When You Don't Know Where You Stand With Someone, Focus On What Concrete Action You Need From Them

A broad type of social situation people have trouble with is when they want some kind of closer relationship with someone, but they're getting mixed signals. This can happen when:

You're getting ambiguous messages, like the ones in these examples:

Asking other peoples' opinion about what's going on often doesn't help

If you're confused about the mixed signals you're getting you might ask your friends, family, or colleagues for their perspective on what the other person is thinking. You could make a thread online to see what the collective wisdom of the internet has to say. You may also check out some articles or videos on how to handle your general situation.

It's common to end up no better than when you started, because you'll get a range of conflicting opinions. One friend may say the other person is probably just busy and to keep trying. An online reply may confidently state you're clearly being blown off, and you need to take the hint and move on. So which is it?

The core problem is you can never say for sure why any one person is acting in a particular way. As a broader trend, many people may start taking longer to reply to someone's texts when they've lost interest, but the particular individual you're dealing with may genuinely have gotten busy and distracted with a family issue.

Asking for advice about how to handle the situation can also be unhelpful

You're not sure where you stand with someone, but you know you do want them to be your friend, or agree to that third date, or so on. You may cast around for advice about how to play your cards right to get the outcome you want. Here you can also get a bunch of contradictory suggestions, such as:

There are all kinds of approaches people will recommend. Some are simple and straightforward while others are fancy manipulative tricks. Getting hit with all these options can leave you even more stuck and confused. Again, everyone's personality is different, and a tactic that may work on one person may backfire with another. For example, you're trying to make plans with someone and text them, "Hey, do you want to hang out again or what? I've asked you three times and you haven't really answered." Some people will be put off by what they see as an aggressive, accusatory tone, but a few may reply with, "Haha, sorry, I didn't realize I was doing that. Yeah, let's get together on Saturday afternoon."

Focusing on the tangible actions you need from someone can give you some direction

This isn't a magic solution that works every time. Like I said, we can't always know what someone thinks of us, or what tactic may get them to act one way or another. Still, one thing that can provide some clarity, and help you make a decision that feels right to you is to think about what clear cut behavior you need from them. Like if you want to be in-person friends with someone, at the end of the day they have to show up and hang out with you in real life. It doesn't matter how much they text you, or how fun and chatty they seem in their messages, or how much they go on about how great it would be to get together. Do they actually meet up with you or not? They can blab all day about wanting to hang out, but if they don't follow through all that talk doesn't matter. Put another way, this is about actions speaking louder than words. What actions are you looking for?

Once you've figured out what concrete step you need from someone, you can decide how you'll ask them for it. To continue the previous example, you may think, "I want to hang out with them in person. I'm not looking for an acquaintance to just text every so often. I'll make sure to directly ask them if they want to get together. How much they text with me or comment on my social media posts or whatever ultimately isn't relevant."

When you've picked an approach, then you need to figure out how much time and effort you'll put in to see if they come through with the concrete action or not. If you've just met a potential friend you may decide to clearly ask them to hang out two times over the next three weeks, and move on if they haven't given you a solid answer by then. You could give someone a lot more time, and benefit of the doubt, if it seems a long-term friendship is drifting apart. You'll still need them to agree to see you eventually, but you'll give them more room to come through. If they don't, maybe you'll decide to cut them loose, or you may be okay with transitioning to a more casual relationship.

Having a concrete behavior to focus on can make you more focused and direct, but that doesn't mean you need to be ruthlessly cold and efficient to going after it. Like you could realize you need to cut to the chase and ask someone if they want to hang out in person, but that you don't need to forego all non-planning texts entirely.

Also, it's one thing to be more focused on what you want from someone who's sending unclear signals, but be careful not to slip into the mindset of "I'm sure they're just jerking me around. I'm going to cut through their nonsense." Someone you met in class the other week may not have any ill will toward you if they're having fun joking around through text, but aren't in a place in their life where they want another close friend. If you directly ask them to hang out a few times and they've always had an excuse why they can't make it, it doesn't mean they're an evil jerk and you exposed their lies. You just found out they weren't looking for the same thing as you. At least you learned that sooner rather than later.