This week’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) about how to tell if he’s really interested or if he’s just being nice. The reader asks “I don’t know if he is actually just being polite and he really doesn’t want me anymore…Should I just let him go?” In my response, I provide guidance on how to interpret mixed messages and what to do if you find yourself in this confusing situation:
I was dating a divorced guy, he was in a relationship for 15 years. We met in Tinder, dates were great, but he told me he wasn’t ready for a relationship because he feels like he has nothing to offer. He is 40 and he has a great job.
We slept together a bit soon, in my opinion, (third date but after a long time between each dates), but we are mature enough to not make a big deal out of it.
Last time we saw each other was on my birthday and he came from UK to Spain, but he was very distant. He said he was acting a bit reluctant because he didn’t want me to think he only wanted me for sex.
The problem is the ever since then, he is so distant. He sent me a beautiful birthday present, but nothing more. I said thank you, and asked him why he was treating me so politely. He said he had some personal problems, but I know he is on vacations, having a great time.
I don’t know if he is actually just being polite and he just doesn’t want me anymore. Or is it because his self-esteem is so broken that he’s not willing to pursue anyone? Should I just let him go?
I really like this guy, but I feel like I am the only who is texting him and checking on him.
I feel your frustration.
To answer your question: Is he interested or just being polite and lacks confidence?
In truth, he could be either of those things: not interested and just being polite, or he’s really interested and he just lacks the confidence to effectively communicate his interest.
Either way, it’s really confusing.
The good news is, it’s not up to you to figure it out.
He’s responsible for figuring out what he really wants and how to communicate it.
But there’s another question that’s really important to think about, in addition to whether or not he’s truly interested in you, and that question is: is he meeting your relationship needs and relationship requirements?
I ask this because he might indeed be head-over-heels interested in you, but if you’re strongly attracted to him yet find that you’re struggling to be happy and content some areas of the relationship, those relationship issues point to a need of yours that is going unmet.
And relationship issues (having needs go unmet) could be a result of many things such as incompatibility, either partner not communicating needs, or either partner not being ready for a relationship.
When He Says He’s Not Ready for a Relationship
Even if he is interested in you, he might not be ready for a relationship.
As you mentioned, he admitted that he does not feel ready.
And his struggle with being completely forthright about what he wants (maybe due to lack of confidence, as you said) are issues that will interfere with him having a successful relationship.
When he admits that he’s not ready, this can be really heartbreaking, especially after a whirlwind romance or when the both of you are already emotionally bonded (becoming emotionally bonded can happen after you sleep with someone…sex triggers bonding hormones in both partners).
But when he just comes out and says that he’s “not ready a relationship,” it’s actually to your advantage because then you don’t have to guess whether he’s ready for a relationship or not.
If he says he’s not ready, take his word for it.
Take his word for it because he’s basically letting you know that he can’t meet your needs in the relationship right now.
He has to feel ready and believe in his own readiness (among other things that comprise readiness), in order for him to be emotionally available in your relationship.
If he doesn’t believe that he’s ready for a relationship, he’s not going to be fully committed to the success of the relationship.
And the success of a relationship takes two people.
So if one party is not committed to the growth and success of the relationship, it’s like an airplane trying to fly with one wing, the relationship has very little chance of succeeding in a way that brings you and your partner happiness and fulfillment.
Relationships can “survive” with one wing (we’ve all seen dysfunctional relationships survive way past their expiration date), but neither partner is truly happy in the relationship.
In order for a relationship to thrive and flourish, among other factors, you both have to be committed to the relationship’s success.
What Mixed Messages Really Mean
I say a little bit about this in my previous article.
But when a guy is giving you mixed messages…when he’s blowing hot and cold, when he says he’s not ready for a relationship yet still gives you gifts, his mixed messages could ultimately mean one or more of these things:
He’s not ready for a relationship: he’s experiencing some issues, big transitions, or has some serious healing or growing to do in his life that make him physically and/or emotionally unavailable for a relationship and otherwise undermine his ability to have a successful relationship.
He doesn’t know what we wants (in a relationship or in life, etc…): so he’s being aimless about what he does within his relationships and just kind of “doing what feels good” in the moment and not thinking about what really makes sense long term.
He’s not into you: he’s not interested in a relationship with you, but doesn’t want or know how to communicate it and so he just strings you along because, for him, telling the truth is more painful than maintaining status quo.
My Bottom Line on Mixed Messages
Mixed messages are NOT REALLY mixed messages.
They’re actually very clear messages, just communicated in a very convoluted way because:
Actions Speak Louder than Words
He sent you a gift on your birthday. But, as you mentioned, he’s being very distant and you feel like you’re the only one who’s texting him and checking on him.
He doesn’t seem to be putting equal effort to communicate with you and nurture the relationship.
In other words, his attitude is different from his actions.
Giving you a gift is a thoughtful gesture, but if he’s not texting you back and he’s pulling away, and this upsets you, it could mean that you have a need for reciprocal communication—and he’s not meeting that need.
He’s Not Being Intentional or Forthright
The lack of consistency in his actions is a big red flag because inconsistency signifies that he’s not being intentional.
His actions feel aimless and confusing.
And, except for the fact that he said he’s not ready for a relationship, he’s not being forthright about what he wants and so it can feel like you’re being taken for a ride.
And if he doesn’t know what he really wants, how can he hope to be successful in either role, whether it’s being single or in a relationship?
It’s OK to not know what you want.
It’s OK to take some time to figure that out.
The question is: do you want to still be in a relationship with him while he figures it out?
The risk in that situation is that while he’s figuring it out, some of your important relationship needs are going unmet. Is that something you’re willing to do?
He’s Not Communicating Effectively
If he does know what he wants and he’s simply not making that clear for one reason or another, that’s another big red flag because it means that he has some growing to do when it comes to communication.
If he is struggling with making himself clear, his skills deficit in communication is going to interfere with his ability to have a successful relationship.
Should You Stay or Leave Him Be?
In my article about what to do when he says he’s not ready for a relationship, I detail some steps you can take toward making the decision about whether you should stay or leave, including some important questions you can ask yourself to help you decide.
Deciding whether to stay or go is a very personal decision, so I never can tell you whether you should stay in a relationship or leave, it’s a decision that only you can make.
While he’s responsible for figuring out what he really wants and how to communicate it, the question for you is: what do you want to do given what you’ve already experienced with him?
Do you want to stay in a relationship with him knowing that some of your needs or relationship requirements might go unmet since he’s not ready to meet them?
Or do you want to move on?
The answers to those questions begin with getting clear on your needs and relationship requirements—what you personally need and require in order to have a happy and fulfilling relationship.
Some women choose to stay in the relationship and let go or postpone some of their needs while their recently divorced or divorcing partner works through his transition.
Other women choose to move on.
It’s different for every relationship. And neither way is the “right” way.
What’s important to think about is: Which path feels true for you?
I know this is tough to think about but I hope this provides some helpful guidance!
Feel free to reach out if you need any other support.
All the best,
Have a burning relationship question? Send me your question here.