feel aren’t willing to commit.
- Manipulation – When this subconscious process is used as a conscious tool, such as ignoring someone with the goal of making them miss us, it becomes manipulation. A lot of people are aware of how devastating this hot-and-cold process can be and use it as a strategy to gain control of the situation.
- Lack of interest – Or then again, perhaps they simply lost interest and found something else to occupy their time with.
I have refrained from judging these behaviors, but in the case of (1) and (2) we can clearly see they are borne of insecurity. Too many of these kind of behaviors may signal deep-rooted lack of self-esteem or latent emotional trauma — if a pattern of manipulation emerges, you may want to simply dodge the bullet and seek transparency elsewhere.
Many people send mixed signals out of the potent combination of fear and excitement (rejection, elation, feeling overwhelmed, hopeful e.t.c), the lack of clarity is usually the fruit of confusing or conflicting body language. While the rise of fields such as neuro-linguistics have shed a great deal of light on how we behave, and what we are really communicating, many of us have no idea — other than a vague sense of “we really kicked off” or “something didn’t feel quite right”. In most cases this can be corrected with a sprinkling of body-language savoir faire.
Flirting is almost entirely played out with body-language. This “other” language being spoken can spiral negatively if we give off the wrong vibes, without us really understanding why. Let us consider the following scenario. You are dating someone who is usually very touch-feely and engaging. All of a sudden, they appear subdued, passive and distant. Does it mean you’ve shot your chance? Or is something else at play here?
Rapport is defined as a relationship of mutual trust. In body language terms, this means imitation. When you have a connection with someone (picture lovers and best-friends) it is not uncommon to see them act like mirrors of each other physically. In situations such as dating where trust is on thin ice, all it takes is a little body language discrepancy to break this connection. If, for instance, you close your posture (despite being very much into the conversation itself) because of the cold. The other person might equate that with you becoming distant and retreat, thus giving rise to a mixed signal — where they are forward and backward with their engagement.
The only value is face value.
Other quintessential mixed signals include:
- Flaking off an appointment, but offering a future catch-up.
- Offering a friend-zone scenario.
- Sequentially affectionate and formal messages.
- Flattering you but seemingly platonic.
- And on…
Ultimately, we cannot read minds, nor can we know we any certainty how best to approach any situation. The only recourse to mixed signals is to sweep them aside with an iron fist accompanied by a smile. Not only are you drastically increasing your odds of success (strength and independence are two of the most potent attributes of attraction), but you are filtering out those who are merely playing a game of self-absorbed hide and seek.
Falling to mixed signals is self-inflicted folly, in that we are allowing our happiness to be dependent on someone else (if you are reading this because you are clinically curious instead of frustrated by someone’s behavior, ignore that!). Decoding signals becomes child’s play once you simply continue walking, refusing to be affected by doubt and giving self-criticism a swift kick in the figurative groin.
How do we go about decoding mixed signals? Ideally — we ignore the concept entirely and seek actions rather than wordplay. In practice, if you’re anything like me, you bite the bit and fake it as best you can.