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How to deal with mixed signals

TLDR: Mixed signals are hard to deal with. They’re an age-old dating game that we all despise. At Tango, we say clarify things ASAP. Trying to decipher what someone *really* means is exhausting, and it’s taking away time and energy from other areas of your life.

Tango's Take 🔮

One of the worst parts of dating is dealing with mixed signals. What does a follow-up mean after they seemed disinterested during the entire date? What about the lack of a follow-up after the best date of your life? When we start getting mixed signals, we spend hours dissecting every moment of the date and every text exchanged, trying to find the deeper meaning.

The semi-good news is that this is natural. It has to do with the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance, which is the discomfort of holding contradictory existing thoughts. This creates feelings of frustration, making it hard to focus on the facts until the tension has been solved. So when we receive mixed signals while dating, we’re experiencing cognitive dissonance, and naturally, we’re going to be confused.

How can you resolve this cognitive dissonance? According to psychologist Dr. Saul McLeod, there are 3 main ways:

#1 Change your beliefs - This one is hard to do because humans aren’t great at just changing their beliefs at the flip of a switch. But through taking the time to more deeply reflect, you may be able to shift your perspective. Let’s say you’ve gone on 5 incredible dates with this guy, but he never follows up after. Every time, you have to reach out to schedule the next thing. Is he into you, or not? To solve the mystery mixed signals, you might ask yourself: were the dates really that enjoyable? Is he super engaged during the dates, or is he similarly not taking initiative when you’re in person? Maybe reflecting on this will help change your beliefs about whether he was really that great of a date.

#2 Justify your beliefs - Another way to resolve cognitive dissonance is to make the thoughts less conflicting by justifying one of them. This might mean concluding that one of the signals - say, the lack of a follow-up - doesn’t actually mean anything because you followed up before he had the chance to.

#3 Acquire new info - Finally, you might look for more info to help solve the conflicting feelings. This might mean going on more dates with him to see whether he really is into it. Or it could be asking him straight up. Depending on how you go about it, this can lead to extending the period of cognitive dissonance (if the new info doesn’t actually help you settle the mixed signals), or it can be the fastest way to solving it (if you get a straight answer).

Mixed signals can take a huge psychological toll on us as we attempt the mental gymnastics of trying to read someone else’s mind. The best way to get past them is to clear things up quickly. But also don’t forget to take a step back and think about whether you really want to be with someone who can’t give you a clear message!

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