Dating 101: Tips for Dealing with Mixed Signals

Mixed signals can cause problems at any point in a relationship, especially if partners do not establish a good pattern of communication. But even though they can happen at any point, mixed signals are often the most disruptive during the early phases of a relationship when you are trying to figure out if you and your partner are serious and whether the relationship can go the distance.

In the beginning stages of a relationship, it’s often hard to gauge exactly how the other person is feeling about things. Many people are afraid of coming on too strong in the beginning and scaring off a new boo. While others think it’s important to make a new relationship their number one priority. It’s important to walk the line of investing in the relationship enough to show that you are interested, but not overinvesting early on in case things don’t work out. There is a delicate balance in the early stages of a relationship as both you and your new partner are navigating your feelings and how you communicate these feelings. This is generally a difficult balancing act, that can be made even more difficult if your partner is sending mixed signals your way. Mixed signals are when someone acts inconsistently or says one thing but does another. People don’t always send mixed signals intentionally and mixed signals are often a result of miscommunication or poor communication skills. But other times, people intentionally send mixed signals if they are not that invested in the relationship or are trying to keep their options open and play the field. It’s important to recognize when someone is sending you mixed signals so that you can get to the bottom of why they are doing so. Is it completely unintentional and something you can address through open communication? Or are they intentionally messing with your head? Here are a few examples of mixed signals, and what you can do to deal with them .

Expecting you to open up while they don’t

In the early stages of a relationship, it’s important to open up and show some vulnerability. Being honest about your feelings, your life and whatnot will help you test if there is an emotional connection in the relationship. As you and your partner are exploring emotional vulnerability and your potential connection, it’s important that you are both opening up. In a new relationship, there is an underlying expectation that you are both ready and willing to open up. After all, you really shouldn’t be dating around if you are not ready to be vulnerable with a new person! So if you are in a new relationship and your partner is not willing to open up, while expecting you to, then that’s totally a mixed signal. There are many different reasons behind why someone would do this, but it is often related to attachment issues. Attachment issues are related to attachment styles, which are how people connect to others. Attachments styles are either secure or insecure. There are three different types of insecure attachment: anxious-avoidant, dismissive-avoidant, and avoidant-fearful. Attachment styles are primarily established in infancy and childhood based on relationships to a parent or primary caregiver, but can impact every close relationship in a person’s life. People with insecure attachment styles are often unable to communicate or demonstrate that they care about people, which can lead to A LOT of different mixed signals in a relationship. People with attachment issues often really fall for their partners, but are afraid to become emotionally vulnerable because of childhood trauma or abandonment issues. This can cause people to avoid deep emotional connections, or shut down when put in emotional situations. If you think that your partner is sending mixed signals because of an attachment issue, then the best thing that you can do to deal with the situation is to have an honest and open conversation about how their actions are making you feel. You may not be able to solve all of their attachment issues in one sitting (dealing with attachment issues often requires professional help), but you can at least show how their actions are affecting you and the relationship. Attachment issues are often a sort of self-defense mechanism, so bringing this to their attention can help them work on opening up, even if it’s not their nature.

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Saying they want to see you but are always busy

Ugh! There is nothing more frustrating than hearing that someone wants to see you, but then not being able to get anything on the books! During the early stages of a relationship, it can be hard to make time for a new person in your life. Especially if you are already busy with work and your existing social life. It can be tricky to find time for a new person amidst all of your normal obligations, but if you are into someone it’s important to make it work! If you feel like someone is not making time for you in their schedules, then the best thing to do is to have a conversation with them. Hold them accountable for saying they want to hang out and then never following through. If you have honest conversations you will be able to gauge whether or not they are making excuses or if they just need to work on their time management skills... Being honest about your needs early on, and how much time you expect to spend with them will only benefit the relationship in the long run if things do work out.

