They’re Just Not That Into You… Or Are They?

a first date between a fairly nondescript Lego character with short blonde hair and a Lego storm trooper
Image by LifeOnTheDeathStar / CC BY

Every now and then I’ll be hanging out with someone, and it’ll me like a bolt of lightning. Initiated by a playful smile, a certain laugh, a quick movement of the eyes.

Oh wow, I’ll think. They’re really into me. 

And then I’ll catch myself and remind myself, No, you don’t know that. You’re being silly. It was probably nothing. And I’ll proceed to talk myself out of that insight… I’ll dismiss the other person’s interest as my imagining things that aren’t there… only to find out down the road… wait a second….

Yup. They like me. They really, really like me.

Usually because they’ve either come out and said it — or in a few cases, they’ve actually pounced me and we’re now making out.

Oops.

Well alrighty then. Misread that situation.

So I’m not the best judge of whether someone likes me or not. I reliably make false negative errors, where I fail to detect attraction that in fact exists.

I’ve actually never made the opposite error, the false positive. The situation where I think someone is super into me… and actually, they’re not.

And apparently this pattern of behavior is consistent with the experiences of most women according to research.

We’re Bad At Accurately Gauging Other People’s Romantic or Sexual Interest In Us

Researchers have nailed down the obvious: When it comes to judging whether other people are sexually or romantically interested in us or not, we’re not terribly accurate.

And not only that, whether or not those mistakes are false negatives (as in my case) or false positives seems to be strongly correlated with gender.

Multiple studies (e.g., Levesque, Nave, & Lowe, 2006; Perilloux, Easton & Bluss, 2012; Treat, Viken, Farris & Smith, 2016, etc.) have consistently found the following:

  • Men believe that women are more sexually interested in them than those women actually are. They tend make false positive errors.
  • Women tend to believe that men are less sexually interested in them than men are. They tend to make false negative errors.

The research to date has primarily studied heterosexual dating and attraction patterns, but as a bisexual woman I’ve noticed that I tend to make false negative errors with men, women, and nonbinary individuals. It doesn’t seem to be gender locked to just men. I basically think no one’s into me… until THEY SUDDENLY ARE.

And I’ve absolutely regularly encountered men who have accused me of leading them on or giving them false hope when from my side of things I’ve never been interested in them. More times than I’d like to count.

There Are Always Going to Be Exceptions

Now, these are just general patterns. And if I think hard about everyone I’ve known I can easily think of a guy who tends to make more false negative errors — who doesn’t think anyone is into him until that person is basically mounting him.

And I can certainly think of a woman I know who thinks everyone is totally into her, even when they’re not.

But do the patterns seem to hold up overall, when considered across the wide cast of characters I know? It really seems like it.

And these patterns of gender disparity certainly do explain a lot of what I’ve seen out there in the big bad dating world.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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