Episode 98: Mixed Signals is a Signal

Your partner comes home from a date and needs reassurance, but you can’t give it in that moment. Is this something to overcome?

Learn how to step away from not only mixed signals but also from managing your partner’s other relationships.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

Do you have a policy on dating metamours with partners?

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This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use my affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

I’m mainly asking for help in regards to dealing with my partners partner and my feelings towards him. To sum it up originally my partners partner, let’s call him J, took an interest in me and reached out to me. Now I’d already know about him and had a mild crush on him but I didn’t have any interest in pursuing that because I didn’t know how my partner, let’s call him B, would feel about it.

J instead reached out to me and we talked for a little bit but he was consistently sending mixed signals and wouldn’t make an effort to get to know me or reach out to me to form any bond to be honest. I feel like In retrospect he liked the idea of being in a triad style of relationship but didn’t wanna do anything to actually make it happen.

This went on for a few weeks which caused my anxiety to spike and eventually, and after meeting with my therapist, I decided to have a conversation with him. He told me he was no longer interested in me, despite sending mixed signals and not actually making an effort, and I respected it though he also urged the desire to be friends.

I’m currently moving so a lot of my attention has been focused on that and I’ve tried to make time to spend with me and him on at least a friendly basis but I’ve had to cancel a lot, which according to B was mildly bothering J. I recently sent an apology stating why I’ve been so scattered but have yet to get any sort of response.

So my question is is it ok to feel like my J has extreme communication issues with anyone but B and if that’s the case should I call him out on it? I don’t want this to trickle into B and Js relationship but at the same time it’s making me uncomfortable and has been since J decided to reach out to me and proceeded to give no effort at all in getting to know me even though it was his idea.


I think the biggest thing from this is to learn to take mixed signals as one signal. Mixed signals is one signal. It is a signal of unavailability. And the longer that you allow yourself — in any situation regardless of who it's with — to be pushed and pulled by mixed signals, the more unhappy you're going to be.

So try to learn to develop a policy of immediately disengaging with someone — and I know this is very hard — immediately disengaging with someone regardless of whether they want to be friends or regardless of whether they want to be romantic partners when they give you “mixed signals”.

Okay? Mixed signals is a signal and that is a signal of someone who is unavailable and hopefully over time you will learn to immediately become turned off by that and immediately go like, “Nah. I don't want anything to do with that.” That is okay.

Second thing: Declining a friendship doesn't have to be personal. Do you actually want to be friends with J? I totally understand feeling like you want to befriend your metamours or your partner’s partners. However, I have experienced in my life, forcing myself to be friends with people makes me miserable. I do not like doing it. And I don't like feeling like I'm forced to be friends with someone. I don't like feeling forced to be around someone that I don't get along with.

Now, you may be different. It may not be such a big deal to you. Maybe you do want to be friends with J. However, it kind of seems like even if you do want to be friends with J, J is not communicating in a way that you want a friend to communicate. J is not being clear. So even if you wanted to ideally be in a friendship with J, J would have to be behaving differently.

So really, you don't want a friendship with J because what they're offering you is this mixed signal aka no signal that you would rather not have to deal with, that makes you anxious. This is not really between you and B and B should not be relaying messages from J to you. And I would ask that to stop immediately. Because it's not only not a fair position for B to be put in because B is not the referee of your relationship, but also because it's a little bit of a violation of your privacy.

You have a right — whatever is going on between you and J, whether you’re friends or you are romantic partners — for that to be between you. Now obviously we do talk to our friends about the people that we're dating. We talk to our friends about, you know, friendships, stuff like that, and that does become difficult sometimes when people date their metamours and all that.

So I do believe a policy of privacy is really, really helpful when it comes to this type of stuff. And it would be the same if you and B were just friends. If you all had a friendship group and J was trying to organise something with you and you weren't getting back and then you had another mutual friend try to play referee that would also not be fair to that mutual friend. So don't put people in the middle of things.

I'm not saying you put B in the middle of it. It sounds like J maybe asked me to say something to you but that needs to not happen. I would ask for that to stop right away. If you don't want to be friends with J, given the current circumstances then don't be. I don't think it's your responsibility to fix J by calling J out for not having the “communication skills”. Because who knows what's going on in J’s life, right?

