Communication is one of the most critical aspects of a healthy relationship, but it can be difficult to understand what your partner is saying, particularly if they’re giving you mixed signals. In the sense of relationships, mixed signals occur when a person expresses interest in others while also demonstrating a lack of interest or a desire to keep their distance, causing the other person to be perplexed. According to sex and relationship therapists, here’s how mixed signals can manifest in a new romantic relationship or with an ex.
Why Do People Convey Mixed Signals?
When a person acts in this manner, it’s usually a sign that they’re coping with internal conflict. They may crave things that are diametrically opposed or incompatible, such as ultimate freedom, safety, and security. Seeing these mixed signals as a sign of inner turmoil, she says, can help you become more sympathetic toward them rather than taking them personally.
Overall, mixed signals do not indicate that you need to change; rather, the individual providing the signals needs to undertake some inner work. An avoidant attachment style might also result in mixed signals. That is, as a relationship grows intimate, people tend to withdraw since the feelings of proximity make them nervous.
Mixed Signals in a New Relationship.
The early stages of a new relationship can be full of love and excitement, but they can also be full of mixed signals. You will not be able to intuit what your partner is thinking until you grasp the intricacies of their actions and contact habits. According to experts, the following are six mixed signals a partner can offer early in a relationship:
#1. They message you often but don’t make plans to hang out with you.
Assume you meet someone at a party and you two hit it off right away. You exchange numbers and begin texting back and forth (sometimes flirtatiously), but they never ask you out on a date and deflect when you suggest spending time together in person.
“It would make sense if he tells you he had a nice time and really likes you but takes a week to contact you,” says Chamin Ajjan, M.S., LCSW, A-CBT, sex therapist, and author of Seeking Soulmate: Ditch the Dating Game and Find Real Connection.
This trend may also be seen on dating apps, where it’s much more difficult to know where the individual stands because you’ve never met them.
#2. They are inconsistent and unreliable.
According to licensed marriage and family therapist Weena Cullins, LCMFT, getting mixed signals occurs when you spend in-person time together but otherwise never hear from the person when you’re not physically together. Aside from that, “they struggle to facilitate meetups, calls, or texts with any consistency,” she says, “which can leave a person feeling confused about what the other person really wants.”
#3. They claim to want an emotional bond but don’t go any further.
Some people will give contradictory signals about how serious they want the relationship to get. Cullins explains that they may verbally promise or indicate a desire to go beneath the surface, but they do not follow through on actually engaging in those deeper conversations as a couple.
“They opt-out of participating when it comes time to answer questions that may require vulnerability or exposure,” she explains. “This may cause the other person to become confused about the direction of the relationship.”
#4. They only appear when it is convenient for them.
If a new partner expresses a desire to be in a relationship but only appears when it is convenient for them, they are sending mixed signals. For example, they may tell you that they are always available to listen when you need them but will avoid you when things are difficult. “They may also limit their face time to situations in which they require assistance or want company,” Cullins adds. “The other person may feel manipulated and unsupported as a result of this.”
#5. They go all-in for a while, then drastically change their behavior.
This mixed signal is essentially an accumulation of the previously mentioned mixed signals, and it can also be a type of breadcrumbing. It happens when someone texts you frequently, talk about a future together, shares personal information, and asks you to do the same, according to couples’ therapist Alicia Muoz, LPC. “And then, for no apparent reason,” she says, “[they] change their behavior, ghost you, avoid you for a period of time, change their tone, or act guarded.”
#6. They’re having an affair with someone else.
When someone expresses interest in you while flirting with other people, it may give mixed signals. This may not be true for everyone, as different people have varying levels of tolerance for sociosexuality, but the typical monogamous dater will be perplexed if they observe this behavior in a potential partner. “For example, if you’re on a date with your new love interest and she flirts with the waitress, you may not know where you stand,” Ajjan explains.
Mixed Signals with an Ex
Ending a relationship can be difficult, especially if it ends on good terms. If you choose to remain friends with or contact your ex, mixed signals can become extremely common and confusing. Here are a few examples of mixed signals you might get from an ex-partner:
#1. Reaching out regularly with no hope of reuniting.
If you and your ex are constantly texting, calling, DMing, or spending time together but say you don’t see a future together, it can often send mixed signals. This may not only be perplexing, but it can also make it impossible to fully move on from the relationship, according to Cullins. (This is why some experts advocate for a no-contact law after a breakup.)
#2. Acting as if they’re fine with moving on, but then messing with new relationships.
An ex might say they’re fine with you moving on, but then they make remarks, show up on your dates, or do things to disrupt your new life or relationship. They say one thing (they don’t want to be with you), but their acts say something completely different (they don’t want you to be with anyone else). “This can be detrimental to any remaining bond they might have with their ex, as well as their ex’s new relationship,” Cullins says.
