How to deal with mixed signals?
December 3, 2008 1:22 AM   Subscribe

I feel like I'm getting mixed signals from a girl that I'm seeing. I could use some perspective.

About 2-3 months ago a girl left her phone number for me. I gave her a call after getting her number and we see start seeing each other. I would like to say "dating" but I'm not sure if that's correct considering that usually has a connotation of heading towards to a more serious relationship. Whenever we hangout it usually includes food and an activity and I don't know if this really matters but we have never split the bill. One of us always picks up the tab and then we just switch on and off on who picks up the tab. I just mention that because I consider that dating behavior that I don't exhibit with anyone except my best friend.

It would seem like she's obviously interested since we usually take time to see each other at least once or twice a week, and she initiated the relationship, and we're continually planning for future meetings weeks in advance. For instance she invited me as her 'date' to an office holiday party this weekend, and next week we're spending time alone for her birthday before we meet some of her friends (and I've only once met a couple of her friends).

The problems come from the fact that the second time we met she told me that after she broke up with her last boyfriend (over 9 months ago) she had decided that she wanted to be independent from a relationship so that she could grow as a person because she felt she was leaning too much on her significant others for her own self worth. I took that as a sign that she wanted to take things slow which was fine with me. Other than that we also haven't really done anything physical besides hugging or snuggling during a movie. Then to cap things off the last time we went out for lunch she told me that one of her other friends asked her for something more than friendship and that she turned him down. At this point I have no clue why she's telling me this. I'm not sure if she's warning me not to be that guy, or if she's trying to get me to be more assertive with the relationship before someone else steals her away, or what.

I really just want to know if this heading anywhere. I think she's a wonderful person and I'd like a real relationship but I'd be fine with being just friends before I become any more emotionally attached. I want to know if I should be pursuing her or if I should start looking somewhere else for a serious relationship.

Of course the easy answer would just be to ask her but that seems like I'd be acting just like how her other friend acted and I don't really want to make an ultimatum out of our relationship. Should I just suck it up and ask her bluntly "what do you want out of this relationship?" or is there a better way to put it? Or should I just keep on playing it out passively? Or should I have my actions speak for me?
posted by woolylambkin to Human Relations (38 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should kiss her.
posted by cincinnatus c at 1:56 AM on December 3, 2008 [14 favorites]

Your recap makes it sound to me that she is giving clear signals – she doesn't want to date. You seem to be reading something into the situation that may not be there.

But you said it yourself; just ask her. You can't possibly go on like this, and knowing the answer will allow you to make the appropriate decision on how to handle things.
posted by qwip at 1:59 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think that just because she wants to be independent from a relationship doesn't mean that she doesn't want to be in one. I think that just means she wants to retain her identity, even when she's "with someone."

Personally, I think you should write her a letter and have it sent to her with some flowers. (This way, you don't have to say anything awkwardly to her face.) Everyone likes flowers and love letters, and you can make it clear in your writing that you still want her to have her independence, because who she is now is what you really like. Also make it clear that you're perfectly okay with just having a good friendship, but you've kind of been thinking about something more lately.
posted by metalheart at 2:02 AM on December 3, 2008

Oh, also, I think you should make it clear to her--in the event that she doesn't want a relationship--that you don't think it's appropriate for her to take you places as her "date," then. You don't want to be misled or confused.
posted by metalheart at 2:04 AM on December 3, 2008

Of course the easy answer would just be to ask her but that seems like I'd be acting just like how her other friend acted.

She said she "was leaning too much on her significant others for her own self worth."

That's a long, long, loooong away from "was dating someone."

