The Art of Body Language: How to Guess What Your Dater Is Thinking

Dating Tips
02 Jun 2023
11 min read
The Art of Body Language Explained

Have you ever wished you could tell what the other person was thinking? How many times have you looked at a date and wondered this? Well, if you were clairvoyant, no problem. But you aren’t, so you’re left to wonder. The only clue you have is their body language.

You’re not alone in trying to read someone’s thoughts. It’s a skill that would be helpful in everyday life, but it’s often missed in the matters of the heart. Being able to read even some of your date’s thoughts would make things so much easier, right?

Related reading: Is He a Body Language Guy? How to Read The Subtle Signs

What Is Body Language?

“Kinesics: a systematic study of the relationship between nonlinguistic body motions (such as blushes, shrugs, or eye movement) and communication.”

Merriam-Webster dictionary

The scientific term for body language is kinesics, or a study of the relationship between what people are saying with body motions and what they are communicating with those movements. There have been lots of studies through the years about how much of our communication is through our bodies as opposed to our words, and what those body movements are actually communicating.

Kinesics is not exactly mind-reading, but it’s the closest you can get. Based on the work of Dr. Albert Mehrabian, there exists “56-38-7 rule.” In short, this “rule” says that, when people communicate, 56% of that communication is via body language, often facial expressions, 38% via tone of voice, and only 7% by actual words.

In short, this “rule” says that, when people communicate, 56% of that communication is via body language, often facial expressions, 38% via tone of voice, and only 7% by actual words. Mehrabian condensed his work into a self-published work that is probably worth a read if you have an interest in all of the details of his research.

So, over half of information is conveyed through body language, while only 7% of it is attributed to verbal communication. That’s why getting better at reading these very important physical cues in conversations can make you a better communicator. Mastering body language can help you in both professional and personal relationships since most relationship issues are caused by bad communication skills.

Body Language in Communication

So, how can you guess what someone is thinking? We have gathered some handy tips for you to use. They are only applicable when you have a visual of the person. Understanding the tone of the online message is much harder, especially if you haven’t met them in person yet.

When reading these tips, bear in mind that you should always look at the bigger picture, not get stuck in decoding one specific sign you noticed. Context is everything – but we’ll get to that once we go through some of the specifics of body language.

Related reading: 21 Things Your Partner Should Never Say to You (and Vice Versa)

The art of body language: reading eyes

Reading Body Parts

Let’s start with reading body parts. There is a lot more to tell than could fit in this blog post, but this shortlist is a good place to get you started.

Eyes

Eyes are a mirror to the soul, they can reveal so much information about your date. Pay attention to the movement of the eyes – are they locked into yours or darting around the room?

Locking eyes with you or keeping them on your face in general can be a sign of interest and active listening. If your date’s glance keeps moving away, it can show discomfort, disinterest, boredom or even lying.

Of course, this and most other signs discussed in this article are inherent in neurotypical individuals. Discomfort with direct eye contact does not have to mean your date isn’t interested in you – maybe they feel stressed or not good about eye contact in general.

Another thing to keep track of is the rate of blinking. No need to start counting blinks per second, just the general gist is enough. If your conversation partner starts blinking more rapidly, it’s likely their stress levels have increased – or it can also mean that they are lying about something.

As mentioned before, try to pair the readings from the eyes with what the rest of the body is signalling. Increased blinking rate paired with yawning could mean your date didn’t get enough sleep last night and they might benefit from a nice cup of coffee.

Reading body language on a date: Mouth

Mouth

You might think that reading the nonverbal cues of the lips would be the easiest – everyone knows a smile means happiness, right? It’s not that simple. There are many different kinds of smiles and learning to differentiate between them can be a useful tool in your arsenal.

A genuine smile does not stop at the mouth. It involves a lot of muscles, making the entire face move along. Eyes get slightly squinty from cheeks rising up. The sides of the eyes get those attractive smile lines. A true smile should be visible even when you cover the lower half of the face.

If your partner smiles but only the lower half of the face moves, they are pulling a fake smile. They are trying to show pleasure, but it never reaches the eyes because the feeling isn’t there. They may be faking it for many reasons, ranging from common social courtesy to simple discomfort or even deceit. Look for the sings from the rest of the body to complete the picture.

And don’t forget that a mouth can certainly show surprise (open) or even disagreement, disgust, or anger if the lips are tightly closed in a rather straight line.

Hands and Arms

Take a look at the hands of your date. Are they fidgeting in a display of nervous body language? Do you see the palms open towards you or making open gestures towards you to show interest in communicating with you? Are the fingers in a relaxed curved position or tightly gripping a cup in stress?

Arms are no less important. Commonly, crossing arms on your chest is considered to be a defensive posture, but there is more to that. When paired with relaxed body language and a smile, it conveys comfort and confidence. After all, arms and hands have to go somewhere and it is a comfortable pose.

