IN AN IDEAL world, everyone would be upfront about his or her expectations, men and women would take equal responsibility for courtship, and no one would ever use an ambiguous winky-face emoji.
Fortunately, women have more control over their love lives than they once did—you can no longer hand her dad a cow and call it a day—but we still have a long way to go. Many societal forces still condition women to behave passively, and in matters of modern romance, plenty of women defer to the man’s lead. On top of that, people tend to communicate attraction through cues rather than direct statements, and it can be difficult to interpret those cues correctly.
So: How can you tell if a woman likes you?
If you’ve Googled this question or asked your peers, chances are you’ve received a lot of misleading answers. She smiles when she’s talking to you. She makes plans to hang out. She replies to texts promptly. She listens when you speak. She laughs at your jokes.
You might as well add: She says ‘gesundheit’ when you sneeze, andone time she posted “Happy birthday” on your Facebook page.
And to be fair: If a woman is interested in you, she’s probably showing these signs. But the converse—that those signals mean she’s interested—isn’t reliably true, especially if you’re friends with her, and those “signals” could communicate anything from platonic interest to mere politeness. On the flip side, she may be too shy or insecure to show her interest outright.
Because here’s the thing, gents: You could monitor her pupil dilation, body temperature, vocal octave, and hair-flips with scientific rigor, but the fact is: the only way to really know if a woman likes you is by communicating with her directly. Scary? Yes, but far more effective than analyzing the direction her feet are pointing when you’re seated at a restaurant.
So that’s the real advice. And if you still want a list of cues she might drop if she’s interested in you, we’ve collected stories from real, live women about how they communicate interest to men. Here’s what they had to say:
Signs she’s into you
- The ‘Rule of Three’
“When I’m interested in a guy, I usually show it with the rule of three: lingering presence, lingering eye contact, and lingering touch. I’ll try to be in the same space with him as much as possible, meet his eyes, and find excuses to touch him—like ‘accidental’ thigh touch when sitting next to each other, where neither of you pulls away.” — Emma L., 25, yoga instructor
- She matches your advances
“Although I think of myself as an outgoing person, I often communicate romantic interest in more of a passive than an active way. I’m basically looking for him to lead if I really like him because I fear rejection. I will match every escalation, but I’m probably not going to move things forward. If I’m interested, I’ll ask questions, I’ll reciprocate physical advances.” — Mia K., 30, novelist
- She finds excuses to contact you
“I’m kind of shy, so I find it difficult to make moves in person. But if I like someone, I’ll find some reason to contact him afterward—like texting him an article we discussed, or emailing him a funny video, or asking him to repeat that recommendation he gave me. Usually, I’m hoping a conversation will launch from here.” — Lilly J., 26, curatorial assistant
- She asks you to teach her something
“One trick I learned from romantic comedies is to ask him to teach me something. It’s like saying, ‘I admire you as a person, and I want to know what you know.’ It’s also a good way to get physically close to someone. I tried this once with a guy who was weirdly good at archery. Hottest foreplay of my life.” — Ruth P., 27, translator