Mixed Signals: A Step-by-Step Guide

Friendly but no-nonsense relationship and dating advice for women in their 20s and 30s, from the guy perspective. Come back for biweekly posts and "tips of the week." Skip to the advice...


My previous post about guys sending mixed signals remains one of the most read on this blog, and it's the topic I receive the most questions about. But while that post used some great examples from readers (along with the advice I gave them), I've always felt like there's more to say. So picking up where I left off, I've put together a practical, step-by-step guide, from the guy perspective, explaining what to do when guys send mixed signals.

As I mentioned at the end of the first Mixed Signals post, if a guy is sending mixed signals, "a good place to start is just to step back and try to put yourself in [his] shoes. . . If you were sending those signals, why would you be doing it? Because you were put off by the other person's anxiety? Because you were unsure of yourself and depressed? Because you genuinely didn't know what you wanted and didn't feel right about hurting someone while you tried to figure it out?" For those who are not yet in a serious relationship, I would add: because you don't know if you really want to commit?

Step 1: Admit Something is Wrong

These are all reasons you might send mixed signals if the script was flipped, and they're some of the same reasons us guys send mixed signals. But while these questions are a good place to start when a guy is sending mixed signals, each of them leads to an obvious conclusion: something is not right. If a guy is acting different ways on different days of the week, you need to start by admitting to yourself that there's a problem with the attraction, connection or relationship. If you're really into the guy, you might want to keep inventing excuses for his behavior, but the sooner you can move past that and acknowledge that the mixed signals are a sign of his mixed feelings, the better off you'll be.

Does this mean that as soon as he shows mixed signals, it's not meant to be? Not necessarily. There's no such thing as a relationship without some early questions, occasional problems or ups and downs. But mixed signals from a guy are a sign that right now, he is not completely clear in his mind that he wants to be with you.

Step 2: Get Some Space

So what do you do once you've acknowledged that this is a problem? Or maybe more importantly, what don't you do? You could spend endless, frustrating hours trying to decipher what this guy wants, but there's a good chance that will make things worse, and almost no chance it'll make them better. Instead, once you've acknowledged that his behavior is telling you he doesn't completely, unreservedly want you, step back and get clear of the mixed signals. Take the opportunity to get free of the wondering and second-guessing and stressing and sleeplessness. Stop calling or texting him for a change; make plans with your girlfriends; take a weekend away. Give yourself space to hit the reset button and, instead of focusing on him, focus on yourself.

Now that you have some breathing room, ask yourself: what do you want? Do you want to chase a guy whose actions don't clearly express his interest for you? Probably not. Like most of us, guys and girls, you most likely want a partner who is consistent, caring and supportive. A guy who sends mixed signals is none of those things.

Step 3: Make a Plan, and Follow it with Confidence

Once you've acknowledged the problem represented by his mixed signals and taken a step back, the next steps get a little more individual to your situation. Below are a few examples. If none of them are quite a fit, they should still help point you in the right direction for how to take charge and either send him a wakeup call or move on.

If this has been going on forever, pushing you near the breaking point, then it's most likely time for you to end it. You've already acknowledged the problem and taken a little space, steps that should make the final break easier. Now it's time to start looking for the kind of relationship that will make you happy, instead of trying to do the endless detective work in the one you're in.

On the other hand, if this is a relatively new thing, or a recent change in behavior on the guy's part, you can address it with him. When his signals are truly mixed (not just that he's moving slowly or not saying exactly what you want to hear yet), the rules I described in What Are We, Exactly? don't apply. You can make a thoughtful but direct request for an explanation of his behavior. He may come up with a legitimate reason, something you can talk about and work through. On the other hand, he may say he doesn't know, is confused, or give an evasive answer, i.e. "work is just crazy right now." In this case, skip to the next paragraph.

For a guy who has already expressed his confusion or doubt without giving a satisfactory explanation, you have a decision to make. Do you really want to be with someone who isn't confident in his own feelings for you -- who doesn't just know that he wants to spend time with you, that he likes you, or loves you? Why would you want to be in that situation? Guys can recognize when you are sacrificing your own happiness because you want something to work, and it doesn't make us like you more. In fact, it's a negative cycle: we get wishy-washy, you start worrying about it and stop prioritizing your own happiness, and we see this and get even more wishy-washy. Guys like women who want to be happy, the kind of women who are willing to move on to get what they want. So if we can't give you a straight answer, kick us to the curb. In the long run, everyone will be happier for it.