I'm with Cincinnatus.
posted by rokusan at 2:22 AM on December 3, 2008

Best answer: I think she doesn't really know herself. It's not like people have these inner hidden intentions, and your mission is to find out - it's better to assume that most people are confused, most of the time. You write that you'd be OK with taking it slow as well as pursuing her. Her feelings might be similarly ambivalent.
If you decide to pursue her, show her that it's possible to be together and still have space for indipendence and personal growth.
posted by dhoe at 3:17 AM on December 3, 2008 [6 favorites]

I think she's a wonderful person and I'd like a real relationship but I'd be fine with being just friends before I become any more emotionally attached

Sound's to me like you're in the perfect position - you don't have much to lose, in fact you'd be better speaking to her sooner rather than later (before you do become too emotionally attached). Saying that I actually get the impression that she would be interested in a relationship; of course that is filtered through your take on the situation.
posted by serak at 3:27 AM on December 3, 2008

Best answer: Yeah... I think you should kiss her too. In those awkward situations where I want to kiss her but I'm not sure if that's what she wants, I like to do it during the goodbye hug. After the hug, but before we completely let go of each other, I'll say "hang on a sec" and then slowly go in for it. She may not be receptive, but hey, then you know.
posted by PFL at 4:04 AM on December 3, 2008

sounds like you are on the wrong ladder. do a search for ladder theory
posted by mary8nne at 4:07 AM on December 3, 2008

Best answer: sounds like you are on the wrong ladder. do a search for ladder theory

Yeah, except don't, because the Ladder Theory is bullshit.

I'd say she's more "confused" too, as well as "holy GOD is she overthinking this".

I'd also try just kissing her -- it sounds like you're okay with just taking things slow, and she actually is too, she's just kind of not sure what she wants.

Or if the opportunity presents itself to call her on the weird behavior specifically, rather than trying to get her to tell you what she wants -- because she doesn't seem to even know herself -- say if she talks about another guy again, you could just ask, "erm, why are you talking about this with me?" Or if she does something confusing, you could ask why she's doing that one specific thing? She may be so confused she may not even KNOW she's doing this, and you may not get an answer right away, but she'll be confronted with the fact that she's acting screwy and maybe she should really jump one way or the other. Sometime when people are acting screwy it's because they're so caught up in their own internal confusion they don't realize it's starting to get external as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:00 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've already flagged one ladder theory post today. Ladder theory is BAD INTERNET.

Just be upfront mate. "I think [you're] a wonderful person and I'd [love to take things further with you] but I'd be fine with being just friends" is a good sort of thing to say to this person.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 5:54 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

In my experiences with girls that just got out of long term relationships and don't want to jump back in one, they want another one most of the time. One friend of mine she broke up out of a long term thing, she was all about being independent and having fun with her girls. About 2 months later she took the first guy that wanted to be with her. Now I'm not saying that all women are like this but you need to take your shot. If you like the girl you are talking to right now don't just sit there and think what if? You can be in a relationship with her and she can still be independent. It is easy don't be a dominating prick and let her be herself. Next time you two are together and an opportunity presents itself kiss her. Two things will happen either A. she kisses you back and you live happily ever after or B. she asks what are you doing?

PS friends don't cuddle... Kiss her.

PSS Friends don't say come to my office party as my "date" Kiss Her

PSSS Friends don't spend time alone on one another's birthdays..... KISS HER!!!

Good luck!
posted by Mastercheddaar at 5:55 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd say this situation sounds promising. I also vote for just kissing her and seeing her reaction; the confidence you display in just boldly going for it might be attractive to her. If she reacts badly or isn't into it, it's still not a loss because then you'll know where you stand and can move onto someone else who is interested in your kisses. Hope it goes well!
posted by RingerChopChop at 6:32 AM on December 3, 2008

She may want to be just friends, but you want more. If you continue to be just friends for fear of scaring her off, you are not being a real friend, you are just waiting around to be a boyfriend. You are also asking for some heartbreak.

Ladder theory is bunk. Many people have become more attractive to me after I got to know them.

Listen to Mastercheddaar's last four lines. Be clear if/when something happens that you don't want to be 'that guy', but you want to make it clear how much she means to you.
posted by soelo at 7:00 AM on December 3, 2008

Ladder theory is bullshit, speaking as a girl. It was written by bitter guys who couldn't figure out why they couldn't get any even though they were such nice guys!

