Whether we’re male or female, old or young, outgoing or shy, let’s face it—we all suck at reading other people to some extent. So, when a special someone decides to show us a little bit of extra positive attention, it can be extremely puzzling and frustrating trying to make sense of what their true intentions are. From advice to personal stories to some general musings, here are people’s thoughts on how to tell the difference between when someone is flirting and when they are just being friendly.
1. A Study in Comparative Behavior
The best way to tell whether someone is flirting with you or whether they are just being friendly is by observing how they act around other people. If they act the exact same way with everyone else as they do with you, you’re unfortunately out of luck!
2. The Key Question to Ask
Flirting is basically just a dumb game of chicken involving gradual escalation. However, if you directly ask the person whether they have a significant other, the way they respond usually makes their feelings pretty obvious.
3. And the Answer Is…There Is No Answer!
The simple answer is that you don’t ever really know whether someone is flirting with you or whether they are just being friendly. You have to just take a leap of faith. That’s honestly all there is to it.
4. How Dare You Be So Nice!
I was once called into HR for allegedly flirting with an employee (not part of my own team). Her proof? I was always friendly to her, I frequently offered her milk to go with her coffee, and (worst of all) I once bought a round of drinks for everyone (her included) at an after-work social gathering. The head of HR was a bit puzzled about the whole situation and asked her what she would then suggest we do to resolve the situation.
She requested that from that point on, I should stop being friendly to her and just leave her be. This poor woman just could not accept the notion that I was simply being friendly.
5. Where Have I Heard This Story Before?
The way I discovered that someone who I thought was just friendly had actually been flirting with me was when I read someone’s comment on Reddit about how they had missed all the signs—and then I instantly realized that the same exact thing had just happened to me. Now, I’m just lying here contemplating my life…
6. She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not
It’s not always easy to tell the difference! With my fiance, when we started hanging out I would convince myself that she liked me and then talk myself out of it. I would walk her home and she’d give me a really awkward “friend hug” before running inside, leaving me feeling like I had misread the signals completely. This went on for about three weeks before we finally kissed at a party.
I asked her about it afterward and it turned out she had been doing the same exact back and forth thing in her mind as I had been doing. Seven years and a proposal later, I think she might have a crush on me, guys!
7. Everyone Is Different
There truly is no way to always be able to tell whether something is flirting or just friendly behavior. This is also exactly why people really need to stop the generalizing of entire genders’ behaviors. Being a hetero male, I can only speak about women in terms of dating them, but a lot of women do not realize that different men interpret friendly conversation in different ways.
One woman’s hard to get is another’s take the hint. One woman’s insult is another woman’s being playful. One woman’s flirting is another woman’s friendly. This is why men can’t “take a hint” ladies, you are all different. Same goes for you, guys. Your flirt might be another guy’s aggressive. Your nice gesture may be another guy’s sweeping her off her feet.
8. Where It’s All Coming From
If you’re ever unsure about the nature of someone’s friendliness, a good thing to ask yourself is whether they ever initiate the “friendliness.” Responding to someone else’s kindness is a very different and less significant thing than initiating it themselves. But even still, the only sure way to know is to just ask.
9. Two Can Play at That Game!
How do you tell if someone is flirting with you or just being friendly? Easy: Flirt back! If their flirting increases in frequency or intensity, they were flirting with you. If they pull back or tone it down, they were just being nice. In the latter case, just stop your flirting and it’s all good.
10. Victory from the Jaws of Defeat
I once flat out told a guy that I liked him and that if he asked me out I would say yes. He just said “thanks” and never asked me out or responded in any way to suggest that he liked me back. Bummer. Then, a few months later, we unexpectedly kissed. He was like, “So, you like me?” I should have smacked him across the face.
Apparently, he thought I had just said that to him to be nice.
11. That’s What Some Would Call an Ulterior Motive
As my dear old dad used to say: “Women who work for tips are NOT flirting with you.”
12. It’s All About the Setting
Create the right situation (invite him or her over, or find a way to be alone with him or her in a comfortable environment)…and just ask. That’s the way to find out. If he or she is not attracted to you, move on with your life and continue being friendly as if nothing ever happened (so that you don’t lose a friend).
If he or she is attracted to you, then, by all means, do what you wanna do.
13. That’s Pretty Funny, Eh?
Well, you can’t ever really know. Like, for example, even if she sleeps with you, she might just be super friendly because she’s Canadian. So, honestly, you shouldn’t ever get your hopes up and you’d better just keep looking and wondering.
