I saw this question on the dating advice subreddit and it got me thinking about how we talk about dating:
What are “signs” and why do people (no matter the gender) say they can “read you”?
Is it bad to be honest and straightforward with someone? What reasons would people have to not be straightforward?
I really, and I mean really, love exploring what people mean when they say certain things. People tend to use verbal shorthand in dating (and life too), so it’s always interesting to dive into what certain terms mean to people, and to me specifically. So without further ado, let’s lay out our discussion points:
- What are “signs” when it comes to dating? What does “signs” generally mean?
- What does it mean when someone says they can “read you”?
- Is it bad to be honest and straightforward with someone?
- What reasons would people have to not be straightforward?
Generally speaking, when people are referring to “signs” in dating and relationships, what they’re talking about is circumstantial romantic evidence. You’ve seen at least one cop show in your life, right? You get the concept of circumstantial evidence, right? In romantic pairings, a sign is generally a behavior or action that doesn’t directly tell you someone’s intentions or feelings for you, but can be used to infer what their intentions and feelings for you might be. The opposite of circumstantial romantic evidence would be a direct declaration of someone’s intentions or feelings for you. I love you, I want to be with you, I care about you, are all direct, where as “signs” can hint at these feelings, without directly saying it. Here’s an example: If you wanted to know if someone loves you, the best direct evidence would be them telling you “I love you”. If you were looking for signs that they love you, you’d look for indirect evidence of their love for you. Caring for you when you’re ill, being there for you when there isn’t a specific obligation to be there, spending quality time with you, and so on. Romantic “signs” are inconclusive evidence that the person in question might feel a certain way about you, but those signs require inference.
When someone says they can “read you”, what they’re saying is that they feel like they have an intuitive understanding of something about you. They might believe they understand your thought process, or how you express affection, or how your upbringing impacts who you are as a person. Reading another person is generally intuitive, but some people have a better aptitude for it than others. People can be read in a number of ways, but generally “reading” someone means that you’ve observed some thing(s) about a person, and have come to either a conclusion about them, or a better understanding of them. Unless you’re talking about “reading” someone in the parlance popularized by the LGBTQ community, where you read someone for filth. Both are pretty cool skills.
Now, is it bad to be honest and straightforward with someone? I wouldn’t say it’s inherently bad to be honest, but sometimes it might behoove you to be less than straightforward. There are things about me that, if I were wholly honest and straightforward about them on a first date, they might be a bit awkward to discuss. I think that there is a place for honesty, and being straightforward, but that both of those things need to be handled on a case by case basis. I don’t think you should be dishonest, that’s usually a bad idea, but I don’t think you need to be straightforward about every single thing about yourself, unprompted. You should be honest and straightforward about things that actually matter (relationship status, what you’re looking for, etc.), but not random facts about yourself.
As to why people wouldn’t be straightforward, it really comes down to what I mention above. Sometimes you’re not straightforward about something because you don’t think it’s relevant, or sometimes you think the situation doesn’t call for complete honesty. Also, and this is the cynic in me talking, sometimes you just don’t want to deal with the truth. Maybe you want to control how you’re viewed, or someone’s reaction. There are lots of reasons why you wouldn’t be straightforward about something in dating, but they mostly come down to control. Controlling a negative or positive reaction, controlling when someone learns something about you so it doesn’t turn them off, controlling your own narrative. I don’t think being cagey is inherently bad either, because there is a season for everything.
All this said, what I feel like this question is really about is the why someone would put you in a position where you need to interpret signs to figure out if they’re into you or not. Why wouldn’t someone just be honest and straightforward about it, rather than forcing you to try to read them? I think it comes down to control, as I mentioned above, but especially so when it comes to romantic communication. If you tell someone “I like you”, their response is entirely out of your hands. If you control the signs you give them, you can control to a certain extent, their reaction, and their perception of a situation. Let’s say I like a friend in the romantic fashion, but I have never once dropped hints that I’m attracted to her, directly or otherwise. By doing so, I control whether or not she even has a hint that I’m attracted to her, thus to a certain extent, I’m exerting control over the situation through my inaction. I wouldn’t recommend trying to manipulate people, just providing some insight as why someone might be less than straight-forward. Sometimes, it’s also about controlling your own reaction to an answer you don’t want, like a rejection. You can’t get actively rejected if you’re not actively straightforward about your interest in someone after all.
Ultimately, I think that honest and being straightforward have their place, and I think you should be as honest as possible, depending on the situation. Be straightforward where it counts.
Good Luck Out There.