Is your date exhibiting crossed arms, combined with sideways glances, and raised or hunched shoulders? They clearly do not feel relaxed in this situation and are putting up a defensive wall. Could be that the date isn’t going that well, they don’t like what you are saying, or they don’t feel comfortable/safe in the current environment.

Things your feet communicate on a date

Feet

People usually pay more attention to the signals sent by the upper body. Those that are actively trying to control their body language often focus more on their face and general posture. Thus, the position of feet can reveal secret messages regardless of what the person is trying to communicate.

In a group gathering, the person who most captures the room will have more feet pointed toward them. But there are some other cues too. When feet are pointed toward you in an open “V,” that’s a welcoming sign that they want to know you better. But, if feet in a “V” are pointed away from you, they are probably not too interested.

Legs

A lot can be read from the positioning of feet and legs. When two or more people are standing next to each other, the direction of their feet also shows the direction of their interest.

However, legs can be a bit complicated because some of the same positions can mean different things. So, you’ll have to watch other moves and positions too. Here are just a few meanings:

  • When standing, legs in a “V” signal confidence
  • Women who cross their legs, depending on the other positioning (toward you; away from you) can signal attraction and interest, or not so much
  • Men who cross their legs with one on the floor and the other at a 90-degree angle with the foot can be signaling dominance or relaxation
  • Manspreading – legs stretched out and apart can signal manliness (after all, they are showing off the junk), dominance, or even relaxation
  • When people have crossed legs and they uncross them, it’s a sign they are ready to leave.

Hips

Hands on hips can mean a variety of things – anything from anger, to relaxation (usually just one hand on a hip), to disagreement, to “I’m ready, let’s do this!” To read hands-on-hips correctly, you will want to look at the facial expressions that accompany this gesture.

Reading Your Date’s Gestures

Let’s focus more on some common gestures in body language. Don’t forget to pair these readings with what you have learned in the previous part, since a gesture on its own does not give the full picture.

Mirroring

Mirroring someone’s movements is ingrained in human nature. As children, we learn by mimicking the adults around us. As adults, we use mirroring to show agreement. If your date is unknowingly mimicking your posture and gestures, it is highly likely that they are interested and engaged in the conversation you are having. And it can be conscious or subconscious

It does not necessarily mean romantic interest – mirroring is used in all kinds of communication, including with bosses and colleagues at the workplace. But having someone move in sync with you is definitely a very good starting point. If you want to show interest by mirroring, do it gradually, though,  so you don’t look like a monkey on the other side of the glass.

Involuntary Movements

Is your date’s leg involuntarily bopping under the table? Are their fingers constantly fiddling with whatever happens to be in their hand?

Generally, all these signs point to nervousness or possibly lying. They can also be paired with avoidance of eye contact, or in case of higher levels of stress, with hastened breathing.

If you find your date attractive, and they are exhibiting these behaviors, assume they are just nervous. Do what you can to put them at ease. Over time, as they become far more comfortable with you, it will probably stop. Watch for it to start up again, if you take them to meet your parents!

Head Movement

Head movement can provide extra hints on body language when engaged in conversation. Pay attention to your date when they are listening to you. Are they nodding along? Slow nodding can show active listening, whereas hasty movement can show impatience or wanting to get a turn to speak.

Is their head tilted sideways while listening? Besides resembling a cute puppy pose, this can mean interest in what you are telling them about. Beware the tilt backwards though, especially if paired with a frown. That is a telltale sign of suspicion or uncertainty. It can also indicate that they don’t believe what you are saying, but accompanied with a smile, it can mean that they love what you are saying.

If a head is moving about the room as you are talking, you know two things:

  • They have absolutely no interest in what you are saying or in you for that matter,
  • They may be surveying the room for better fish.

In either case, feel free to excuse yourself, go find someone to flirt with, or, if you are on an actual date, call an Uber. No need to tell them what you are doing – they’re rude.

Touch in Body Language

You’re engaged in conversation or looking at something and your date brushes their hand against yours or leans their hand on your arm? Definitely a positive sign! They are signalling their interest and their comfort around you. However, if you are leaning in and they put a palm towards or against you? Back off. This is the most common sign for stop.

And if the evening is ending and you lean in for a kiss and they turn their head, take it as a sure sign, you are either rushing things or they are ready to say goodnight and goodbye.

Related reading: Should You Kiss on the First Date

What about when they’re touching their own face? That can often accompany lying or disagreement. Sometimes, it’s simply a sign of anxiety, a way to soothe oneself. If they’re rubbing their eyes, take it as a sign they are tired but it can mean they are not sure they understand what you are saying or are trying to figure out how to respond.

And, touching their own face in the same place a lot? They may simply be trying to hide a pimple or cold sore!

Other body language signs

Other Body Language Signs to Learn

By now, you should have a pretty good idea on some basic things that people communicate through non-verbal means. This article will definitely not be able to teach you everything there is to learn about kinesics – though there are special books and courses for that. But there are some other relevant and easily learned signs you should keep an eye (or ear) out for.