#3. Having sex again after the breakup.
An ex may give up the emotional part of the relationship, but they may continue to keep the physical aspects under the guise of “friends with benefits,” according to Muoz. While there are healthier ways to proceed in an FWB relationship, it can be confusing in the aftermath of a breakup—especially if one partner is still hoping for a long-term commitment.
#4. Connecting on social media but not anywhere else
If an ex constantly communicates with you on social media, whether it’s liking an old photo, commenting on a new one, or DMing you amusing memes, it can be perplexing. These actions can give the impression that they want to stay in touch, but they don’t call, text, or make plans to meet in person.
How to Decipher Mixed Signals
Mixed signals are difficult to interpret by definition. “What we can deduce from mixed signals is that the other individual hasn’t made a formal decision to be consistent or committed to you,” Cullins says. “If you decide that continuity or dedication is what you want, it will be easier to decide how to proceed in the relationship.”
Staying in such relationships can cause emotional stress. “If their conduct hurts your mental, emotional, or physical health, or your overall sense of peace and self-worth,” Cullins says, “it’s time to evaluate the importance of staying in the situation.”
Why do People give Mixed Signals?
When an individual acts in this manner, Muoz says it’s typically a sign that they’re dealing with internal conflict. “They may want opposing or conflicting things, such as total freedom and protection and security,” she says, adding that recognizing these mixed signals as a sign of inner conflict will help you become more compassionate toward them rather than taking it personally.
Overall, mixed signals do not indicate that you need to change; rather, the individual sending the signals needs to do some inner work. Ajjan adds that mixed signals may also be the product of an avoidant attachment type. That is, when a relationship becomes intimate, they prefer to withdraw because the feelings of closeness make them anxious.
Should You End Your Relationship With Someone Who Sends You Mixed Signals?
The all-important question. Here’s what the experts say: Allow the other person to settle into what you’re doing, but don’t wait around or give them a pass every time they give you a mixed signal. Investing time and energy in someone who does not reciprocate emotionally is a recipe for heartbreak.
When the mixed signals become too much—i.e., you’re feeling excessively worried or unsettled to the point that it’s legitimately harming your headspace— speaking up about how it makes you feel, figuring out where the messages are coming from, and making your decision. Give yourself a deadline before starting a conversation about it if that helps (but stick to it)
I know it’s intimidating, but you have nothing to lose if this individual isn’t interested in the first place. You could, however, stand to gain a lot. Sometimes we just need that space to address our own emotions. I’m not going to sugarcoat it—clarity can be annoying, especially when you get an answer you were trying to avoid, but there’s no use in wasting your emotional energy on someone who hasn’t earned it. Not to mention that overthinking and interpreting too much into every text and signal is taxing, if not harmful.
Be courageous enough to address their behavior and inquire as to its significance. It’s fine to express your dissatisfaction with how you’re being treated. If anything, it demonstrates to others that you understand your worth and will not accept being treated unfairly. That will be sexy to the appropriate person—and will make them want to step up because you’re too excellent to lose.
If the person continues to act the same after you bring up the subject, it may be your cue to go, because they may not be capable of meeting you halfway. Feel the feelings, but this isn’t the time to doubt yourself, despise yourself or harbor animosity toward them. This is an opportunity to respect your desires for a connection. Walk away with your head held high, pleased with yourself for prioritizing yourself.
Communication is important in all relationships. If you’re having trouble understanding someone, being honest about it will help you both get on the same page and, hopefully, avoid potential miscommunication. If you are straightforward about these issues and your partner’s behavior does not alter, it may be an indication that you are not ready for the same form of relationship or that you need to set boundaries.
Mixed Signals FAQ’s
What are mixed signals from a guy?
Men often send mixed signals when they are either uninterested and intend to keep you as a backup, are unsure of what they want, or are just messing about. This behavior can be highly annoying, and dealing with that hot and cold attitude can be difficult.
Do mixed signals mean no?
Mixed signals are typically just gentle no’s. Some women, in particular, may try to let men down gently for fear of you guys going apeshit on us for not wanting to date you—which happens frequently enough to feel like a valid concern. The idea is that a maybe is a no, and this applies to anything dating-related.
Are Mixed signals toxic?
Mixed signals are one of the most perplexing, yet absolutely uncomplicated, features of toxic relationship territory you will ever come across. In dating, sexual relationships, friendships, professional ties, and familial interactions, mixed signals can occur.
Why do I give mixed signals?
Mixed signals are frequently an indication that someone is dealing with an inner conflict. They’re being pushed in different directions and attempting to figure out how to fix their problem. They may desire opposing or incompatible things, such as complete freedom and security.