14. A Hair-Raising Answer
If they’re touching either their own hair or yours while speaking to you, it’s probably flirting. That’s the tell-tale sign in my experience.
15. You Might As Well Have Prop-osed!
Sometimes, you just can’t predict what kind of random actions will make people think that you’re flirting with them. A few years ago, I was doing some work backstage on a theater production of Oliver! One part of my job was to keep all the props organized, and another was to make sure everything was quiet backstage during the show.
Throughout the rehearsals, I started noticing that one girl carrying metal milk pails over her shoulders would always unknowingly clang the chains against the pails and make a huge racket, so I started helping her carry them to her position on the side of the stage. As it was during the middle of the show, I never even spoke a word to her the whole time that I worked there.
About a year later, I bumped into someone who had been in the show and recognized me through a friend at the pub—and I couldn’t believe what she told me. She said that every single one of the actors was convinced that I had a crush on the milk pail girl! Honestly, the thought had never even crossed my mind! I had made no attempt to even communicate with her.
I was literally just helping her move her loud prop from the table to her position. Astounding!
16. These Things Take Time
In my experience, if you randomly wake up in the middle of the night ten years later thinking “How could I not have understood that??” it probably means she was flirting with you.
17. Step By Step
When she asked me out: I was skeptical. When we slept together: more likely, but still can’t be too sure. When we got married: I’m pretty sure she likes me!
18. Is It the Look in Your Eyes?
One of the biggest challenges in trying to tell whether someone is flirting with you or just being friendly is that so many people try to drop hints rather than just admitting how they truly feel to people who they have a crush on. In my experience, a lot of women (at least the ones that I know) think that being very subtle and dropping little clues is the way to go, instead of just going over and making the first move to see if the guy is even interested. Of course, that is very subjective.
But to give you an example: A female friend of mine once told me, obviously very frustrated, that she had been flirting with this guy across the room by looking at him and then shyly looking away whenever their eyes met. Yet, he somehow just didn’t get “the subtle hint” that she wanted to sleep with him based on that!
Yeah, I wouldn’t get that either. Just saying!
19. You Make It Sound So Simple!
The friendly, honest approach has worked well for me. If you are enjoying a pleasant conversation, simply try something like this: “You seem really nice. You’re definitely someone I’d like to go out with, if you’d like that too.” If they’re already taken or disinterested, they’ll let you know. Either way, I’ve noticed that they seem to appreciate the attention as long as they sense that you’re being sincere.
20. Eye See What You Mean!
I can always tell whether someone is flirting or just being friendly based on their eyes. If they are intentionally making a lot of eye contact or their eyes seem more open and clear than usual, that is typically a good sign. I would recommend closely watching how people behave, and I guarantee you’ll start to notice the subtleties of body language.
21. A Win-Win Situation
If someone is excessively nice to you, assume attraction and ask them out. If they say no, you get your answer. If they say yes, you get a date.
22. Taking It Slow
Sometimes, one can’t really tell what the other person’s intention is because they themselves aren’t fully sure! Often, girls will want to feel things out for a while before deciding how they truly feel about someone. Haven’t you noticed that people become more or less attractive to you over time as you get to know them better?
I’ve met knee-knockingly gorgeous people who, after a while, I found to be visually repulsive or meh because I didn’t like their personalities. I’ve also met boring-looking people whose appearances then grew on me to the point where I now think they are hugely attractive and appealing. When I say “attractive,” I don’t even just mean in a physical sense.
I mean that I view them with a far broader appeal than only that. I just start to universally enjoy being around them and am constantly wanting to be in their presence. This applies even to people of both sexes, including people who I would never be interested in being with intimately. Friends, old people, celebrities, everyone.
Just…they all have great personalities and I like them. Or, in other cases, they are awful people and they repulse me, and my visual assessment of them morphs to match my emotional reaction to them. It’s not immediate. It takes time to know people.
23. Waiting on an Answer
Asking the person is the number one way to find out how they feel and what their true intentions are. For example, there was a waitress at a bar that my buddies and I used to order from for like a year. I was into her, but couldn’t tell how she felt about me. She was always fun and flirty in general, but I started to realize that whenever she would first walk up to our table, laugh, or make a joke, she would always look directly at me while doing so.
