Harris O’Malley takes some of the mystery out of knowing when to approach and when to walk away.
Guys spend a lot of time worrying about whether they should or shouldn’t approach women they’re attracted to. It’s an incredibly common component of approach anxiety; you want to go introduce yourself to that cute woman you see, but you’re afraid of getting rejected or being another unwelcome interruption in her day.
Approach Invitation #1: She Plays Eye Games
One of the most common approach invitations is also one of the subtlest: she’ll use her eyes. Eye contact is incredibly powerful and intimate; in fact, studies have found that prolonged eye-contact can trigger feelings of love and passion in people. This is one reason why deliberateeye-contact is often used as an approach invitation; we rarely make strong eye-contact with people we don’t like. In fact, deliberately avoiding eye-contact is one of the ways that men and women attempt to avoid getting drawn into a conversation with other people.
So if you’re wondering whether someone is interested in you, watch her eyes. Not only should you endeavor to make eye-contact with women, you should watch for the women who’re trying to catch your eye. Someone who’s actively trying to make eye-contact is more likely to be open to an approach. Most of the time when we check someone out, we take around 3 or so seconds to examine their face. If the person takes longer – four or five seconds, say – then that’s a pretty strong indicator that they’re interested in you; there’s something about you that fascinates them.
Of course, someone just giving you the hairy eyeball might be interested… or she might be trying to figure out why you remind her of that friend she hasn’t seen in years, especially if she’s got the “I’m trying to do do complex math” look instead of a smile. This is why you want to look for a particular form of eye-contact: the three-part glance.
A woman who’s interested in you will often meet your eyes, look away (usually down or to the side), then look back again, usually with a smile. This can be an easy invitation to mistake; after all, breaking eye-contact can be seen as a “oh god, don’t let them think I was interested” move. Most people will tend to assume that the eye contact was accidental and move on. It’s the “look back” part that’s important; it’s a subtle and often flirty way of checking to see if you’re still interested.
Approach Invitation #2: She Checks You Out
Of course, while there’re women who get flustered when they’re caught looking at people they’re interested in, there are also those who’re considerably more open about conveying their interest.
Because gender roles are a thing, many assertive women still prefer to be the approached rather than the approacher. Sometimes it’s because they want someone with the confidence to actually come say “hi”. Sometimes it’s because they appreciate feeling desired and having someone approach them validates that feeling. Sometimes she has enough courage in the moment to be overtly flirty but not enough to pull the trigger herself. Other times it could be that she’s as nervous about rejection as men are and is willing to leave a little plausible deniability; if he doesn’t respond, it’s easier to play it off than a direct rejection.
So what do these more obvious approach invitations look like? The most direct – and forward – version is the classic “elevator look”. A woman may meet your eyes, look you up and down (letting her eyes track your torso), before looking you back in the eyes again and smiling. She may also give you “sticky eyes”1, pointedly holding your gaze with an inviting smile. They may make a point of making eye-contact before looking around the room, then meeting your gaze again; a sign that they’ve checked out the competition and still prefer you. They may throw a discrete wink or use the triangle gaze – looking from your eye to your lip and back to your eyes. They may also do something to bring your attention to their mouth – touching their lip with a finger or biting their lip.
Approach Invitation #3: The Body Language Cues
Other signs of interest – and indicators that they’d appreciate you making an approach – are almost unconscious gestures. People, men and women both, tend to make small, subtle adjustments to their body language when they see someone they’re attracted to. One of the most common examples with women are what are known as “preening” gestures – making small adjustments to her clothing and hair, in order to present herself at her best. The most common example of preening behavior in women is playing with their hair – smoothing it down, twining it around their finger or brushing it slowly away from their face. They also may start rubbing their neck or wrists; self-touching is another sign of interest, as it draws the eye towards those parts
Another common sign of interest – one that frequently precedes other approach invitations – involves her torso. To start with, someone who’s open to being approached is going to have more “open” body language. She’ll be facing outwards towards the room, rather than facing the bar or her friends. Her arms will be angled away from her torso; crossed arms are a defensive, closed-off signal that says “go away”. Then, if she sees someone she does like, she’ll adjust her body slightly. One common sign is that she’ll straighten up and square herself off; it’s a way of improving her posture and displaying herself to a better advantage. She’ll also frequently angle her torso towards you. Humans tend to be goal-oriented and point themselves at the things they’re interested in. If you catch someone’s eye and they open up towards you, they’re definitely interested.
You may also see some mirroring; if you make a gesture when you catch her eye – a wave or an eyebrow-flash – then that’s a sign of interest and an indicator that you should go over and introduce yourself.
Just remember: one gesture can be happenstance and two may be coincidence. Instead of looking for one indicator, you should look for clusters of gestures that occur either simultaneously or very close on the heels of other signs of interest.
Approach Invitation #4: Proximity and Lingering
Another common approach invitation that women will give is to use proximity. They’ll position themselves in such a way as to be in your immediate orbit. They may post up near you as you’re standing around – not right next to you but close enough that it’s easy to make small-talk. They may make a point of always just happening to be in your vicinity on a number of occasions while you’re both there. You may realize that you’re always seeing her out of the corner of your eye, she always seems to end up in the same row of the bookstore as you or that you both just happen to keep bumping into each other, metaphorically speaking. It gives a level of plausible deniability to her trying to get to know you; if you’re not interested, then she’s able to move on quickly without having to deal with the embarrassment of a direct rejection.
Another common form of proximity is the “accidental” bump – she makes a point of brushing past you or “accidentally” colliding with you in a place where there is actually plenty of room. When there’s plenty of space at the bar, say, the woman who accidentally jars your arm or squeezes past you and grazes against you may well be trying to get you to turn around and start a conversation.
A couple words of warning: first, if you’re some place crowded, then collisions are almost inevitable. This is especially true on dance-floors; someone bumping into you on the dance floor isn’t necessarily an invitation to approach them unless you have other signs that she’s trying to get your attention. The other is that proximity and lingering work for women; when guys do it, it tends to be creepy. Chalk it up to the greater risk women face from men than men face from women and don’t hover.
Approach Invitation #5: The Plausible Denial Conversation Starter
This happens more often than you’d realize, particularly when you’re out and about during the day. Have you ever had someone who sits down next to you and makes some comment or observation – how long it’s taking for her to get her coffee, the problems with the wifi, why the bus is so off-schedule, something? This tends to be a plausibly deniable way of starting a conversation; she’s essentially tossing out a low-investment invitation to talk (often called anobservational opener in a cold approach) in such a way that she can wave it off as her just talking to herself. It feels less intimidating to toss those out there because it doesn’t feel as blatant as “hey, you seem like you’re interesting” approach to meeting somebody.
Of course, there are plenty of people who tend to mutter to themselves over the course of their day; not every stranger who complains about the lousy service at Peets is looking to get your number. So how do you tell the difference between a subtle conversational opener and daily frustration? Watch for those other contextual clues: proximity, body language, even the tone of voice. If you get the feeling that they’re hoping for a response, then it’s a good time to strike up a conversation.
Just remember: when you see those approach invitations, you want to act on them. He who hesitates is lost after all; if you take too long, that cutie who’s given you the look-away-look-back glance is going to think you’re not interested and move on. Don’t pass up the opportunity when you’re given an approach invitation. Learn to recognize when women want you to approach, then go over and say hello.
This article originally appeared on Doctor Nerd Love
Photo credit: Getty Images