Chemistry is a mystical thing, but can leave us utterly confused. The next time you have question marks with a maybe-special someone, follow these steps.
There’s something about those darn romcoms. Between you and me, I just love them—the cornier the better.
You know, the girl’s quirky and nondescript, struggling through a dead-end job at the big city firm that takes her brains for granted while she secretly dreams of arranging flowers in a small town boutique, championing the rights of the less fortunate, saving puppies or something equally adorable.
As she stares off into space, she doesn’t notice the hot new coworker who’s politely trying to get her attention by smiling and waving across the sea of cubicles. Noticing him, she blinks hard and pats her hair self-consciously. I think that guy’s flirting with me? she wonders. Realizing he has her attention, he laughs silently, licks his pouty lips and runs his fingers through his tousled mane.
He walks toward her slowly—somewhere music’s playing as he moves. Something’s bulging in his pocket. She grins sheepishly, certain he’s hot for her. She licks her lips, removes her office-appropriate glasses and pulls the best vixen face she can muster. Bring it, she says to herself, suddenly emboldened.
Needless to say, the thing in his pocket is an empty stapler and he wants to know where he can get a refill. Stunned and embarrassed, our heroin pushes her clunky glasses back up the bridge of her button nose and points toward the supply cabinet across the cubisphere. He lingers for a beat, his eyes trained on hers, and walks away. And so begins our predictably scripted 90-minute sojourn through the lives of two crazy kids destined for love.
Would that real world romance play out as easily.
Let’s say you’ve recently experienced a similar situation where you misread the signs and interpreted someone’s flattery as genuine interest and you aren’t sure what to do. Maybe you have to see this person repeatedly and you dread the possibility of awkwardness developing between you. Or perhaps you’re dogged by your mind’s instant replay of the incident and you need relief. These suggestions might not be as sweeping and predictable as the movies, and that’s a good thing because drama like that has no place in a real, sustainable relationship.
Remember the humans.
No two ways about it, there will always be cool people—the kind who ooze natural calm under the most chaotic circumstances. They’re never seen sweating or crumbling under pressure. And they certainly never seem to goof or go weak in the romance department. Never at a loss for companionship, effortless daters like that are incredibly charming and seem to have it all figured out.
They also seem to love everyone, which makes it easy to misinterpret the signs. It’s entirely possible their flattery is an extension of their own insecurity or need to be liked. But here’s where I’d remind you of: however flawless others might appear to be, they’re also human and prone to occasional bungling, whether you ever get to see it or not. Whoever it was who said to “always be kind because you can never know what another person’s handling” gave us a hugely loving reminder that we should apply to ourselves, too.
Own the error.
This one’s tricky because it might require you to speak directly to the person whose signal you misinterpreted. It’s one thing to cultivate compassion for yourself on your own time, but going directly to someone to admit you got your signals crossed is an entirely different beast. I mean, who does that? Aren’t some things better left unsaid?
Well, yes, absolutely. But in this case, no. Here’s why. If you have to be in close proximity on a repeated basis to someone you like who doesn’t have the same feelings toward you, it makes for an unnecessarily complicated relationship if it’s left to linger unaddressed—especially if you know this person would be prone to more unconscious flirting. Do yourself a favor by acknowledging your feelings to yourself and addressing any unresolved issues within you before you approach that person to clear the air. Avoid any language of blame and focus instead on the kind of relationship you want to foster with that person.
Trust your discernment.
One of the most harmful acts we commit against ourselves is mistrusting our own judgment. Even though it’s embarrassing to realize your ‘picker’ or ‘radar’ is relaying information you might be interpreting incorrectly, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong or bad at reading the signs.
The next time you register a feeling that someone’s flirting with you, rather than overthinking it, try sitting with the feeling instead. Notice what’s happening in your body. Science has lots to say about the myriad synapses and primal responses that get triggered in us when we people smile and flirt and are made to feel attractive. It’s a natural process that goes beyond reasoning. So, no, you’re not wrong for feeling the chemistry, it’s the next steps that get confusing. Slowing down long enough to feel and process allows us to be present to the moment without having to say a word. Taking this approach means that judgment, expectation, and analyzing give way to a felt experience that delivers more information than we might have expected. The willingness to experience our emotions for their own sake makes for richer, deeper relationships all around.
No matter what Hollywood would have us believe, no two people do romance, flirting, or relationships the same way. And because we don’t, miscommunication is to be expected. Where it really gets interesting is in how we respond to each other when we do. Our ability to give ourselves permission to ditch the scripts and narrow roles we’ve adopted can help clarify our perspectives and deepen the quality of the relationships we find ourselves in. And that’s where the real love story begins.