Getting your signals crossed

By this stage in our lives, most of us have learned to read certain signs. A smile represents warmth, prolonged eye contact signals attraction, a few seemingly casual brushes of the arm are anything but casual–the list goes on.


Of course, some signs are misread, we experience body language dyslexia, if you will. For example, a smile may represent amusement that you have something stuck in your teeth. Prolonged eye contact could signal the fact that a girl is running low on cash and is desperately trying to pull your wallet from your pocket, using only the power of her pupils. And, sometimes a casual brush of the arm really is just that–casual.


Due to the potential for misinterpretation, we are often cautious in letting certain gestures or actions guide us toward (or away from) "making a move." At the same time, however, there are times when all signs point to yes, and without saying the actual words, the person next to you is begging "take me now!"–or perhaps something a little more dignified. Regardless, you decide to go for it.


As it turns out, that isn’t always the right course of action. As my friend Andrew recently found, all the positive signals in the world do not necessarily equal a green light.


Andrew and I, along with some other friends, were just finishing some beers at a nearby pub. An acquaintance of ours–we’ll call her Sarah–stopped by the table. We decided to order another round, and Sarah joined in. An hour or two went by and Andrew said he was ready to leave. At this point, Sarah said she’d go too and they could walk together, as they live relatively close to one another.


As they neared Sarah’s apartment, she asked Andrew if he wanted to come up for coffee (no, she did not use the word "nightcap," though that would make the story even better). At first, Andrew declined, but Sarah insisted, so he figured "why not?" He was, after all, seeing this as sign number one that he was in for some action.


They went upstairs and Sarah offered "the tour," which she strategically ended in the bedroom. Sign number two. Then she shut the bedroom door. Sign number three.


She told Andrew to make himself comfortable on her bed and proceeded to light a few candles. Signs four and five.


Andrew was now feeling a little more enthusiasm about "coffee".


Sarah settled herself next to him and they made the obligatory small talk. Eventually Andrew leaned in to kiss her. To his utter surprise, however, he was interrupted with a scream.


"What the hell are you doing?! Get away from me!!!"


Needless to say, Andrew was shocked. He figured that he’d had a green light, a clear lane, and he wasn’t even speeding.


Finally, he managed to stammer, "uh, I dunno, I guess I just misread things. I’m really sorry."


Sarah is far from placated. Leaping from the bed (and backlit by about 14 votive candles), she was still screaming.


"I’d say you misread the fucking signs, you creep! I think we’d better do coffee another night."


Only too happy to oblige, Andrew picked his hat up from the bed (earlier in the conversation, Sarah had removed it to "feel how soft his hair was") and headed for the door.


It was a long time before he made any moves after that. In his eyes, all signs now read "enter with caution" and "use at your own risk."

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