Going from hot to cold

Have you ever had the best date ever, and then heard radio silence right after? This is a classic example of a mixed signal. After a great date you would expect to hear back from them so that you can schedule a follow-up date, but sometimes people seem to completely drop off the face of the earth which can make you question whether they were enjoying the date as well... Rather than question what you know was an awesome date, consider that there may be other reasons that you aren’t hearing from this person. Perhaps they are intentionally going cold on you because they have a couple options out there and are playing the field. Or perhaps they have an insecure attachment style (like we talked about above) that prevents them from getting close to people. People with avoidant attachment styles are often spooked by the promise of a deep connection with someone and so after an awesome date, might be tempted to run the other way. If someone is going really hot and cold with you, the best thing you can do to deal with the situation is to just be yourself. It’s tempting to internalize people’s behavior and blame yourself for them not calling back or following up after an awesome date. But more often than not, it has nothing to do with you. Rather than let their mixed signals get you down, focus on being your authentic self and going out with people that make you feel supported and appreciated. Sometimes, continuing to be your authentic self despite the mixed signals can help the other person come around and invest more energy into the relationship. Even if that doesn’t happen, it’s important to remember that you only have control over your actions, so make sure you are being your true self, not changing to try and make a hot and cold person happy.

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Mismatched sex drives/bedroom miscommunication

Communication is difficult in general, but communication in the bedroom is a special kind of difficult. Whether you are just getting to know someone in a sexually intimate way, or whether you have been sexual partners for a significant amount of time, it’s important to openly discuss your wants and needs in the bedroom. When you are first getting into a relationship, this is especially important so that both partners feel heard and respected. Sometimes when you and your partner are talking about sex, you may feel as if the actual sex doesn’t add up. Perhaps your partner is not as into sex as your are. Or perhaps they believe they have a higher sex drive than they actually do. These are examples of when bedroom miscommunication acts as a kind of mixed signal. You may think that you are on the same page, but discover that you actually aren’t. And miscommunications like this can often lead to feelings of rejection if you are not getting your sexual wants and needs met. Instead of letting miscommunication or mismatched sex drives create bigger problems in your relationship, focus on being very clear and direct about what your needs are. If you want to have sex more often, bring it up! If you can’t seem to find the time, schedule it! If you and your partner are really on different planets when it comes to your sex drives, consider opening up the relationship to have your needs met. While it may seem like a daunting subject to broach with a new partner, it’s important to openly discuss your needs in the bedroom so that you feel supported and fulfilled in the relationship. Mixed signals in this case often originate from poor communication, because people prefer to avoid talking about physical and sexual intimacy. Get ahead of the curve and be open about your preferences! This will not only lead to better communication and reduce mixed signals, but it will also lead to better sex!

Different levels of PDA

Public Displays of Affection (aka PDA) can often be a sticky point for new relationships. If one person is very comfortable with PDA, they might feel slighted if their partner shies away from a public smooch or avoids holding hands in public. They may feel as if this means their partner isn’t as into them as they thought, or they might fear that their partner is starting to go cold on the relationship. But this is not necessarily the case! Some people just are not into PDA, and prefer to keep affection more private. Putting their affection on display may feel scary or lame or silly and so they avoid it, without thinking about how this could affect their partner’s feelings. If you are into PDA and your partner is not, or if it’s the other way around, try and find a way to meet in the middle of PDA. Or at least try to discuss how the mismatch in PDA makes you feel. It’s possible that a PDA-averse partner doesn’t realize how they are sending mixed signals by not squeezing your hand back in public. Having an open conversation about PDA is a great way to prevent different levels of PDA from creating problems in your relationship.

Given these examples, it’s important to understand that it is possible to work with someone who is giving you mixed signals. People don’t always give mixed signals on purpose, and it’s not necessarily indicative that your partner is being manipulative or wishy-washy. Sometimes people just truly don’t know how their actions are being interpreted by you! That being said, it’s equally as important to understand when it is time to walk away from a relationship because of too many mixed signals. While it is possible to make things work with a person who is sending mixed signals, it can often take a lot of time and energy to work these things out, and sometimes it’s impossible to make things work after investing time and energy. Some people just want to play games or are too afraid to fully commit to a relationship and will continue to string you along forever and ever, no matter how communicative and honest you are. While we all want to believe that people can change, and that we can make the relationship work, that is not always the case. If a new relationship (or even an old relationship) is taking more negative energy than positive energy, and if you feel as if you never really know where you stand with your partner, then it’s probably time to walk away from the relationship all together.

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