Are you leading someone on? Perhaps you suspect you are, but you’re not clear on what it means or where the line is drawn between that and more innocent behavior.
At some point or another, many of us will have led someone on in love, whether it was intentional or not. It’s something that’s very easy to do but can cause big problems.
What does it mean to lead someone on? To lead someone on means to make that person believe that your intentions or feelings are different to what they actually are. In the context of dating and relationships, it means to make someone believe that you are romantically interested in them, when you are fully aware that you are not.
Of course, for the other person, it can be extremely hurtful and mess with their emotions and their self-esteem.
But even from your point of view, leading someone on can make your life more complicated than it needs to be. You may end up in difficult situations and can be left with a guilty conscience about the hurt you’ve caused.
You may have been accused of leading someone on in the past when that genuinely wasn’t your intention. Maybe you were interested in getting to know the person but then the circumstances or your feelings changed (which is natural and not something to feel guilty about), and they got angry at you.
That’s unavoidable sometimes. You can’t dictate whether they believe your intentions were good.
But there are signs you can look for that indicate you might be leading them on, whether or not you’re doing it deliberately.
Let’s have a look at what they are, and then discuss how you can avoid getting yourself into tricky territory.
6 Signs You’re Leading Someone On
1. You say what you think they want to hear – no matter how you feel.
You know how to say all the right things. You’re good with words and could charm the hind legs off a donkey if you had to.
But you don’t always mean the things you say. You just give people the answers you think they want to hear because it seems easier than being honest, especially when it comes to romantic relationships.
Your words and your feelings aren’t matching up when it comes to this relationship. You’re a people pleaser at heart, and you say things you don’t honestly mean just to make them smile. Or maybe because you want to get them in bed, or because you’d do anything to avoid a difficult conversation or a confrontation.
So, you tell what you think are white lies, but end up digging yourself a hole that’s hard to get out of.
2. They’ve told you what they’re looking for and it doesn’t match what you’re looking for…
…but you’re still seeing them.
They’ve made it clear that they’re looking for commitment, and you know that’s not what you want. But you haven’t yet made that clear to them.
You’re just letting things progress, even though you know that you can’t give them what they want.
You haven’t laid your cards on the table and given them the chance to decide whether they’re happy to proceed on your terms.
Or maybe this is next level stuff. Maybe you’re happy to explore the idea of a committed relationship with this person, but there are certain deal breakers you know will become issues in the future.
Perhaps they or you have strong feelings about kids or marriage or religion. You know they’ll cause big problems at some point, but you’re not being honest with them about the big issues now.
If that’s the case, then you’re definitely leading them on and setting both of you up for some major heartbreak.
3. You avoid talk of the future.
You’re not making plans with this person. You might just about decide what you’re doing next weekend, but you refuse to make plans for a few weeks or months from now.
You tell yourself you just want to live in the moment, but the truth is your heart isn’t in the relationship, and you’re not interested in planning for any kind of real future with this person.
4. They see you as an ‘us’ and you don’t.
From their behavior, it’s clear that they’re starting to view the two of you as an item, a unit, or a team. They’re not trying to hide the fact that they like you and want things to progress with you.
You can’t see yourself becoming an item and definitely don’t refer to ‘us,’ but you keep the relationship going anyway.
5. You’re more interested in their body than their mind.
You might be attracted to this person sexually, but you’re not attracted to what’s going on inside their head.
You never see them without sleeping with them, and when you do try to have a conversation with them, it just doesn’t flow.
You don’t really care about their opinion on things, and you don’t feel the need to tell them when something exciting happens in your life.
But they do all these things. They want to tell you about their day or they ring you when they have good news. They try to engage you in deeper conversations.
Unless the two of you have made it clear that what’s between you is purely physical, you could well be leading them on.
6. Something just doesn’t feel right, but you’re ignoring it.
Most people don’t lead romantic interests on intentionally. They just go with the flow and determinedly ignore the warning signs, and are then surprised when they find themselves in a tricky situation.
Remember, leading someone on doesn’t make you a bad person – we all do it at one point or another. But to save both your feelings and theirs, try to be honest with yourself from day one.
If your gut is telling you something isn’t quite right, but you don’t listen to it, you only have yourself to blame when things go wrong.
Am I Leading Them On?
If you’re wondering whether a specific behavior might constitute leading someone one, here are some possible answers:
Hanging out with them a lot and texting almost every day.
It depends on how you know this person.
If they are a friend and you enjoy their company, it’s perfectly reasonable to see them and text them a lot. Even if things weren’t always this close between you, it’s possible for a platonic relationship to become more intense whilst remaining entirely platonic.
If, on the other hand, you met this person on a dating app or website and have been on what most people would consider actual dates, then the heightened intensity of your interactions would probably be seen as leading them on.
Possibly, but again it depends on how well you know them.
It is common for good friends to hug each other. Those hugs might even last longer than your typical greeting hug might. Some friends might even cuddle up to each other. Platonic housemates might, for example, sit on the couch next to each other and naturally cuddle one another.
If you have been friends with someone for a while and you’ve not been big huggers or cuddlers before, and now all of a sudden you are, that’s a sign that can easily be misinterpreted as attraction of a different kind.
Flirting with them.
