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Dating or Just Friends? Interpreting Mixed Messages

mixed messages

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Wednesday, 09 October 2019 04:59 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Discerning Romantic Interest Within Social Contexts: Friendship Is Foundational

For many couples, friendship forms a solid foundation on which to build a deeper connection. But taking a relationship to the next level requires a meeting of the minds, which especially in the modern age of electronic communication, is complicated with mixed messaging.

The nature of modern interaction itself adds a layer of ambiguity to the communication challenge. Without the types of in-person contextual cues we use to attribute meaning to words, it can be difficult to fully comprehend the sentiment expressed electronically. And with particular relevance to discerning romantic feelings versus friendship, a click on the wrong emotion can completely change the meaning of a message.

Thankfully, we do still meet in person — which affords the best cues as to what your potential future significant other is thinking. And in a scenario where you cannot hear your phone buzzing or beeping anyway, there are still good old fashioned attentional cues to consider.

Is It Your Body, Brain, or the Ballgame?

A woman on a date is attuned to her partner´s focus. Is it on her mind, her body, or the ballgame on a television set behind her? If suggesting having dinner at a sports bar is not a clue in itself, traditional wisdom indicates that a dining partner whose eyes are riveted on the big game is more interested in the football score than scoring personality points with his dining partner. He probably does not really see himself on a date to begin with, and if he does, there certainly will not be another.

But in an era where couples meet up as a party of four (two persons, two smart phones—often placed visibly on the table between them), how do you really know when divided attention signals disinterest? The answer is often best understood in context.

Modern Social Circles: On and Offline 

Unlike generations past where social groups were largely geographical, modern relational partners come with ready-made social groups, both on and offline. Many people have good friends and confidants, to whom they are comfortable sharing intimate information—that they have never seen in person.

Many prospective partners have already examined this social network, where particularly on a site like Facebook, interests, values, and experiences are on full display, along with an easy to view list of those who validate the activity of other users by liking or loving posts. Posters themselves take note of how many likes they receive depending on what they share, and of course, who is following their activity. This examination involves both quality and quantity when a poster is gauging the potential romantic interest of a good friend.

Social Media Can Define Status  

With established couples, going "Facebook official" is a way many couples formalize their relationship. No longer just "hanging out," facing the virtual world as a unified duo is an important indicator regarding the seriousness and significance of a dating relationship.

But if you are just beginning a dating relationship, how do you interpret a partner´s desire to continue to broaden his or her social circle? Social creatures that we are, online social expansion does not necessarily mean your partner is on the hunt for a .new relationship. Particularly within relationships that are already Facebook Official, it might be an effort to expand your social connections as a couple.

How can you be sure? Take note of what type of company your partner is seeking. A desire to pursue online business relationships, such as through LinkedIn, or attend live networking events often signifies desired professional expansion.

On the other hand, looking up and reconnecting with old friends, or searching out new ones, in the absence of a business connection, may indeed indicate a desire to explore relational alternatives.

The same rationale applies if you are gauging the possible romantic interest of a good friend with whom you would like to explore building on your solid but platonic foundation.

Social expansion, whether on or offline, reveals professional goals as well as personal preferences. However, a current friend who puts the two of you out there as a package deal, particularly in a social context, might be considering the same possibilities that you are, regarding embarking on a more significant relationship.

Undivided Attention Reveals Depth of Interest

The bottom line is that regardless of the way we choose to communicate, on or offline, undivided attention is always an indicator of interest. Someone who chooses to leave their device in the car so as not to distract from spending quality time with you is transmitting their interest in a way that is loud and clear.

Similarly, someone with whom you already share a healthy friendship (in other words, not a stalker), who also follows your activity online, is potentially expressing interest in learning more about the things that matter most to you. In any friendship, authentic attention reveals interest, and in many cases, potentially an interest in something more.

This article was first published in Psychology Today.

Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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Regardless of the way we choose to communicate, on or offline, undivided attention is always an indicator of interest. Someone who chooses to leave their device in the car is transmitting their interest in a way that is loud and clear.
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2019-59-09
Wednesday, 09 October 2019 04:59 PM
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