That's it. All the confusion, the second-guessing, the stress, the wondering, can be overcome in 3 simple steps. None of them are necessarily easy, but taking them one at a time will help you rise above the mixed signals and get you where you need to go.



This post actually really helped me to clear my thoughts better on my situation but I still would want a good opinion on my story. Where to start.. I met this guy 7 months ago through a bunch of other friends and became great friends with this guy and clicked well from the start. In the first month, I slept over several times, only talking for hours on end till morning and I told him on the first night that I only want him as a friend. He respected that and we kept on this routine of just hanging out 24/7 as we shared many same interests. We cook together, paint, enjoy the same music, plant things in his backyard, go out to walks, picnics, go out to the beach a few hours away, and he even brings me along to his work which is taping and photographing events, concerts, weddings, he teaches me how to dj, there's a non-stop list and it's been different from any other relation I had with anyone. The difference is our age; he's 31 and I'm 21. By the second month, it just happened and we became more of friends with benefits but still hung out everyday and every night with nothing much changing. Even today, on the 7th month he invites me to everything and I built good friendships with his friends and some of his family. I just love the people that surround him. There are too many good memories and i'm always happy around him, never getting bored like I usually do. The thing is that we never really talked about where we are in our relationship but everything we do is like we are in one. He never seems embarrassed of me since he takes me everywhere he goes, and when we watch a movie with a bunch of his friends, he cuddles up with me, holds my hand, and gives sweet kisses while we watch the movie and even after, he says good night without demanding sex but likes it when I do initiate it. His sex and charm never ceases to bore me. I do wonder if I should talk about furthering the relationship or just keep it light and happy. Recently, I've been feeling uneasy with the relationship only because I'm not sure of what we're really doing, and at this point and from my experiences, I feel like as long as both sides are happy, there shouldn't be a problem or need to talk about it, since it might cause more problems that weren't even there. But I don't want to kid myself either, since it seems as in the social norms is that friends with benefits are wrong; that 'one side always gets hurt', and that a woman should deserve better. etc. I know that we're pretty much exclusive since he always asks me to be with him and I'm always around. I'm really happy but also unhappy since I was trying to stay away from an unsure relationship and I surely don't want to waste any time and effort into something that wouldn't 'go anywhere'. We have talked about past relationships and he's emotionally damaged from his past relationship being with an already married woman which he said he's wasted a lot of his time on.. Also that after that, the only reason that he got into relationships was because the girl demanded it but it wasn't exactly from his own will. This talk was in the 3rd month of, whatever this thing is. Only my very close friends know about this. A lot of his friends know though since I'm over his place more than him over mine. He always says I'm weird and funny and how he loves that.. when I make a joke, he laughs like he's about to bust a gut, which follows with a long hug from him and more pecks and sweet kisses.. We have many inside jokes and pet names for each other and there are so many more factors to how this 'thing' is but I'm not sure how to approach this. I get more confused as time passes by and I'm starting to want an actual relationship. Even if this guy makes me very content and has definitely changed a part of my life, I'm going to start searching for someone else who can give me a more sure form of love. Another good thing is that I will be going home to Hawaii for the next 4 months which might clear my head better. Though, he wants to come and visit when I'm there and I'm all down for it but I don't want his visit to make me feel more trapped to him either since he's come all the way to visit. I don't know what and how I should approach this problem and if I should talk to him about it or just let it keep going like this.


What you're describing sounds to me like a relationship-in-the-making that's progressing nicely. The only thing you mention this guy has really done to discourage that idea is to share, several months ago, that he had a history of getting into things he wasn't really ready for. Other than that comment, nothing you've described tells me he's closed off about getting serious with you. Are there other mixed signals I'm missing? Have you ever had a conversation specifically about what each of you is looking for in a relationship right now?

While it can be counterproductive to push a guy into a "relationship talk" when he's not ready, seven months is enough history to raise the subject of what each of you are looking for -- as long as you can be open and thoughtful about it. If you can start the conversation in a way that isn't forced or pushy, you should absolutely go ahead and have this conversation. With your plan to go away for four months, now is a great time to get clarity on where you both stand so you know whether to use that time to develop your bond over a distance, or to move on from him.

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