I’m sure we’ve all been there- one foot in, one foot out, contemplating your feelings and unsure whether to take the plunge. Especially in the world of modern dating one can easily fall into seemingly innocent mind games such as measuring reply times, tactically leaving on read, chatting to multiple people at once, and seeking affirmation while avoiding commitment.

Whether you’re the one sending them and only furthering your uncertainty, or you’re on the receiving end and feel powerless over your own life, mixed signals are a waste of time, energy, and the chance of a secure relationship.

So heed my advice, and take it from someone who knows; what do mixed signals mean, what are the common signs, and how do you deal with them?



Mixed Signals

“Mixed signals are when someone’s being inconsistent in the messages they’re giving people.” —Shirani Pathak, LCSW

Mixed signals may be a conscious choice to test the waters and dabble in the basics of a relationship or an unconscious expression of someone’s self-sabotaging ways to avoid intimacy due to …complicated… attachment styles.

Mixed signals essentially mean the sender doesn’t know what they want, so they’re trying to get the best of both worlds; they want the affirmation, the opportunity, and the perks of a relationship, but they don’t want any explicit commitment, and the unspoken detachment is their way of letting you know that.
And in a nutshell, what do they mean? They mean you’re wasting your time.

Further Reading: How to Overcome Love Failure




Words and actions don’t match up

‘Actions speak louder than words’ could never be more applicable. There’s nothing more confusing when they say one thing but act in the complete opposite way- it’s infuriating! When in doubt listen to that saying, and remember lip service seldom ends in happiness. Trust their actions, even if it’s not what you want to believe.

Flirting with other people

Perhaps the most painful mixed signal is the pursuit of other people when you’re *basically* going out. Flirting can be difficult to define, but if their behaviour is clearly over the line it’s indicative that they’re not ready to settle down and can’t muster up the courage to express that.

…but getting jealous if you behave similarly

Oh, the double standards! They can’t have their cake, eat it, and be angry when you scoop up the crumbs. Whether you’re flirting or not, having your potential partner confront you about your behaviour when they’re doing the exact same is a classic mixed signal of not wanting to commit to exclusivity, but wanting you to stay hanging in there for them.

Expectations of you they don’t follow through themself

Perfectly illustrated by their allowance to flirt but not yours, a relationship is an equal partnership and therefore expectations should be respectful and mutual. If they can cancel, flirt, want sex, call you at all hours, or have other expectations they don’t reciprocate then you know- they want you, but only for selfish motives.

Only showing affection in private

PDA may be mildly sickening at times, but there’s a difference between having a social conscience and wanting to hide something. Only showing affection in private is the latter I’m sorry to say- wanting the physical and emotional relief of a relationship, but not letting the world know. An easy ‘no strings attached’ excuse to explore other options without a guilty conscience.

Blowing hot and cold

Everything’s going great (or so you thought), and suddenly you’re left on read for 2 days- what the heck is that about?! Withdrawing when things are apparently going well is a sure way to signal ambivalence and a fear of intimacy. It isn’t fair on you to be someone’s priority one day and meaningless the next.

Avoiding official commitment

Can you get any more obvious… ‘But why label it, what we have doesn’t need to be defined’, or any other cringe-worthy excuse is an age-old avoidance tactic. There are so many reasons why someone may want to avoid making things official, both valid and invalid, but to have a complete relationship without definition is a difficult place to be in, and could be preventing you from the security and happiness you deserve.

You spend time together, but it’s not quality time

You always go out in groups. You’re squeezed in between other arrangements. They’re constantly on their phone. Plans are made a short notice or late in the day, and often end up in the bedroom. If you really care about someone you’ll find a way to make time for them, and you’ll make sure that it’s time to bond and focus on them. It’s not always about quantity, but if they can’t even give you 80% of their attention? Those are some serious mixed signals.

They refuse to get vulnerable

It takes time to develop intimacy, and in many cases physical intimacy is an easy substitute for the rawness of its emotional counterpart. However when you’re trying to build that vulnerable emotional intimacy (and they’re encouraging it) but you’re met with superficiality and barriers, it’s a sign that they may not want to expose their true self to you until they have a good view from which to judge yours.

Plans aren’t followed through

In a new relationship, it can be wonderful to think of the future and dream up grand plans together- days out, holidays, a house in the ‘burbs with a delightfully modern kitchen! That’s a great way to build rapport together, but what about when those future plans are a substitute for making pans in the present? They may give vague ideas, or cancel short notice, or never reciprocate your effort- these are mixed signals that for now, you’re on the bench, with just enough hope dangling to keep you from ditching the game.

Further Reading: 10 Surprising Signs That Prove You’re In Love



Mixed Signals

The first thing to do when faced with mixed signals is to ask yourself ‘what do I want?’
Are you looking for a committed relationship? Are you prepared to invest in someone knowing their emotional unavailability, and the task ahead of getting through to them?
Many of us find ‘the talk’ difficult, but communication is key in any relationship, whether it lasts or not, and honestly expressing yourself to someone (maybe even calling them out on their bullsh*t) ensures that you’re taking care of your emotional wellbeing by being true to yourself.

Remember that mixed signals can be an innocent mistake; we all communicate in different ways and sometimes things can get lost in translation (have a look into ‘love languages’ if you think the interpretation of affection may be an issue for you), so don’t instantly assume your love is doomed to failure. Some people don’t mean to send mixed signals, and patience is key to allow them their own opportunity to realize what they want and how they exhibit this.

At the end of the day the way to deal with receiving mixed signals is to get in tune with yourself and decide whether commitment is what you’re aiming for; is this person worth the mental and emotional stamina you may need to invest?