I assumed this meant that there was at least a chance she liked me, so I eventually asked her out and she said yes. She was beautiful, had a great figure, and was super down to earth. She then turned out to be someone who loudly cheers at high points of movies, and I just don’t need that in my life. We went our separate ways.
24. Kiss Me, Kate
It’s not always easy to tell the difference, and I think I’m particularly bad at it. For example, here is a story that I experienced related to this: During my sophomore year of high school, I had a couple of classes with this girl who I had a crush on. Because teachers loved using alphabetical order, she and I ended up sitting next to each other in both of those classes. We started passing notes to each other during those classes, talking about random stuff and being a bit flirty.
One day, I decided to build up the courage to ask if she wanted to go out with me to a movie or something. So, I asked her out in one of our notes. She replied saying that she’s really sorry but she doesn’t like me in that type of way. I was devastated. But still, I also liked her as a friend and didn’t want to lose that. So, I replied saying that I was fine with that and asking if we could just forget I ever asked and keep things the way they were before. After all, class would be so boring without our talks! She said that was fine and we stayed note buddies throughout the year.
Fast forward to my senior year. I had to repeat algebra because I messed up really badly during my junior year due to some personal issues. I’m in a class with a bunch of people who are all younger than me, and I end up getting seated next to this girl named Kate who I thought was so pretty. Like with the other girl, we ended up passing notes to each other in class and I came to find out that not only did I find her physically attractive, but she was also a really awesome person with similar interests to me.
I really, really liked this girl and crushed hard on her throughout the year. I would make her mix CDs that she would tell me she loved, and she even made me some back a couple of times. I’d share stories with her that I wrote, and also art that I was working on. The best part of my day was always getting to talk with her during algebra.
But, at the same time, I was scared of even trying to ask her out because of how I misinterpreted things last time, so I never did. I came really close a couple of times but never did. A year and a half after I graduated, I was dating a girl from the same class as her who had been a friend of mine for a couple of years. We were once hanging out with this other girl who was also in our class, and she brought up Kate and asked why we never dated.
I told her I didn’t think Kate thought of me that way, and she was like, “Are you kidding me? She was so into you!” At that time, it didn’t really matter much anymore because I was already in a new relationship and there was nothing I could do about it. At the same time, it did frustrate me to learn just how bad I was (and probably still am) at reading signals. I still wish I had at least tried with Kate.
25. So Many Details!
When it comes to women, a bigger smile and more eye contact means she’s being friendly. If it’s a softer smile and she touches her hair or looks away a few times almost shyly, it’s flirting. If she’s talking about her body, it means she wants you to notice it.
26. When You’re Smiling
I’m still wondering about this very question, and I honestly don’t know how to tell the difference. In my case, she was a cashier at a local pizza place and we had a bit of small talk while I was waiting for my order. I managed to make her genuinely crack up and, before I left, she gave me a very attentive look while smiling at me.
I figured that she was probably just being nice or friendly so I decided not to make too much of it, but a part of me was definitely kinda hoping that the look she gave me had something more behind it.
27. It’s Not What They Say, It’s How They Say It
As a guy who at various times both flirts and is nice to people, I suggest you pay attention to the tone of the person’s voice and wording. It can be as subtle as the difference between a curt “Here’s yours!” versus a “Here Anna!” with a half-blush smile.
28. Close Sesame
A great way to tell if someone is flirting is to wink at them. If they smile at you or wink back and continue with the conversation, that is confirmation that flirting is taking place. If everything kinda dies down at that point, they were just being nice.
29. If You Can Make It There, You’ll Make It Anywhere
There is a girl that I work with who has asked me to go spend the weekend with her in New York City, so I would assume that she’s flirting and/or interested in me. I mean, she’s kinda flirty with everyone, but it just seems like it’s even more so with me. She always makes a point to talk to me when I walk by and we’re always making each other laugh every time we talk.
Nevertheless, I am extremely afraid of trying to make a move since I work with her and she’s WAY out of my league. I wish I had the answer to this question so that I could know what to do in this situation.
30. A Little Compliment Goes a Long Way
Give her a compliment, preferably about her personality. If it must be about her physical body, stick to the face. Especially the eyes. Girls love when guys pay attention to things like outfit choice. They also like it when you compliment something they can control, i.e. personality or clothing. You can also reciprocate whatever level of flirting she is doing.
So if she is full-on giving you compliments, touching you often, and getting close, then you should do the same.