Anyway, I actually thought the signals were pretty clear that she's interested, but scared. I guess I didn't see the lack of physicality a huge warning sign, because it fits in with the overall scheme of holding herself back. I mean, I would not be with someone who thought it was okay to continually see me and be huggy and snuggly without interest in anything further who didn't tell me about it in advance.

As for telling you about her friend who wanted "something more"... again, speaking only from experience here, but she had no reason to tell you. It's just not something you bring up for no reason in normal conversation with someone you've been casually seeing, y'know? If that happened from me, I might tell a close friend, and they might happen to be male, but there would be an established dynamic of platonic friendship. It kind of smacked of her wanting to make you jealous/spur you on into making a move.

So yeah, in short. Kiss her.
posted by Phire at 7:10 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like you're in that situation where the she would characterize the relationship as "he's more like a brother or a friend to me." That's not leading to a romantic relationship.

I'd recommend reading Intimate Connections. Answers this concisely.
posted by jmmpangaea at 7:13 AM on December 3, 2008

Snuggling watching a movie?

I wish I had your problems. Kiss her.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:13 AM on December 3, 2008

Kiss her. There is nothing to lose. Even if she doesn't want that, she has to understand that at this point it is a fair move on your part.
posted by nameless.k at 8:15 AM on December 3, 2008

People say all sorts of stuff, and often think they mean it. What do her actions say?
posted by theora55 at 8:25 AM on December 3, 2008

It sounds as though you may think on some level that if you don't say or do anything undeniably boyfriend-like, you will be able to sort of sneak in under her radar until she wakes up one day to realize she's in love with you. This is not going to happen. (Now that I have said that, some person will pop in to say this exact thing happened to them and the marriage is in March! but that person is a freak, and you should not listen to them.) Tell or show her in some unequivocal way that you are interested in her romantically.
posted by fidelity at 8:43 AM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Um, can you just talk to her first? Yes, it's scary, but your current MO of patiently waiting probably won't amount to much. I pull this crap a lot with guys because I'm also wary of a serious relationship unless it's seriously seriously worth it, which is silly because rarely do we know when something is serious unless we try it first. In the meantime I tend to hop gingerly around with guys who I'm sort of seeing-but-not-seeing, casting out boatloads of mixed signals. The most common scenario is that the guy sees that I'm skittish about commitment, doesn't want to push me too hard lest I run away or he gets rejected, so we never talk about getting more serious, and then absolutely nothing happens.

She's obviously keeping you in the Safe Zone, and she'll probably lock you up there until you give up (likely) or she figures her shit out in a timely fashion (less likely). Don't assume she has a cemented agenda in mind when she does erratic things like keep you at arm's length, telling you about other guys, inviting you as a date to social functions--she's probably unconsciously testing your boundaries to see what you'll do. One of the hardest rites of passage of growing up is learning how to A) be single, and B) realize that, amid the casual dating and the character-building and the occasionally crippling uncertainty of being alone, that hey, you met someone who's really cool.

You're not taking much direction because you don't want to push her into something she doesn't want. That's really considerate and noble, but it's probably time to let her know what you want, which will help her figure out what she wants in relation to you. Seriously: talk to her. Wait for the flush of that second glass of wine and say, "Look, it's cool if you want to keep hanging out like this, but I like you lots and would like to get more serious at some point. Doesn't have to be right now, but I wanted to put that on the table." If she's interested in you (and if she's not, what are you doing here?) the Venn Diagram of Dating will overlap enough to incorporate both of your interests.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:49 AM on December 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

She told me that after she broke up with her last boyfriend (over 9 months ago) she had decided that she wanted to be independent from a relationship so that she could grow as a person because she felt she was leaning too much on her significant others for her own self worth.

