What If Things Aren’t Working Out? Look at Your Sending and Receiving of Interest Cues


Contributed by Thomas B. Holman

Things seldom work out as smoothly as we wrote about them in the last few articles. For example, someone you are attracted to ignores you. Maybe you have trouble even getting first dates. Or you have lots of first dates but few if any second or more dates with the same person. Perhaps you have problems going from “dates” to “in a relationship” or even if you get into boyfriend-girlfriend relationships, they don’t last.

Part of this is just the normal process of finding an eternal mate. Very seldom does the first person we date in our young adult years end up a few months later as our eternal mate. Remember, that is why we date; so we can figure out who from all the people in our pool of eligibles we really want to get serious about—and who wants to get serious about us! We also date so we can figure out how to relate to people, learn from our mistakes, and get better at dating and figuring out how to move from dates to forming relationships and then on to marriage.

Therefore, the purpose of these next five articles is to help you:

  • Learn from all your dating experiences (or lack of them!) and become a better person in the process, and
  • Figure out how to make dating and relating work better for you when things still aren’t going well.

Recognize You May Be Sending and Receiving Interest Cues Inaccurately

When attraction is high and the probability of acceptance is high, we usually present ourselves honestly, without exaggerating our positive traits or hiding our negative ones. This typically leads to more success in making an initial approach. On the other hand, when attraction is high but probability of acceptance is low, we tend to try to appear the way we think the other person will find attractive. But this tactic often is obvious and typically lessens our chances of success.

No matter what the tactic, once there is an initial contact and a back-and-forth of interest cues, within minutes most of us can gather sufficient information to determine whether the other person is interested in pursuing a relationship. Interest cues—or we might also call them “signals”—are verbal and nonverbal behaviors that we seek, send, and receive as we start trying to get to know a potential partner.

But sometimes we just seem to do things wrong—wrong thing or wrong timing. Much of this comes from not understanding interest cues from others or not knowing how to send appropriate interest cues that others are willing to receive.

Some of this comes from inexperience in dating. In one study, we learned that young men, who hadn’t had a lot of dating experiences or who hadn’t dated for some time, were more likely than others to go headlong into dating without much subtlety.

I didn’t really know what I was doing at first. You know, you’re feelings are kind of warped…I just wanted to jump right into it.”

This often leads to mis-sent and mis-received interests cues.

Sometimes we don’t know how to read interest cues or we send the wrong types of signals. As Derek said:

“I’ve made that mistake (misreading an interest cue) a few times and been burned…. Guys can never read girls and girls can never read guys, it seems like.”

Derek’s wrong; young men and women do learn to read interest cues. This learning comes from many sources:

  • On their own from thinking about their successful or unsuccessful experiences.
  • Watching others to see what they do that is successful or unsuccessful and then trying out those things that seemed to be successful.
  • Talking about it with a trusted advisor.

You need to be careful who you take advice from, however. Unfortunately some of them are pretty clueless themselves about how to send appropriate signals or how to read interest cues (watch the movie or read the book, Emma by Jane Austen for a great example of this). Some cues are “successful” in terms of getting dates, but not very good or even downright dishonest and devious, and certainly won’t lead to the type of marriage you want. Some men and women dislike using interest cues because they seem to be part of “playing games” and “manipulative.” Beth said this about a roommate:

She knows how to treat men, and she knows how to manipulate them. She knows how to get what she wants out of a man, and how to get a date.

But Jenny sees this as wrong:

I just can’t respect that [being a “big flirt”] at all, for some reason. Those girls that do that just make me crazy. It seems like they are kissing up to a guy. Like brushing up his male ego, just to get asked out! It just seems like you should just be good friends; that you can do things together without having to do that kind of stuff.

Jenny is right.  Therefore, watch, talk to, and learn from trusted adults. This way you can learn how to appropriately express interest at the right time, avoid being manipulated by another’s over-the-top flirting, or becoming an unhealthy manipulator yourself.

In the next article we will help you learn about your “dating style” and how it can affect your ability to appropriately seek, send, and receive interest cues and advance your dating and relationship building.

This article is one of a series.  For others in the series, see:


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