Can you tell when someone is interested in you? Are you sure? Since no one likes to be rejected, it’s a good idea to understand the subtle signs of attraction (or lack thereof) before you launch yourself into the line of fire with someone. As an anthropologist who studies mating and dating rituals, I’ll help you decode the top body-language cues to watch for on a date. Use this information to either proceed with your flirtation — or flee with your ego intact.
Before we get into the specifics, know this: For all of our technological advances and psychological insights, when it comes to reading the silent signs of sexual attraction, we are really no different than beasts. For the past 500 million years, every member of the animal kingdom has utilized certain signals to communicate their interest in mating. These boil down to the message: “I am harmless; I won’t bite.” (Charles Darwin called these signs “submissive displays,” because they make the subject seem more approachable.) Seeing any one of them may signify physical attraction. Seeing all five at once is compelling evidence that you are liked — and very possibly lusted after.
Signal #1: Lifted shoulders
One of the most easily detected signs of attraction is a person’s lifted shoulders. This motion indicates that someone has activated what biologists call the “cute response” — a bashful, almost childlike behavior that reveals a softer, more compliant side of an individual. This is an emotional, involuntary muscular response to being in the presence of someone you like, and it has a universally disarming effect. (It is also a natural response when you’re oohing and ahhing over a puppy or cuddling with a baby.) In a dating scenario, this unconscious movement tells you that the person you’re interested in wants to get a little closer — and that you shouldn’t be shy about it.
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Sign #2: Pigeon toes
Pigeon toes may not sound like the sexiest of gestures, but an inward rotation of the feet suggests definite interest of a romantic nature. Anatomically referred to as “tibial torsion,” this toes-turned-in posture occurs when someone feels both smitten and somewhat intimidated by you. By “shrinking” the body, the subject is creating a less threatening profile. Put simply, pigeon toes do for the body what a smile does for the face; both actions say, “If you approach, I won’t snub you.” Worth noting: In direct contrast to pigeon toes is being presented with the more aggressive, military posture. This toes-out, hands-behind-the-back stance is reminiscent of soldiers at ease, and its aloofness should tell you that it’s probably best to keep your distance from the person displaying it.
Sign #3: The palm reveal
As you talk to your new love interest, watch his or her hands. Specifically, take note of whether the palms are facing upward, especially while gesturing or resting on a table across from you. The brain is programmed to perceive vulnerability and openness in this specific motion, you see. In courtship, these gestures are psychologically friendlier than palm-down cues are meant to be. (Indeed, think about the downward hand motions that a grade-school teacher uses when trying to calm down rowdy students... it’s not a maneuver that communicates warmth and connection towards others, is it?)
Sign #4: The forehead bow
Your date has more than friendship in mind if he or she uses the forehead bow move on you. Here’s the tell-tale gesture: the head tips slightly forward and your date looks up at you from under his or her eyebrows. (Think of Lauren Bacall looking at Humphrey Bogart with her famous come-hither look for a visual reference.) A fragment of the full-body bow (which is used in cultures around the world to show respect and deference upon meeting someone), this head motion coupled with those bedroom eyes can indicate that your date may be falling for you... and fast. In direct contrast to this move is displaying a posture of domination, so if your date subtly tilts back his or her head and casts a downward gaze upon you, watch out. That look should tell you exactly where you stand — and that, in fact, you should go stand elsewhere, because this person does not see you as a decent love prospect.
Sign #5: Mirroring your date’s movements
Many creatures in the animal kingdom use a principle called isopraxism to establish rapport with a potential mate through mimicry. This can be seen in the synchronous preening of birds or head-nodding that lizards do, but since all living things find sharing a sense of likeness reassuring, it may come as no surprise that isopraxism works wonders for bonding humans, too. If you cross your legs, lean back in your chair, or sip your latte just as your date does, you’re showing him or her that you’re on the same wavelength, thus paving the way for more romantic mirrorings in the future.