I wonder if she's just telling you about her past. She might think that she has now done this, having grown as a person. (I can't speak for her, but nine months is long enough to physically gestate an entirely new person.) She may be in effect selling herself to you, telling you she's done the independent work to be ready for a really mature relationship. And now she's met you. :) She may also be telling you what she wants out of a relationship, essentially asking whether that sounds alright to you.

I took that as a sign that she wanted to take things slow which was fine with me. Other than that we also haven't really done anything physical besides hugging or snuggling during a movie.

Being independent as a person is not exactly the same as taking things slow or not doing physical things. This change she's describing is probably just part of why you think she's cool (I'm assuming she isn't being all eager-to-please and immediately changing to suit you?), and she may sense that you'd be a good person to have this new, more independent kind of relationship with.

Unless told otherwise, I would assume that you two could get physical, start a relationship, and all of that, as long as it doesn't feel like she has to make her sense of self-worth contingent on pleasing you. I'm assuming you'd respect her as a person who feels good about herself whether or not she [adopts your ideals / wears the mascara you like / plays pool like you do]. And I'm assuming that's probably fine with you, which is why she's wanted to get to this point where she takes for granted that she can continue to be her own person, and why she's wanted to meet people who want mature relationships with independent individuals.

Of course, this is just my take on something I heard second-hand, and there are other interpretations. There's probably a really good conversation to be had by asking her more about what she meant about wanting to grow as a person and not lean on her SOs for self-worth.

Then to cap things off the last time we went out for lunch she told me that one of her other friends asked her for something more than friendship and that she turned him down. At this point I have no clue why she's telling me this.

This one is a bit mysterious. But since she was fairly explicit before, I do think that if she was saying "don't be that guy," she would've returned to that theme and said it more clearly. She could've concluded the anecdote about her other friend with something like "...I felt bad about it, but I really don't want to get into a romantic relationship until after I spend a lot more time on my own," and the fact that she didn't seems like a good sign. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 9:32 AM on December 3, 2008

Don't talk about it. That's awkward. I agree with cinncinatus, just kiss her. If you can, get hammered together first.
posted by General Malaise at 9:48 AM on December 3, 2008

Adding a suggestion to some of what was said above. Make that first attempt a "sweet" kiss on the lips and see how she reacts. Don't go straight for the "swallow her head" type. If she doesn't react with passion she can still pass it off as a friendly/affectionate jester. She might just not be ready yet. The sweet kiss might lead to more right then or leave it open for a little ways down the road.

"Hammered" I'd avoid although a little alcohol lubrication might not be a bad idea just to get things relaxed. People who are hammered many do things they have major regrets about later. You might get a great response during the hammered period that doesn't follow through to the next day. This may be absolutely obvious to 99% of the population but it might have helped me in the past so I thought I'd throw it in.
posted by Carbolic at 10:10 AM on December 3, 2008

Best answer: Seconding the recommendation from Intimate Connections.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't go for it if that's what you want.

I say this because you sound a bit conflicted yourself. I'm a dude, much older than you and at some point if I want someone, I just go for it. You haven't yet and that makes me wonder.

What to do? If you decide you do want a relationship with her, I'd physically up the ante during the party. This does not mean grabbing a boob or any other off-limits-unless-you-get-a-clear-green-light-area, it means subtle physical touching of shoulders, back, and upper arm. The same old stuff everyone does--hand on the back, touching, eye contact, all of that. See how she reacts. Unless she physically pulls away or says "don't do that" keep doing it, because you can easily misinterpret things as being a no when they are not. Sometime during that night, when you get a chance to be alone, kiss her. '

If no is the answer, that is fine. Don't let her push you around though. If she pulls away respect that, but also respect yourself by basically ending it. Sometimes men and women like the attention others give them and don't ask themselves too many questions about their own motiviations.

Otherwise it is going to be really painful when she starts hooking up with other dudes, which, as a person, she's entitled to do if she isn't going to be dating you.

