Listen Up, Ladies! Here's What His Body Language Is Telling You

body language
Love, Self

He may choose his words wisely, but it's his nonverbal communication that gives him away.

If someone instructed you to, "Go over there and flirt with that guy," you'd inherently know what to do. You'd communicate, through a series of body language signals both conscious and subconscious, that you're interested and open to his advances. Cues, like a beaming smile, a casual hair flip, a coy lean forward when he speaks and an empathetic cocking of your head would send the crystal-clear message that you want him.

What you may not realize is that every other time you see each other, from the first date to the first super-charged roll in the hay to the breakup coffee (or the honeymoon, depending on how things go), you'll be using these same nonverbal cues to continually communicate with each other—and with anyone else you date.

Learning to recognize a guy's body language cues sooner rather than later can be one of the most important skills in your dating arsenal. On a good date, you'll have surefire proof he's into you, and on a less-than-great date, you'll be saved from potential embarrassment (he's clearly bored by your "that time I got drunk with my boss" story)—or even clued into the fact that he's not worth a second drink (he barely makes eye contact, staring at everyone else in the room).

Instinctively, you know that a guy's facial expressions, gestures, and mannerisms are windows into his mind and emotional state. But deciphering all these cues can be daunting—or downright maddening. You're already at a disadvantage. Studies have shown that you're not as good at reading expressions as you think you are—not to mention that the culture you grew up in can influence the way you read expressions. Every person has his or her own set of body clues, and putting them together can be a lot like solving a jigsaw puzzle.

Still, it's always a good idea to arrive armed with basic knowledge. Here's a rundown of the most common nonverbal cues people give off during dates.

Positive Body Language (a.k.a. He's Into You):

  • He gives you long periods of sustained eye contact.
  • He moves or leans in closer to you.
  • He occasionally looks down and away out of shyness or nervousness.
  • He keeps his arms relaxed and uncrossed.
  • He gives you real, genuine smiles (as opposed to fake smiles, which are mouth-only. A genuine smile is all in the eyes).

Negative Body Language (a.k.a. He's Just Not That Into You):

  • He keeps moving or leaning away from you.
  • His feet stay pointed away from you, or towards and exit.
  • He keeps his arms and/or legs crossed for long periods of time.
  • He continually rubs or scratches his nose, eyes, or the back of his neck.
  • He keeps looking away from you, with his eyes going to the side (as opposed to down).

The key to reading nonverbal signals correctly is context. Reading body signals isn't a matter of black and white. Just because he crosses his arms doesn't mean he's thinking about dumping you. Did you just share a giant platter of Indian food? Then maybe that arm-cross just means he has indigestion. Maybe he has allergies, so he's constantly scratching his nose. Or maybe he's super nervous, so he's looking down and avoiding your gaze.

If you see one of the negative tells in the list above, it’s a good idea to ask a subtle question or two ("Are you getting a cold? There's a brutal one going around.") to see if your initial read was right. Just remember to avoid slapping too much meaning on a single behavior.

Look for pairings of multiple cues to give you a firm sense of whether your instincts are on target. In general, anything that indicates, "more chances to touch" is a very good sign, like if he grasps your forearm, grazes your cheek, or gently puts his hand on your waist. Other good signs are if he 1) stands taller around you; 2) laughs at your jokes; 3) says something funny and then immediately looks to you for a reaction; or 4) positions himself between you and a crowd of people, in a protective stance. 

Be aware of a physical pulling-away. If he's giving signs that he's trying to put actual distance between the two of you, don't start picking out china patterns just yet. Any form of obstacle he puts in the way of being with you, be it leaning backwards, tensing his face, or looking over your head at whoever just walked in, is a way of telling you he's not worth the effort.

Beware of reading too much into his body language. You don't want to drive yourself crazy trying to interpret whether his lack of eye contact means he's disinterested or he's simply nervous to be on a date with you. And at the end of the day, his eye contact and gestures can say all they want, but if he calls the next day and asks when he can see you again, then you have all the answers you need.

Pay attention to your own body language too; It may be informing his. As if all this wasn't already enough to drive you half insane, remember that he isn't the only one giving off nonverbal cues—you’re doing it as well! Every time you gesture or touch your face or body, you're sending a message, often without realizing it. While men and women have slightly different body language, the same rules that apply to his nonverbal cues go for you too—plus a few added tricks in your repertoire.

Hair is an asset for most women, and can be a great tool for communicating that you want him. A gentle hair flip or hair toss can show off your lovely locks and expose your neck, which is a major sign of attraction. Just be sure not to overuse your hair, and above all, don’t use it the wrong ways: by playing with it, twisting it around your fingers, or chewing on it. These are almost always turnoffs, since they signal insecurity and anxiety. 

Got all that? Ready to put it all into play in five seconds? It may help to practice in front of a mirror, making the faces you make when you're trying to show excitement and enthusiasm. Ask a girlfriend or two if you have "tells" that always give you away when you’re thinking or feeling something. And if you have bad habits (rolling your eyes is a big one), then work on eliminating them from your body-language vocabulary.

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