31. Sense of Humor
When I’m interested in someone, I will laugh while sort of leaning in towards them. When I’m not, my laughs are more the “throw your head back away from whomever I’m talking to” kind.
32. Same Action, Different Result
Really, with some people, you absolutely CANNOT tell. I once knew a girl who was super friendly with me. I got interested, and then after a few weeks around here I realized that this was just how she treated EVERY guy. With all of them, she’d smile, say, “Oh stop it you,” act a little flirty, the whole shebang. I realized that I wasn’t special here. I moved on—but the story doesn’t end there.
Then, I met another girl who was friendly with everyone in the exact same way. We sat down at a birthday party one time and talked non-stop for close to three hours. She was friendly with other people just like the first girl had been, but I hadn’t seen her spend this much time on anyone else before. I got her number and called her, and we talked until my phone died.
Our tenth wedding anniversary was about six weeks ago. Our oldest kid turns seven in a few months.
33. Taking the Lead
A good strategy is to openly flirt a little and assess their reaction. If they react in any way less than politely, then that’s a no. If they respond by blushing or by flirting back, gradually escalate it. Then straight up ask: “I like you. Can I interest you in coffee/date/dinner, etc.?” I guess asking is really the only way to know at the end of the day.
34. The Power of Suggestion
If I’m making friends with a new guy, I’ll very pointedly suggest that we do things with a group. If I’m flirting, I’ll suggest something that has the potential for us to be alone together.
35. Go With the Flow
If I could go back in time and tell my past self one thing about dating, and specifically about this question, I know exactly what I would say: “If you have fun hanging out with a girl, do just that. Spend as much time with her as you can, just like you and a friend would do. Don’t even think about actually hooking up, and don’t care if she’s not spending all of her time with you. If things are going to happen between you and her romantically, they just naturally will at some point.”
36. Sounds About Right
If they explicitly ask you to take off your clothes for any reason, chances are they’re not just being friendly!
37. Legging It Out
They say you can tell a lot about a girl’s intentions by her leg positioning when she’s speaking to you. If her body language is generally more welcoming, that’s always a positive sign.
38. Two Strikes and She’s Out
I automatically assume people are being friendly. It’s a habit. I’m aromantic now (meaning not interested in dating) after struggling with feelings towards romance in general for a bit, but before I discovered what aromanticism was, I just assumed that people were being friendly with me because I was, and still am, too unattractive.
Flirting wasn’t my strong suit either, and I had a terrible track record with guys. Plus I can’t commit to a relationship. Mmmmm, depression! Nevertheless, a guy I know apparently has a crush on me, yet from our interactions, I just assumed that he was being friendly. Imagine my surprise when his mom told me he was crushing on me.
I never would have known otherwise!
39. A Change of Pace
Confusion over whether someone was flirting with me is actually how I came to be with my current girlfriend, believe it or not. When I first met her, I totally thought she was flirting with me, so I invited her to hang out one day. I thought we were going on dates the first four or five times, but she just thought we were hanging out as friends.
I found out later that she is always that friendly to everyone she meets and has a ton of random friends, so this wasn’t unusual to her. I eventually picked up on the fact that things weren’t going to be romantic between us, so I told her about the whole thing and we both just laughed about it. Things stayed that way for a few months and we remained friends.
Then, we were watching a movie together one day and, all of a sudden, she asked if I wanted to make out in the middle of it. Not sure what magically shifted the gears, but it was pretty rad though!
40. Gone Too Soon
Sometimes, there honestly isn’t any way to tell what the heck is going through people’s minds when it comes to these things. I once asked a girl out who had been flirting with me for weeks. She gave me her number and then when I texted her to follow up, she said that she wasn’t free to hang out because she and her boyfriend were going to be attending a funeral the next day.
What kind of response was that???
41. She’s Clearly New Around Here…
I once got falsely accused of flirting with someone at my old workplace when I was clearly just being friendly. I was very open about my sexuality (I am a male who likes other males). I would even frequently bring my boyfriend to work meetups every now and then. Nevertheless, we hired a new employee at one point and, within her first month of being with us, she went to my boss and tried to have my shift changed because I always “flirted with her.”
She said that I complimented her too frequently. The compliments? One time I told her that she did a good job at stocking. The horror! Unfortunately, she now lives in the same apartment complex as me, so I have to see her all the time. I still resent her for that whole debacle!