It’s a question as old as time that men have repeatedly failed to answer. The reason why? According to Joe Navarro, a body language expert, and author of the international bestseller, What Every Body is Saying, it’s easy to misinterpret certain common behaviours as interest, when they simply means she’s friendly.
“A common complaint I’ve heard from women across the world is that men think they're flirting, when in fact, their predisposition is to be what we call ‘alacrity,’ which is to be happy, joyous, and very outward,” Navarro says.
These women like to smile and touch frequently, but that doesn’t mean that they’re flirting with you or even have a crush on you; it just means that’s the type of person they are.
The key, Navarro makes clear, is to see how the interact with others. This is simple to do in a workplace setting, which is where many women run into the problem of their friendliness or professionalism being read incorrectly as a sign of flirtation.
Lip-biting is yet another mixed signal commonly misconstrued by men. Navarro gets often asked if a woman biting or touching her lip is a sign of interest, since it means that she’s inadvertently drawing attention to her mouth. “We compress or bite our lips when something is bothering us or making us uncomfortable. It’s not to garner your attention. But rather, she’s using it to release stress in the same way that we used to suck our thumbs to release stress."
Navarro continues, "As we get older, we bite or touch our lips because they’re full of nerve endings, so stimulating them can help relieve stress or discomfort.”
While smiling, touching, and lip-biting might not be as telling as you thought, Navarro says there are still some common behaviours that are heavy indicators that she is indeed interested in you.
“We will make repeated eye contact with individuals we’re interested in,” says Navarro. It makes sense, since we’re trying to take all that person in, so to speak. Eye contact, when done properly, is also one of the simplest and least threatening ways to get someone else’s attention. That’s why if you notice someone looking at you, repeatedly, it’s likely they’re into you. While they might not sustain eye contact, that still doesn’t indicate that they’re not interested, as some women are shy, and find sustained eye contact too intense. But if they keep looking back, it’s definitely a sign, says Navarro.
Preening is actually the term used to describe birds when they straighten themselves up, puff out their chests, and clean their feathers to attract potential mates. Humans do this too. Women will reapply makeup, adjust their bra, and touch up their hair. Sometimes, it’s conscious—if this is the case she’ll likely head to the restroom to “freshen up”—but sometimes they might not be aware that they are even engaging in these preening behaviours.
“Men preen too,” says Navarro. “Men will adjust their posture, tuck their stomach in, fix their collar, or comb their hair. We only preen if we want to impress someone.”
Exposing her “weak” side
“In the old days, when people smoked a lot more, you could gauge a woman’s interest by how she held her cigarette,” Navarro explains. “If she shows the inside of her wrist as opposed to the back of their hand, it likely means there’s some attraction.” The same holds true for women playing with their hair or simply holding a glass.
“Let's say you start a conversation with someone you just met. At first, maybe, her hand is holding a cigarette or even holding a glass, and you're seeing just the back of the hand. But as the conversation progresses and that person becomes more interested in you, you literally see the the wrist rotate revealing the interior side.”
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“It’s like you’re showing your weaker side,” says Navarro, “We only do that when we're really comfortable around somebody.”
At the end of the day, the key to interpreting mixed signals and common behaviours is to not look at each action in isolation. “We mustn’t read too much into one behaviour,” says Navarro. But when you constantly see a coworker or friend engage in multiple of these behaviours, and they’re specifically not behaving like this with others, then there’s a solid chance that she is indeed attracted to you.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health