Proximity

“We are accustomed to being close to each other and belonging is one of our fundamental needs. Sociology teaches us proximity is one of the most important drivers of relationships and based on psychology we know when we have more exposure to people, we’re more likely to identify with them and feel positively toward them.”

Tracy Brower, PhD

You can read a lot from the proximity between people and how that distance changes over time. If your date keeps moving closer to you over time or is leaning in, it’s safe to say they feel good around you. However, if you move closer and they get further back or lean away, take note of that and give them space.

There is an area around us that we consider to be personal and not to be violated by others – it’s called proxemics. For most people, it’s an area of about 18 inches around themselves. This is their comfort level with people they do not know or know only casually.

Violating someone’s personal space can make them quite uncomfortable. Teachers, for example, often use it as a nonverbal way of making a misbehaving student uncomfortable enough to stop the bad behavior – it’s pretty effective.

While personal space requirements may vary by individuals, when someone is past the point of thinking of you as just a casual relationship, they will let you lean in and “violate” that personal space. If you make it to that level, you can consider yourself to have scored a “win.”

Creating Physical Barriers

Since we’re already on the topic of someone wanting more space, let’s talk about barriers. There are different ways people subconsciously create boundaries to keep their distance. The easiest is crossing their arms, physically closing themselves off from you. As said before though, you need to read the rest of their body language as well to see if this is what they mean.

It’s also possible to use objects rather than their own body to create a barrier. Holding a phone in the air between you, using a menu at a restaurant to block you out are ways to create a physical barrier.

People often create physical barriers when they are nervous or unsure about how to act around you. They may engage in pleasant conversation, but if they make no move to come out from that physical barrier, they are still nervous or unsure. Your choice is to let it be (if you are not that interested) or to do what you can to make them more comfortable (if you are interested). For some people, it takes time to warm up. Give them that time and see where it goes.

Posture and Posturing

Is your date sitting or standing in a comfortable and confident way? A pose with hands behind the head is often associated with feelings of confidence and superiority. If they’re sitting with their elbows on the table to support their head, that often signals interest in the conversation and paying attention to you.

It’s hard to get an accurate read on posturing. For example, someone sitting with their elbows on the table to support their head could also be showing some boredom in the conversation. You’ll have to pair that posturing with other nonverbal clues to figure it out.

If someone is standing straight with their legs together, it can be a sign of rigidity in thinking and an unwillingness to consider the thoughts and opinions of others. Only by spending a little more time with them will you be able to see how open they may really be. The posture can also be a nervous stance.

Voice Pitch

Time to do some detective work with your ears. This is easiest if you already know what this person’s voice sounds like in regular situations. If their voice starts sounding lower and slower than usual, that can indicate sadness. However, men changing their voice to a lower pitch can show attraction to their conversation partner, wanting to sound more masculine.

On the opposite end, a faster and higher voice can be a sign of happiness. Women can modulate their voices to a higher pitch when talking to someone they like – of course this is not limited to only sexual or romantic attraction, but also works in other situations they want to signal liking someone.

Related reading: 14 Red Flags in Women – Here’s Your Checklist

You’ve heard different voice tones all your life. You knew when a parent was upset or disappointed in you; you knew when a teacher was unhappy with your work or your behavior. You also knew when those adults were pleased and happy with your behavior or achievements. And you mimic those voice tones in your own conversation. Assume that your date is also echoing the voice tones they have learned throughout their lives. You’ll know how to “read” them.

The Flirt Face

One last thing: the Flirt Face. Yes, there is a specific facial expression associated with flirting. You probably know the look: a slightly turned and downwards tilted face, a small smile, eyes looking directly at the target of their flirtation. It’s not only something seen on the big screen, it is also among the most recognisable non-verbal signs of flirting.

If you see your date giving you that look, you don’t need to be an expert in the art of body language to get that they are interested in you. Go get ’em!

Is This a Wrap?

With all that you have learned here, we hope you will feel more confident communicating on the dating scene. There is a lot more to body language – we have barely scratched the surface. But even this small guide should come in handy.

Just remember: a single gesture or pose does not tell the whole story. You have to see the bigger picture. Combine your findings from verbal information with the gestures and body language you have observed. People from different backgrounds and cultures can have different reactions and body language. Don’t take one or two signs as the ultimate truth when making decisions. Use what you’ve learned as guidelines and take context into consideration.

Nevertheless, nonverbal communication can be a reliable guide to determining the meaning of a message. Use your newfound powers wisely. Our team wishes you the best of luck with your future dates!

Dating Tips Author
Shelly Standford
After a devastating relationship breakup, I threw myself into the dating scene by registering on Hily. I had over 100 dates - some absolute disasters, some pretty average, and some that were actually great. So many stories to tell and insights to share with you guys!
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