How do I read people's interest?
November 2, 2008 5:58 PM   Subscribe

SocialSkillsFilter: How can I become better at reading people, and telling whether or not someone is interested in pursuing a friendship farther?

Some background: I am a male high school senior, fairly shy/nerdy, but in the past year or so, I've opened up and started going to parties and hanging out with more people. I have never had an actual relationship with anyone. I am (I'm pretty sure) good at talking to people, making jokes, causing laughs, smiling, making eye contact, etc.

However, I have great difficulty in reading people. A while back, I started hanging out with one friend a lot more (though not too much outside of school/school activities), we got along really well, lots of laughing, teasing, etc. When I asked her out on a date, it turned out that she wasn't interested at all.

So, how can I become better at telling whether or not someone is interested in pursuing things farther? And (though this may seem really obvious), what is the best way to tell them that I am interested/ask them out?

Sorry if this seems too "peuggh hiiigh schoool," but that's the way it is.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I found this book helpful: The Definitive Book of Body Language.

I also find this principle helpful: "All social interaction should be preceded by other-empathy and self-empathy." Look deeply at the person and feel how they're feeling. Then look into yourself and feel how you're feeling. That's the proper context from which to start any further social decisions.
posted by philosophistry at 6:02 PM on November 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you did anything poorly. In the future, you could try initiating casual physical contact and see how she reacts - for instance, touching her arm or hugging if you aren't the sort to normally do that. It should be a good way to suss out if she is comfortable with you and open to your flirtations.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:26 PM on November 2, 2008

How can I become better at reading people, and telling whether or not someone is interested in pursuing a friendship farther?

By having the willingness to make a lot of mistakes.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:31 PM on November 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

First of all, don't be so hard on yourself. You're in freaking HIGH SCHOOL! I am 33 and I'm just now starting to figure this stuff out. It's hard no matter how old you are, but it gets a little easier with experience.

Ironmouth is right, you will make mistakes and you will be rejected. No way to avoid that no matter who you are. The best advice I've gotten on how to show interest/ask a girl out is:

Don't say "I really like you" or "do you want to go out sometime?" The former is just awkward and hard for her to respond to, and the latter is too vague. Ask her something specific: "do you want to go to this movie/show/game/museum with me next thurs.?" She will almost certainly get the hint that it's a semi-date, and react accordingly. That way she can show interest or lack thereof without it being too embarrassing for either one of you.

Also, don't make the mistake of thinking everyone else is always sure about everything. You know how confused you feel? Well so do all of us. When you ask a girl out, she may not know how to react, might be really surprised, or might need some time to make up her mind about you. Just take it as going to a movie/show/game/museum together, and see what happens. Don't feel like you have to jump into a relationship the very first time you hang out.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:52 PM on November 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

I agree that you probably didn't do anything wrong. The fact that you were rejected might make you feel like you made a mistake, but getting rejected really happens to everyone.

Try to keep your friendship going with this girl. Keep hanging out as before, and then suggest you spend a little time together outside of school, and be clear that means "as friends." Friendships are important, and you shouldn't be afraid to cultivate a friendship because you were interested in the person at one point.

After you get closer, you'll probably be able to ask her about these things. Maybe she'll have advice (based on how you approached her) or have an idea of whom you'd be more compatible with.
posted by monkey85 at 6:57 PM on November 2, 2008

A) Clarification:
whether or not someone is interested in pursuing a friendship dating relationship farther?

There is a big, big difference.

Sidenote: Please check yourself very rapidly on meeting someone new, and if you are more interested in developing a dating relationship further than a friendship, then do both of you a favour and consider making your play early (perhaps casually/jokingly - wow, you're neat! Let me know if you're ever interested *wink*), then drop out tastefully. If having made a minor pass, and you know you are well & truly over it, only then pursue friendship further.
Straight boys can be terrible friend-teases.

b) It's not a high-school question (unfortunately).
Most of the MeFi questions in 'human relations' tend to revolve around 'How do I know if they're interested?'. Try tags on flirting, dating etc, and the SIRC guide to Flirting.
posted by Elysum at 7:55 PM on November 2, 2008

Make RelationshipFilter part of your daily reading.

Sooner or later, you'll have been exposed by proxy to every conceivable human relations situation under the sun, pulled apart & presented to you by the hive mind like so many plates of beans, so you'll never be caught out on your feet again*.

* guarantee not valid in any state or territory
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:02 PM on November 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

"Practise, Miss Bennett, practise. You can't get enough of it."
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:14 PM on November 2, 2008

Asking her out was fine. Often enough it's not clear-cut whether someone just really likes you as a friend or might like to go out with you; that's why you ask. Sometimes it's yes, sometimes it's no. So from the sounds of it, you're doing a great job so far.

