The Right Kind of Signal

or: How to Avoid Accidental Dates

After I posted about how I have accidental dates and then have a hard time maneuovering out of a second date,  a friend asked me the valid question how I end up on these accidental first dates. I’m not entirely sure, but I blame it on a mix of culture, personality and general naiveté. This post looks more closely into the details.

Firstly, one has to identify who the accidental date is likely to happen with. Simply put, it depends on the relation of the strength of my attraction to him to the strength of his attraction to me. Because I love visualising data, and can’t get enough of that in my day job, I have compiled this problem in a graph.

The fine line in the middle represents equal levels of attraction. As you can see, the main danger for accidental dates rests in the top left zone – where you reasonably like the person, but they like you quite a bit more. This disparity causes situations where you are quite comfortable having them around  and don’t suspect anything when they suggest outings. As you aren’t that attracted to them it maybe hasn’t even crossed your mind that there might be a subtext.

Secondly, I think that my non-verbal communication skills must be deeply flawed. Part of it might be that I’m foreign, and have different cultural values –  however, this is a feeble excuse seeing that my home country is not really known for its touchy feeliness, so it must be my personality. I’m extremely tactile, and will happily hug even people I have only just met. With my friends this becomes more pronounced, and I like to show my affection by touching their arm in conversation, walking with locked arms and hugging when greeting or saying goodbye. The way I was raised, affective touching is not necessarily sensual but can also be friendly and comforting.

However, I’ve learnt the hard way that especially among British born-and-bred males friendly touches are almost exclusively construed as coming on to them. So once you have identified your vulnerable accidental-date population, stick to the following:

Rule 1) No unnecessary touching.

Walk somewhere?  – Walk on your own!

Meet someone in the street? – Nod your head and say “You alright, mate?”

Have a quiet conversation somewhere? –  Keep your hands to yourself!

The next part is a bit more subtle, but also concerns my personality. I have the tendency to be very enthusiastic about things, and express this enthusiasm quite vocally. When I like something, I’ll probably tell you. And I like a lot of things. I also laugh out loud at jokes that I find funny. Again, I get the feeling that this natural enthusiasm and my way of showing it is not widely spread in England, which leads to my friendly interest looking like I’m way into someone. In reality, I’m just way into people in general.

Rule 2) Be cool.

Don’t squeal “OMG, me too”, at every second utterance of the other person. Don’t fall off your chair laughing. Don’t suggest seeing this absolutely cool band you’re sure the other person would just love.

The last one is crucial, so I’ll make it its own rule.

3) Don’t ever suggest a date-type outing to someone in the accidental date danger zone.


Even though it kills you because you know you could have a great time making cookies together, or there’s this vintage café you really want to try out. Don’t expect someone who’s a little too into you to mindread that “Oh hey, let’s spend more time with just the two of us” actually comes with the implied caveat of “…as friends only!”. Sure, you know what you meant- you want to hang out, you think the other person would be fun to hang out with, and it all seems breezy. But from the rose-tinted view of someone with a crush it will almost certainly sound like you’re asking them out.

Date-type outings will include (but aren’t limited to) the following, if just the two of you are present:

Any type of sit-down meal, any type of event that requires tickets (cultural, sporting or other), any activity that takes place in one of your houses (absolutely no DVD nights!), any kind of trip or any nighttime activity outside. Come to think of that, I think any nighttime activity with just the two of you present is a date-type event, so best to avoid evenings altogether.

Grey areas are shared interests such as working out together, any of the aforementioned with another couple present (could be construed as a double date) and meals that are eaten while standing up or moving (only the truly desperate will consider a late-night trip to the kebab shop a date).

Safe events:  talking in your coffee break, time spent in a common group of friends, time spent on public transport.

See how this list is much, much shorter than the first list? This means suggesting events in general is probably a bad idea.

It is not fair to assume that the person with the massive emotional bias will sort out your ambiguous signals, so try to be as clear as possible.

Good luck.


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Filed under General, Rules

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