Dating can be a very anxious experience. We have found a person we are interested in, we have gotten up the courage to express our interest and now we are exploring the relationship by getting to know each other.
So many thoughts are going through our heads while on a date.
“How do I look?”
“Am I eating too loud?”
“Did I really just bring up something embarrassing from high school?”
There are so many uncertainties about dating, but there is one thing we have always been told about dating that is suppose to make it easier: “You can tell if a person likes you by their body language” – often separated by gender (and thus unfairly assuming a heterosexual relationship). If a guy touches your knee, he is interested in you. If a girl plays with her hair, she is interested in you. This advice is as old as dating itself, and there are long lists of body language signs that the person is into you – in addition to an unlimited number of books promising you the secrets to body language.
Too bad this advice is wrong.
We are taught to rely on body language as a sure fire way of knowing exactly what the other person wants. But body language is notoriously unreliable.
For example, one of the signs that a person is into you is if their arms are open and not across their body. Lets picture you look at your partner and their arms are crossed over their body. You immediately think they are not having fun on the date and are not interested in you. Meanwhile, you partner is freezing and wishes they had brought a jacket, but are still having a great time because they really like you. Or crossing their arms is what they do when they are nervous (which actually could mean they are into you).
Another example is smiling to show interest. Your partner on the date is telling you some really awful, crude jokes. You are so shocked because you can’t believe someone is actually saying that sort of thing. You are smiling because you are uncomfortable and that is your response in awkward moments. Your partner then takes your smiling as a sign that they are really funny and you are having a great time listening to their jokes. See how easy miscommunications with body language can be?
So why has this body language myth persisted? Because our society has never given people the skills to use their words to discover exactly what someone is thinking and/or wanting.
You might be thinking, “No. Wrong, Mike. People don’t ask because they are afraid of rejection or of being awkward and ruining the moment.” If you don’t ask and just go for it based on body language, can you be rejected? YES! Can you create an awkward situation ruining the entire date? YES!
Interpreting body language is MORE likely to lead to rejection and awkwardness. You are acting based on assumptions and often arrogance of thinking you know what another person wants.
The thought process of “I’m not going to ask first. I’ll just read their body language, assume what the person wants, and go for it instead. After all, they can always stop me”, sounds like a partner who doesn’t care about what a partner truly wants and/or is feeling. That person is saying, “I’m not going to give my partner a choice because the person might actually say, ‘No’ – so instead I’m just going to do it” (whether “it” is a kiss or more advanced sexual activity). Such a belief system is cold and callous. Sadly, many of us have grown up in a culture that teaches that very behavior and we often made those exact mistakes.
Today, we know better and we need to have open conversation as a culture about the simple and respectful concept of:
Humans developed vocalization to help them communicate thoughts, ideas and wants. We no longer have to rely solely on body language. By asking, we can find out immediately what our partner is feeling. They can let us know if they are having fun or not. They can let us know if they like us or not. You can also let your partner know if you are having a good time or not.
What is the worst thing that could happen? Your partner says “no.” While this may seem like the absolute worst, it really isn’t. Think about it, if your partner says they are not having a good time, you can end the date right there if you’ve discovered this is just isn’t a good match. Think of how awkward it would be if you were in their situation; sitting there hoping the date would end.
Asking your partner if they are having a good time can also have an additional meaning. If shows your partner that you care about how they feel. By asking them, you are taking their feelings into consideration. This shows your partner you care.
Stop guessing. Ask first. Give your partner a choice.