Even when it’s not crystal clear, there are some pretty foolproof ways to tell the difference.
I’ve had many guy friends complain to me over the years that figuring out what women want from them is next to impossible these days. This is especially the case when it comes to facilitating a meet-cute with someone attractive they stumble across out in the wild.
Do women still want men to talk to them, or do they strictly want to be left alone? It’s actually both, but it depends on the woman, as well as the circumstances. You’re probably pretty safe chatting someone up in a social setting where people are there to mix and mingle, like at a party or a night club. But what about everyday places like the grocery store, the gym, or the street — places where women aren’t necessarily looking to meet new people?
Contrary to popular belief, many women are still more than open to a little friendly conversation with men they find interesting. However, we’re still socialized to be relatively subtle about letting you know it— usually non-verbally. Of course, the rub is that subtle interest can sometimes look disturbingly similar to “dear God, just leave me alone.” Here are some cues that can help you tell the difference.
What’s her body language saying?
I’m introverted, married, and uninterested in changing either of those things, so I‘m typically a member of the “please don’t talk to me” camp when I’m out and about by myself. It’s really easy to tell that’s the case at a glance, though. I tend to close off my body language by turning away from other people and avoiding eye contact. I’ll probably also be standing or sitting as far out of the way as possible with my arms folded or my body otherwise pulled in on itself. I might even have my sunglasses or coat on for what seems like no good reason.
Those are ways of creating a barrier between myself and anyone nearby who might try to get my attention, male or otherwise. I’m not secretly hoping someone will come over and try to coax me out of my shell. I’m not going to drop my guard for the “right” person, either. I’m wherever I’m at for a reason, and it has nothing to do with socializing.
A woman who feels sociable, chatty, and open to interacting with other people will look the exact opposite. Her torso will be facing toward others, as humans typically point themselves toward whatever it is they’re interested in. She’ll look at people, at least in passing. If she happens to catch someone’s eye, she’ll probably smile warmly and politely. This is a woman who will, at the very least, probably be personable with you if you try to talk to her.
Is she totally focused on something else?
Most people bring along a little something to pass the time while they’re munching their way through their sandwich on their lunch break or waiting for their Uber to arrive. They might read a book, listen to music, or fiddle around with their phone. Doing one of these things doesn’t necessarily mean they absolutely don't want to be spoken to, though. The key is to determine how focused they are on what they’re doing.
A woman who’s reading a book or looking at her phone solely because she doesn’t have anything better to do will look up once in a while. She’ll smile or nod at people passing by and appear at least somewhat interested in the rest of the world around her. The same goes for someone listening to music with only one headphone in while people-watching or something. If you manage to catch her eye and she shoots you a smile or a similar response, then you’re good to go.
Then there’s the woman reading in public who looks so engrossed in her book, a pink elephant could walk by, and she probably wouldn’t notice. The same goes for the one who’s listening to music with both headphones in while looking like she’s a million miles away. Don’t sit down next to her and comment on her taste in reading material or pull out one of her headphones to ask her what she’s listening to. She doesn’t want to talk about it with you or anyone else, and she’s not going to appreciate you interrupting her to ask.
Is she just trying to get somewhere?
Some environments are just a plain bad idea across the board when it comes to approaching women in the hopes of chatting them up. I’d say any form of public transportation falls into this category. Most people on the bus, the subway, or the train aren’t in the best moods as it is. They’re tired, rushed, stressed, and just want to get where they’re going with as little hassle as possible. This goes triple for women.
Speaking as a woman who relied on public transportation to commute back and forth to work for many years, let me assure you, it’s no picnic. In fact, I feel comfortable describing it as a nightmare I had to mentally prepare myself for every single day of my life, and I know plenty of other women who would say the same.
Why’s that, you ask? Well, in addition to all the usual frustrations like late buses and a potential lack of seating during rush hour, women routinely deal with a ton of harassment on any form of public transit. Maybe you’re not the type of guy to angrily demand she answer you when she doesn’t want to talk or to creepily follow her off the bus when she reaches her stop, but five other guys she’s dealt with that week probably were. She doesn’t care that you’re different — not when she’s just trying to get to work unbothered.
Things aren’t any better on a plane. Maybe a woman doesn’t have to worry that she’ll run into the same creep on the flight home the way she might on the city bus, but she’s still probably in no mood to chat. The whole airport experience is exhausting for everyone these days, so she probably just wants to sit there in peace.
And on a plane, she can’t even get up and move to another seat or a different subway car if the strange man seated next to her can’t read the room and take a hint. She’s stuck with him and his pastrami breath, possibly for hours on end. Trust me. You don’t want to be that guy.
So, yeah. Unless you happen to hit the jackpot and wind up dealing with a woman who’s comfortable enough on public transport and open enough to chatting that she starts a conversation with you? Don’t approach women in any metal tube that exists for the sole purpose of transporting humans from one place to another. Period. It’s just a bad idea.
Is it literally her job to be nice to you?
Trying to chat up a random woman while she’s on the job is going to make it a lot harder to figure out if she’s really into you or not. Just about everyone, regardless of their line of work, is more or less compelled to be personable with other people at work. This is doubly the case for anyone in the service industry, especially if they also count on tips as part of their income.
That cute waitress with the million-watt smile may well like interacting with you, but keep in mind that she’s also in customer service mode. She has to smile at you, be friendly with you, and make you feel right at home, or it’s her ass. She needs you to leave her a nice tip so she can pay her phone bill on time, and her boss expects her to encourage you to come back and eat there again tomorrow. It’s unlikely she’s subtly trying to tell you she wants to date you.
I went through this a lot with specific customers when I worked retail back in my 20s. I was definitely in customer service mode while I was on the job, but I did genuinely like many of my customers… as customers. Yet, I still had a handful who were convinced that I was flirting with them because I smiled when I thanked them for shopping at my store or personally helped them find what they were looking for. They were baffled when they’d get a “no, thanks” if they asked for my number or invited me out after work.
Trying to flirt with a woman when she’s on the job is a lot like trying to do it on public transport. She’s a captive audience, and she’s stuck with you for the moment, whether she likes it or not. Unless she straight-up offers you her number or something equally clear-cut, assume she’s so nice to you because it’s her job, and leave it at that.
Is she trying to start a conversation indirectly?
Remember, women do sometimes happen to spot random men they’re attracted to, who seem interesting, or who they wouldn’t mind talking to. But, unless they’re unusually forward or uber-confident, they’re probably not going to walk straight up to you and be direct. A woman might, on the other hand, attempt to invite interaction in a very subtle way.
What does that look like, exactly? It looks like sitting down next to you while she’s waiting for her coffee to be ready and making an offhand comment about how long it’s taking in a way that almost sounds like she’s talking to herself. It could also look like a woman at the subway station casually asking whether the trains are running late today. She didn’t have to do that or choose you, but she did.
You can tell whether she really is inviting you to talk to her by looking for other cues that she’s open to it. How’s her body language? Does she look open, friendly, and approachable? Does she smile if you catch her eye? If so, go ahead and give it a shot. If not, she probably really did just need to know whether the subway schedule was going to make her late for work for the third time that week.
At the end of the day, successfully approaching women in everyday settings is largely about learning how to read the room and take what you see at face value. Accept that it’s not possible (or polite) to force a woman to interact with you when she clearly doesn’t want to, but also know it’s worth taking advantage of genuine opportunities when they do present themselves. You never know what might come of them.