In terms of awkwardly talking about things, I'm a big fan. Avoiding saying what you want, no matter how awkward it is, is just caving in to stupid fear. Better that it is out in the open than going forward with months more of this.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:13 AM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

i'm agreeing with everyone above. kiss her. you have nothing to lose.

i was in your situation with my current girlfriend for about 3 months. finally had the balls to kiss her and now we're going on a year and a half. great things can happen if you'll just try!
posted by nokry56 at 10:47 AM on December 3, 2008

"I want to know if I should be pursuing her or if I should start looking somewhere else for a serious relationship."

I think you should start actively looking...the hurdle you need to overcome is this state of being too focused on this one girl. Right now she has you in that wonderful "friend zone" and if you're really interested in seeing if she has deeper feelings about you, it'll come out once you're actively dating other women.

I know that seems a little bit like a mind game, but really its not. It's more of a "look out for your own mental health" game-plan. Just remember to stay open to whatever the possibilities are if you really like her...but also be open to finding the right type of girl if she's not the one. Either way, get some dates going....schedule your time with her around them, but also make sure you're still treating that time as important.

You're not alone on this situation, happens to all of us. Pursuing can only take you too far, it has to be give and take. Just keep moving along and see what happens..
posted by samsara at 10:51 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Kissing her would be ideal, if that's not working out for some reason, you can say something like "Hey, let's go on a real romantic date [at romantic place] and [do something romantic]".
Whether the kiss or the specific date request, if things go south but you're still cool with the relationship just being friends (which includes both you and her dating other people), then just kinda shrug and say ok (or something like, "so does this mean you can be my wingman instead?").
The whole point is to first do something that can only be interpreted as romantic interest, if her response is ambiguous, be prepared to provide a clear statement of your perception of the relationship's future.
posted by forforf at 11:08 AM on December 3, 2008

Best answer: DO NOT ASK least not until you've stated how much you like her. Just find a nice quiet spot away from distractions and figure out a way to break the physical barrier. Read her palm, rub her shoulders, gently demonstrate a judo flip... then kiss her.

Asking her about where things are going puts her into the position of having to place her feelings/hopes on the line before you have. If she were the type to do that sort of thing, she'd have been clearer about it by now. Putting her on the spot is likely to scare her off.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:36 AM on December 3, 2008

It sucks more to mess up through inaction than through action, go for it.
posted by yohko at 12:15 PM on December 3, 2008

make with the smooching. be sweet, be gentle, be yourself, but just kiss her already.

i have sat there many a night, with the snuggling and the unnecessary touching and the "i'm not sure if he likes me but he is sitting awfully close to me and I am telling him really personal things... GOD WOULD HE JUST KISS ME ALREADY"

if you like her, kiss her. if she says "no" apologize and move on.
posted by micawber at 6:05 PM on December 3, 2008

So, did you kiss her? It's been nearly 24 hours!
posted by Cobalt at 9:38 PM on December 3, 2008

Kiss her? Do you have a lawyer for when that doesn't go so well?
posted by jmmpangaea at 9:44 PM on December 3, 2008

C'mon, dish already.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:25 AM on December 4, 2008

Response by poster: Sorry Cobalt and bonobothegreat, but I actually didn't see her until Saturday since I've been living in the library getting ready for finals week.

Anyways, we went out to her little office party which went well and then out for some coffee afterward. When I dropped her off at her house I gave her the usual goodbye hug but didn't let go and just looked into her eyes. I started to say her name but she didn't let me finish since she kissed me at that point. Must have done something right I guess. We've already decided to seriously talk about our relationship the next time we see each other, which happens to be her birthday on Monday, so keep on crossing your fingers for me.
posted by woolylambkin at 12:28 AM on December 7, 2008 [7 favorites]

Aawwwwwwwww! Good on ya!
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:20 PM on December 7, 2008

posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:43 PM on December 8, 2008

this is awesome.
posted by micawber at 3:23 PM on December 9, 2008

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