I know it feels like you screwed up somehow, but that's just because you don't have much of a "record" yet. One rejection out of one attempt feels like you're a complete failure, but the individual significance of each rejection goes down the more you've experienced. And you'll eventually have some successes mixed in there to reassure you that you've gotten somewhere.

You'll come across girls that like to hug you and laugh a lot around you and have no interest in dating you. You'll also come across girls that like you a lot but are too afraid to be demonstrative about it, so it seems like they just want to be friends. So if you're interested, ask. Ask, ask, ask.
posted by Nattie at 2:10 AM on November 3, 2008

By having the willingness to make a lot of mistakes.

This couldn't be more true. You learn it by doing it, and by getting it wrong a thousand times while paying attention and learning from your mistakes.

If you are looking purely for romance, man up and start asking for dates earlier in the process, before you have invested so much time in a relationship that was never going to turn romantic. If you are looking for friendship, with romance as one acceptable outcome out of many, keep with what you are doing -- it tends to work particularly well in college (where everyone else is awkward and has a lot of time to spend on personal relationships) and rather poorly post-college when everyone is busy and already has friends.

But really, there is no shortcut other than just getting out there and interacting with different kinds of people all the time. Experiment -- if I do X, and Y results, would Z perhaps be a better choice? Treat mistakes as learning points, not crises.
posted by Forktine at 6:03 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Treat mistakes as learning points, not crises.

Yes. Exactly. I'm someone who is very hard on herself, so it took me until the last couple of years to really internalize that. (and, honestly, I still struggle with it sometimes.) But it will give you so much relief to allow yourself to make mistakes. We are *supposed* to make mistakes; as humans, we learn the most from having our own experiences. (We don't learn everything by being told how to do it in advance.) And as long as you have good intentions and try to learn from your mistakes, then you are doing things "right", even if things don't go as you had hoped or planned. You will never have complete control over an outcome, especially when it involves another person.

So in the situation you're asking about, there's no way to guarantee a "yes" everytime. Even if you knew "everything" there is to know about a given person's interest, they could still decide "no". There are just way too many factors, and so many of them are unknown to you and out of your control because they're in her head and based off her past experiences and goals in life and such. So the thing to do is to ask. Which you did! And you got an answer, even if it's not the one you wanted it to be. But there's nothing wrong with asking, even if it does make you feel a little embarrassed. That embarrassment will lessen with time, and you'll get another chance with another person. And no matter what happens there, you'll learn from that experience, too. Each time you'll get a little wiser and you'll start to learn what some cues are, but you'll never know "the answer" or be able to predict with 100% certainty whether someone is interested.

And, I second drjimmy11's advice about how to 'ask someone out'. If I'm interested, I will find and encourage opportunities for one on one interaction, without "defining" what it is. It allows us to explore without pressure. If we both develop feelings for one another, then we'll both keep trying to see each other more, and we'll get more flirty, and it will become pretty clear that there's more than friendship between us. If one or both of us doesn't develop feelings, then the uninterested party can gracefully shift the interactions in the direction of friendship without a ton of obvious awkwardness. (This is often done through lack of flirtyness, less frequent contact, mentioning other people they're interested in, inviting others out to hang out with you two, etc.)

Friendships and romantic relationships both are difficult to create and sustain, but trust that the more interactions you have, the more you will learn about not only what other people are thinking and feeling, but also about what *you* want in your friends and partners. You're just at the beginning of all this and will have a lot of other relationships to test this on in the future, especially if you tell yourself it is OK to mess up. Good luck. :)
posted by inatizzy at 7:43 AM on November 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Trying to read people ahead of time just ends up wasting a lot of time, because it's rarely accurate. She could be sitting there wondering why you're not asking her out at the same time you're wondering if she'd go out with you. Take a "no thank you" for what it is - just that person's response at that point in time. It doesn't mean anything and it's absolutely no reflection on your self-worth. If you can detach their answer from your self-esteem, you are ahead of 99% of the population, and it will free you to get to know more and more people since the risk to your ego is nil.

Dating is ultimately a numbers game, and since you're young, you have a lot of time to play it. If you like a girl, ask her out, period. If she says no, remember the advice in the first paragraph and try again with the next girl you like. (Don't, however, be indiscriminate and just ask anyone until you find one that says yes. Only ask out girls in whom you have a legitimate interest, because nothing is more repulsive than being the 10th girl a guy has asked out that day.)
posted by desjardins at 12:03 PM on November 3, 2008

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