Deciphering Body Language on a First Date

Stop guessing if your date is interested or not. Learn his body language instead.

Cheerful young couple stirring coffee at cafe while looking at each other
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Imagine bizarro dating. On first dates, instead of trying to decipher if you've been playing footsie with the guy or with the leg of the chair, you could just tell him: "Yes, I'm into you." Instead of analyzing if a girl is twirling her hair as a flirting maneuver or because she forgot to comb it that morning, you could just ask: "Do you like me?" But alas, awkward first dates are a rite of passage for any romance that's going to last longer than a happy hour. Nervous laughs over mundane jokes, obligatory rundowns of your family and job, and handshake-hug-kiss miscommunications are all part of the game. But luckily, you have an edge.

U.S. News talked to Janine Driver, the founder, president, and lead instructor of the Body Language Institute in Alexandria, Va. She's also the author of You Say More Than You Think: The 7-Day Plan for Using the New Body Language to Get What You Want. Driver shared how to decipher your date's signals; her responses have been edited.

Off the bat, what can you tell about a date by his or her body language?

We face our belly button toward people we like, admire, or trust. So when a person either shakes your hand or sits down across from you, pay attention to whether his belly button is facing you. Does he reach his arm out to the side and shake your hand from the side of his body? If he does that, he's just given you a cold shoulder, so you're not off to a great start. Once you sit down, if the belly button is facing toward you, then everything is going well. I call this the belly button rule; a nickname is navel intelligence.

This becomes very interesting if you're on a double date or meeting a group of people. Say you're flirting with Brad Pitt, and Brad Pitt thinks he's getting lucky because you're flirting with him and talking to him. But if your belly button is facing George Clooney, you're going to go home with George Clooney.

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How can you hint that you're interested through body language?

Touching. A great way to send a signal is through what I call the three in 15: Getting in three touches in 15 minutes. A good way to touch him is, of course, the initial hug or handshake. And then touch his watch or his tie. Maybe touch his wrist and say, "I love this watch. It looks great on you." Get those touches in, and it'll build rapport.

Also, when you're crossing your legs, the leg that's on the outside of your body is the one that should be on top. You don't want to create a barrier between you and your date. For example, if my date's to my left, I want to make sure my right leg is on top because now I'm creating what's called a closed circle. If my date is on the left, and my left leg is on top, then my belly button is angled away, and I'm saying: I'm open for others to approach.

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Are there signals you could be sending unintentionally?

In the old days, we used to say that women played with their hair to flirt. But today, because women are just so active, playing with hair is something men find irritating. It comes across as nervousness, and men are attracted to women who are confident in their own skin.

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Can you dispel any common body language myths related to dating?

You can't use eye movement to detect deception; that was scientifically proven wrong more than a decade ago. And crossed arms! We think that when a person crosses his arms, he doesn't like us, but that's a myth. When we cross our arms, we are 30 percent more likely to stay on the task at hand. Why is that? When we cross our arms, we're using both our right and left brains—the logic and risk-taking sides. We often think it's a defensive sign, but really, we don't know why we cross our arms. If your date suddenly crosses his arms, you should ask him this question: "Is there any reason why it seems like you're uncomfortable right now?" Maybe they're like, "Wow, I really like this girl. I'm surprised." Maybe they're so taken aback that they're processing something big at the moment, which doesn't mean that it's negative.