If you’re a living, breathing human being, you are constantly sending out subtle—and not-so-subtle—messages to everyone around you. Like Wi-Fi signals floating unseen through the air, you broadcast hundreds of messages every time you interact with someone. And if you’re dating, you can bet that the people you’re going out with are reading every signal you offer, analyzing each one in an effort to decipher its exact meaning.
The good news is that you can transmit these signals any time you want in order to achieve a desired effect. That’s a lot of power to have over another person. But the bad news is that you’re also sending a steady stream of signals without even knowing it. Your facial expression, your posture, your body language, and even the way you walk and talk are communicating all kinds of things to the person you’re interacting with.
Let’s look at some of the main ways you send signals. This can help you can think about just what it is you’re communicating—intentionally or not—to other people.
You Send Signals with How you Dress
This is one of the most obvious ways to send a message to a person you’re going out with. If you dress to look sexy, you are communicating one thing. If you dress in a way that’s totally casual, you are saying something else. The same goes for whether you look sloppy, well-groomed, successful, or high maintenance. The clothes you wear and the way you wear them are great ways to tell a date a little about yourself, about how you are feeling about the date, and about what you have in mind for the evening.
How you dress can also say something about where you see the relationship headed. There’s nothing wrong with wearing sloppy and ragged clothes around the house, but if that’s what you wear every time you are with the other person, then that may convey that you’ve gotten a bit too comfortable with them. In the same way, there’s nothing wrong with wearing clothes that accentuate your sexiest attributes and send signals that you are really into someone. Just make sure that you’re not broadcasting messages that you don’t mean to. When you get dressed for the date, ask yourself, “Is the way I’m dressed sending the signals I mean to be sending?” If so, then go for it. But if not, you might decide to dress up or dress down a bit, depending on how you want to come across.
You Send Signals with the Invitations you Offer or Accept
Certain dating activities don’t really hold any specific significance at all. Dinner at Chili’s followed by a movie isn’t necessarily going to deliver any precise message regarding your expectations for the evening or the relationship. But other invitations have the potential to communicate plenty. Inviting someone inside for a drink at the end of the date signals that you’re at least open to the idea of the relationship becoming more physically intimate. Asking someone to go away for the weekend implies sex, and maybe even a new level of seriousness in the relationship. You may not always mean to convey that message (or to accept that implied invitation); and, of course, you should never feel obligated to go further than you’re comfortable with simply because of some implied, unspoken agreement. But you want to at least be aware of what messages you’re sending when you offer or accept certain invitations.
You can also transmit unintended signals by choosing date locations that seem to communicate a lack of interest in pleasing the other person. An out-of-the-way little hole-in-the-wall, for instance, can be a great date, especially if you’ve put some thought into choosing the dive. But if your date feels that you’re choosing only cheap restaurants or convenient fast-food joints in your neighborhood, they may begin to wonder how much you care about them and the developing dating relationship.
You Send Signals when you say Nothing at All
There’s an old country song that features the line, “You say it best when you say nothing at all.” It’s definitely true that some of our clearest communication takes place in what we call the nonverbal realm.
Just think of what’s being conveyed when you’re on a date—let’s say it’s a first date—and the person you’re with reaches across the table and lightly touches your hand during your conversation. Or when they move in close while you’re waiting for a taxi. Or when they deliver that “killer look” that lets you know that the date is going really well and that you two are connecting on a powerful level. On the other hand, if the person takes a step back or leans away each time you move a little closer, that communicates that things aren’t going as well (or that you need a breath mint!). Notice that all of this communication takes place without the use of any words at all.
The point is that your nonverbal signals transmit a wealth of information. The extent to which you clue in and make eye contact when the other person is talking lets them know whether you’re interested in them and what they have to say. By the same token, if you follow every one of your statements with a nervous laugh and a quick glance around the room, you’re going to send the signal that you’re insecure or uncomfortable with yourself. On the other hand, if you ask good questions, listen well, and share openly and honestly, then you’ll convey that you’re confident and comfortable with who you are.
The signals you send are like feelings. They aren’t inherently good or bad. But the more aware of them you are, the more you can control the way they affect your life and relationships. So pay attention to what signals you’re sending. Do your best to communicate exactly what you want to communicate so you can avoid having to deal with the messy results of sending a message you didn’t mean to deliver.