Flirting is fun, and many people flirt without meaning anything by it. So, again, it depends on the circumstances.
Have you been on dates with them but don’t think it’s going anywhere? Then your flirting is likely to be seen as a sign of interest and attraction. You’re leading them on.
Have you only recently started flirting with them? Are you friends but you now know they would like it to be more? If you have intentions to go on some dates and see where it leads, your flirting is okay. If you don’t, then your flirting is cruel and only serves to get their hopes up before dashing them.
Kissing them / having sex with them.
Unless you have clearly communicated and agreed that you want the relationship to only be physical, you’re leading them on.
The exception here is kissing on the first couple of dates. You may not know exactly how you feel about someone at this point, and kissing them might even help you figure that out. It doesn’t have to be a big deal when it’s very early days.
Telling them you’re not ready for a relationship, but acting like you’re already in one.
You have to ask yourself whether, when you are ready for a relationship, you’d want a relationship with this person. And also, will you be ready for a relationship within a timeframe they would be willing to wait for?
If you are continuing to do things that might be seen as ‘relationship stuff,’ such as sleeping with them and hanging out just the two of you all the time, there’s a good chance you’re leading them on. If you aren’t ready to commit to them, the kind thing to do would be to act like friends until you are ready.
Going on multiple dates with them when you’re not yet sure how you feel.
In this instance, if you don’t yet know for certain whether or not something could develop between you, going on dates is the right thing to do. Not everyone gets that gut feeling on the first date; it might take a few dates to get a sense of the spark, or lack thereof.
Just be aware of where dating ends and ‘relationship stuff’ begins. Sure, you may hug and kiss them at this point, but if you don’t know whether you want it to lead somewhere more, it’s best not to sleep with them. And keep your meetings in a public place – this is not the time to be going round each other’s houses.
Dating multiple people at once.
It may seem as though dating more than one person guarantees that you are leading at least one of them on. But it doesn’t have to be the case. It’s quite okay to be seeing a few people at once, assuming you haven’t agreed to be exclusive with any of them.
The line gets somewhat blurred if you keep dating them both/all without really committing to any of them. Again, unless you have communicated this with them, in which case it’s up to you both if you’re happy with that agreement.
Replying to their texts and agreeing to make plans without ever following through.
In dating, this is known as the ‘slow fade.’ If you have been on a date with someone but were not really feeling it, and yet you’re still replying to their texts and saying that you should meet up again, even though you know you won’t follow through on it, you’re definitely leading that person on.
It’s easy to tell because you are never the one to initiate text conversations, and if they do ever suggest concrete plans, you fob them off with a line about needing to check your diary (and then never get back to them).
Seeing someone exclusively for a few months but then having a change of heart.
Assuming your feelings for them during this period where ones of genuine affection, and you entered the relationship with the intention of making a go of it in the long run, a change of heart doesn’t constitute leading someone on.
Perhaps you’ve found that the reality of a relationship with them didn’t match up to your expectations and/or you aren’t as compatible as you thought you were. That happens.
If you can go to bed knowing that you were honest with them throughout, you shouldn’t feel bad about ending the relationship.
How Not To Lead Someone On
Now you know whether you’re leading them on or not, here are some tips for making sure it doesn’t happen again.
1. Be clear about your intentions from day one.
Some people are shy about letting potential new love interests know what they’re looking for, as they think that it’s coming on too strong.
But letting the other person know exactly what they’re getting into from the word go is actually a sign of respect.
So don’t be shy. Get the big topics out of the way on the first date – you’d be surprised how much easier it is to open up to a total stranger. It’s often easier than opening up to them once you know each other better, because there aren’t any expectations there.
You haven’t pinned your hopes and dreams on each other yet, so it’s all kind of hypothetical, but it does give you a chance to see if there are any major red flags.
Tell them if you don’t want commitment, if you’re just getting out of a long term relationship, if you know for sure you don’t want kids or aren’t interested in marriage.
It might all seem a bit overwhelming and over the top for a first date, but it could save you both lots of time and heartache.
2. If you’re not sure what your intentions are, focus on finding out.
If you don’t know what you want from a relationship, then it’s impossible to be honest about your intentions, and you can easily get yourself in too deep.
So, rather than getting entangled in a new relationship right now, take some time on your own to figure out what you really want and need.
3. Don’t say things you don’t mean.
Honesty is the best policy. Don’t tell them the things they want to hear just to keep them happy. Don’t pretend you’re feeling things you aren’t.
If you don’t genuinely mean it, don’t say it. It’s far better to disappoint or upset someone now than it is to get in over your head and get their hopes up.
Try to think before you speak. Take a deep breath and ask yourself if you really mean what you’re about to say, and how they might interpret it.
If you’re texting, then don’t rush your replies to them. Give yourself a little time to reflect before you respond.
It’s always better to come across as being less keen than you are than more keen than you are.
4. Slow and steady wins the race.
Love is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re worried about leading someone on, be conscious about taking things slowly.
Don’t dive head first into something only to realize that it’s not the right thing. You’ll only have to do some serious backpedalling which can cause a lot of hurt.
If you find that you get into sexual relationships too quickly, and then they want something more but you’re not interested, try to spend more time getting to know the person before things get physical between you.
Just remember to always take it slowly and be deliberate in your actions, and you can’t go too far wrong.