Figuring out the first date:11 body language cues, decoded
Learn his signals
Want some help deciphering the often perplexing mixed signals that men send? When it comes to detecting a guy’s interest level, body language speaks loudest—especially on the first date. So, what’s he really trying to tell you? We asked the experts to give us insight on 11 of the most confusing “he loves you, he loves you not” body language moves.
He lifts his eyebrows
Who needs verbal communication when your guy is being so expressive with his eyebrows? This body language cue is all about context: He might think you’ve said something adorable, but he’s trying to play it cool, says Tracey Cox, author of Superflirt. But fear not. “It’s an almost universal sign that he fancies you,” she adds. “We raise our brows to allow our eyes to take in as much as possible of what’s in front of us” and that can be especially true with someone new.
He licks his lips
If a guy lick his lips on a first date, is it because you’re so cute he wants to eat you up? Just about, says Tonya Reiman, author of The Power of Body Language. She says it’s a sign of anticipation: “We lick our lips when we see something we desire,” she says. “He’s hungry for you.” Yum! So will that bar date lead to a restaurant date that takes you right into… well, dessert? That depends. If the feeling is mutual, you may want to make sure you put him at ease: Your powerful effect may have him feeling a little nervous. “It probably wasn't your intention, but take it as a compliment,” explains Kevin Hogan, Psy.D., author of Irresistible Attraction: Secrets of Personal Magnetism. “He doesn't want to lose this opportunity with you.”
He rocks back and forth
Is he having a mama’s boy moment? Maybe, says body language expert Patti Wood. “Rocking is a comforting motion that mimics being rocked in the mother's womb.” Before you shout “Check, please!” Cox suggests you ask yourself why he’s craving comfort: Are you sending out signals that you want him to leave, for example? “[Rocking back and forth] is an ‘intention movement,’ where his body starts to do what his brain would like it to do. In this case, he’s half staying and half running away,” she says. But don’t read into this type of body language too much, Hogan says, particularly if you're out having cocktails. “A lot of people do this if they’ve had a drink or two.”
He fixes your hair
"This is a test," explains Hogan. "It's a direct way for him to say, 'If you smile, I know you like me back.'" Hogan says pushing hair out of a woman's eyes is a gamble and "hopefully it will pay off for both of you." But the experts agree that this body language action isn't about getting some action: "It's intimate and hints that he wants more than just sex," says Cox. "It's a sign that he wants to touch you and get close, but needs an excuse to do it." A twist to be wary of, says Wood: "If he grimaces while he does it, it shows the need to have things correct or perfect."
Is he squirming in his seat? The experts are split on this one. He may be, ahem, hiding something: “That’s what he’ll do if he’s getting sexually excited and trying to hide or calm down a potential erection,” says Cox. But Reiman disagrees, warning that it can be a sign he’s uncomfortable and wants out. “It signals anxiety or nervousness,” she says, “a desire to end a conversation or to leave a situation.” So, which to believe? Look for other clues to guide you—a raised eyebrow, perhaps?
He combs his hair with his fingers
When birds clean their feathers to look their best for a potential mate, it’s called preening—and when humans do it, the intent is the same. “We do this as a way to draw attention to ourselves,” Reiman explains. And, while Wood agrees that fixing his hair in your presence is a good sign, she thinks there may be more to it: “If he dips his head forward and gently cups his hair and smiles, it signals he wants to look good for you,” she says. “But if he does it as he’s approaching you or as you’re approaching him, he’s nervous about his appearance.” So, if you like him back, tell him how great you think he looks to put his ego at ease.
He touches His face
"Three cheers for this guy!" says Hogan. "He's not trying to impress you—he's just trying to listen to you." He also may be strategizing his next move, which Cox believes will be physical: "We 'self-stroke' when we desperately want to stroke the person in front of us, but don't feel like we can yet." Regardless, this guy is a keeper—but do you want to keep him? See if you catch yourself sending any subconscious mirroring signals, like playing with your necklace, says Reiman.
He talks with his hands
“The wider the gestures and the more he does this, the more he likes you,” says Hogan. According to Cox, “Men who talk with their hands are usually good communicators.” But gesturing can indicate he's having a little trouble expressing himself verbally. It's possible that he wants to let you know he likes you, but can’t figure out exactly how to tell you: “Using your hands helps you access more information in your brain," says Wood, "especially emotional information and emotion-laden words.”
He sits with his legs apart
What a view! He’s using it in an attempt to turn you on, Cox says. “If he’s sitting with his legs wide apart, he’s giving you a ‘crotch display’—a sneak preview of what he thinks is his best part.” But watch out, says Hogan. This may be a sign that he’s Mr. Right Now, not Mr. Right. “You need an ego like this like you need another past boyfriend. Pick another guy,” he says.
He stretches out his hand
“I want to get close to you. Can I?” That's how Reiman translates this permission-seeking body language signal. So how do you grant that permission? “Touch the hand [in return], even briefly, if you want to send a subtle positive message back,” Hogan advises. And exactly how he reaches for you says a lot about whether he feels weak or self-assured: “Palm up means he’s happy for you to take the lead from there,” says Cox. “It’s a more submissive and innocent gesture.” But how about palm down? “[That] means he feels in control of what’s going to happen.” In fact, Cox says you can tell a lot about longer-term relationships by how the couple holds hands: “The person whose palm faces down is usually the boss.”
He kisses you on your forehead
If your guy chooses to plant one on your forehead of all places, what does it mean? Reiman says, “This is a signal of deep respect and affection, especially if he cradles your head simultaneously.” That all sounds well and good, but where’s the romance? “This is a parental gesture,” says Cox. “He cares a lot about you, but he may just see you as a friend.” Ugh, that’s what we were afraid of. But don’t give up just yet, she says. “It could also mean he fancies you, but he doesn’t have the guts to aim for your lips.” Yet.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.