You can read a book. You can read a map. But reading people, that’s difficult in any situation.
Reading people to figure out if they’re actually into you romantically or sexually is even more difficult. It’s a harrowing part of developing any sort of crush on another person. That sensation of your mind ping-ponging back and forth between the ideas that your crush is infatuated with you and that your crush probably doesn’t even know you exist. The difficulty of navigating this scenario is only exacerbated for many autistic people. After all, it plays into a struggle found among many of us, myself included, dealing with reading people’s subtle social cues.
If somebody is trying to let you know if they “like” you or not, they’re often going to communicate those feelings through hand movements, raised eyebrows or vocal tone. Trying to navigate those signals has brought me plenty of frustration in the past. I’m surely not the only autistic person to feel that struggle.
There are ways to cut through all the confusion and get some clarity on if someone you like feels the same way about you. But first, let’s clarify if the water is safe to swim in before you go jumping in that pool. In other words, let’s examine why you think a person might like you back. What circumstances have led you to think a person feels this way about you? Is it just because they have been nice to you? Is there a deeper connection between you two? What kind of conversations have you shared in the past?
There is a great deal of difference between a person exhibiting basic kindness and exhibiting indicators of feeling something more passionate. Contemplate your past interactions with this person to figure out if there’s anything in their body language and vocals to even examine.
Once you’re sure there’s something deeper, then there are ways to figure out if your suspicions are correct. These subtle signals can appear anywhere and at anytime through subtle pieces of body language. Some people may explicitly say “I like you” or “I don’t like you like that,” but many people won’t be so direct. Particularly with the latter phrase, people tend to convey their interior desires through gestures.
Now, sometimes, a stretch is just a stretch. It’s important to not lapse into self-absorbed territory and think every move a person makes is a signal to you. But other times, what a person does with their bodies can indicate something greater. This is especially true when a person is trying to convey whether they like you or not. For example, a person may indicate they feel closer to you through means like frequently getting closer to you. Conversely, a person looking always looking off or moving further away when engaging with you is trying to indicate they’re uncomfortable in this social situation and don’t want to be closer to you.
Of course, not every piece of body language is as simple as looking away or moving closer. If you’re still struggling to figure out what their body language means, you can use context clues to help you figure it out. An example of this could be if the person you’re attached to looks at the floor. Did you recently say something that would cause the other person to turn downwards? Did they indicate they wanted to look at the floor? Did behavior from another person cause this? There are all kinds of things all around you that can help lead you to the meaning behind body language. In the process, you can figure out how the other person is subtly communicating their feelings about you.
A similar process can be used to decipher the underlying meaning behind someone’s voice. The way a person says a certain phrase can indicate they feel comfortable around you and may reciprocate your feelings. However, a person can also use details about their voice to convey the opposite feeling. This is especially notable in the kind of words and subjects they use in a conversation. For instance, your crush may repeatedly refer to you as a friend or change the subject when you bring up more intimate subject matter. These function as a way of a person quietly letting you know they just don’t like you in a romantic way.
If you want to figure out a persons feelings about you, it’s important to also interact with them in the right environment. For this topic, check out my recent Scarleteen column looking at ideal places for a first date. This location should strive for a balance between intimacy and comfort for the person you’re seeing. Somewhere like a museum, a restaurant or a thrift store can provide plenty of opportunities for one-on-one interactions. However, they also have lots of other people around, which can provide comfort for the other person you’re seeing. In these locations, you can examine your crush’s body language and vocal traits to figure out whether you’re they like you back.
Of course, these tips, particularly ones regarding places to meet, are more applicable to traditional dating expectations than where we’re all at right now as I’m writing this. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything is anything but traditional. People are connecting through virtual means rather than in-person scenarios. These tips about body language and vocal tics can still be applicable over a Zoom session. Additionally, this virtual reality offers new indicators whether a person is into you or not.
Let us look at a person constantly declining your requests to have a one-on-one videochat session. Though they may always say it’s because they’re “busy”, this recurring notice can be the other person trying to gently let you know they’re not interested in you in that manner. On a more positive note, recurring prolonged one-on-one Zoom or Skype sessions with another person can be a good indicator that they may have deeper feelings for you.
If you’re getting signals that they do, in fact, feel the same way about you, then you can start to gradually incorporate the topics like seeing each other regularly or having a more romantic or sexual date into your conversations. However, it is crucial to note that, whether you’re interacting in-person or virtually, you will never be able to read another person’s body language better than that other person. If the person you’re with is expressing discomfort or lack of consent, even if it doesn’t look like that to you, that overrides your interpretation.
Similarly, if a person ends up not reciprocating your feeling of affection, that’s totally okay. You can feel disappointed, of course, but them not returning your romantic intentions does not make them a villain. This is especially an important lesson to impart for heterosexual cisgender men. As a society, men are conditioned to think they’re owed women as romantic partners. If a woman deviates from a man’s affections, well, it gets chalked up to being a conspiracy against “nice guys” or other similar expressions of entitlement. We’re not entitled to women, their attention or affection.
Those toxic ideas reduce women from being people to objects. That’s why it’s important, even if you’re disappointed that your crush isn’t into you, to not diminish the humanity of that former crush. They are a person too and one perfectly within their own rights not to be enamored with you.
Reading a person’s body language is significantly harder than reading a map or a book. However, it is an essential process. Much like not demonizing a person because they’re not into you, understanding a person’s body language is a great way to recognize somebody else’s humanity. Relationships are not built on treating people like trophies to be obtained. Taking the time to assess a person as a human being who communicates needs through body language, that is what relationships are all about.