J may be sending mixed signals for all sorts of reasons. It's not your responsibility to play detective and figure that out. And you don't have to. So you can just say, “Listen, I understand that you want to be friends with me, but I need someone to be a little bit more communicative and I'm also a little bit busy with moving right now. So I would actually not really want to meet up as often. And I would prefer if maybe you allowed me to offer the times that we meet up or is it okay if we just stop organising things together because I just feel a little bit of anxiety around this and would prefer not to?”.

I feel like it's okay to decline the friendship and move on. I don't think that you should try to fix J or demand that B hold J to account or anything like that. What goes on between B and J about their relationship is really not your business to solve and it shouldn't be trickling down. It’s trickling down because B is made a little bit of themselves or J has made B into the referee and it— that doesn't need to happen.

So I think that you can with kindness and not necessarily be like “I don't want to be your friend because you're bad at communicating”. But you can say like,“I am not in a place where I can be friends with you right now. And I would like a little bit of space”. And maybe after you're done moving maybe after a few months, you know, if you want to reach out again to J then you can.

But understand that you are getting a signal which is a mixed signal which is a signal that J is not a consistent communicator regardless of what J’s interest in you is. Unless you are willing to put up with that and unless you're okay with that, it’s going to continue in terms of J’s behaviour and you don't have to solve it and you don't have to get B to fix it. You just need to accept it for what it is and you can make a decision later on if you want to be friends with J.

But just make sure that you are not forcing yourself to fix anything because you don't need to fix anything. So yeah, to encapsulate it and to repeat everything. I think that over time you hopefully will be able to kind of take in the idea that a mixed signal is a signal which is a signal of disinterest or unavailability which hopefully, regardless of whether you are romantically or friendship interested in someone, you will hopefully learn that this is a sign that you should step away and disengage.

And that is going to be difficult — just to like reiterate this because sometimes — my own therapist has explained to me that sometimes our brain finds mixed signals in a way more interesting or highlights it because it's a problem to solve. The same sort of whatever test it was where you know, if they provide food, if an animal pushes a button, then the animal like only goes up to the food when you — only goes up to push a button when it needs food.

But if the food doesn't come consistently, then the animal becomes kind of obsessed with pushing the button and figuring out at what point does the food come out and you kind of have a similar thing with people who send mixed signals, your brain kind of starts to go
“Okay, well, what's the what's the solution? How can we solve it?” And it's difficult. It's a hard trap to kind of pull yourself away from but it is more beneficial for you in the long term to learn to take a mixed signal as disinterest and disengage from that.

You don't have to be personal about declining a friendship with J. You can just say you're super busy and just don't have the time for new friendships and we'll get in touch with them later on and step away. That really shouldn't cause an issue between B and J because their relationship is not your business.

And you need to ask B to stop playing referee and stop relaying messages, because that is not helpful in any case to anybody in this situation. If B begins to put pressure on you to become friends with J, I don't necessarily think that's great. And that might involve you really rethinking things because you should be allowed to say to B, “Look, I don't want to be friends with J right now and I want space,” as long as you're not being rude. And as long as you're being cordial then I don't see why you're not allowed to have that.

So you should be allowed to ask for that. And you should ask for that because trying to be friends with J is making you unhappy. And you shouldn't be forcing yourself to be friends with someone just because they're dating your partner. Simply decline the friendship move on. Maybe leave it open for you to come back to later on when you're more settled. But right now you're allowed to put down that boundary of saying like “I’m not in a space where I can be friends. I would like some space here”. That's absolutely fine.

Please don't put it on your shoulders to fix J. Don't expect B to hold J accountable. Don't involve B in any way between this, you and J at all. Like don't involve— Separate this because any attempt to be referee or have someone else hold someone else to account is not really going to work and it's just going to cause stress in the relationship between you and B so please step away from that.

And then I think in the future, you and B should really think about what your opinions are and talk with each other about how you feel about dating each other's partners because if you both agree that it's off limits, that's fine. You're allowed to both agree to that. But I think that you not knowing how B will feel about it from the start that might have made the situation a little weirder. So if you're not sure how your partner feels about something, then just ask them. Just ask them right away.

And don't put it on your shoulders to keep — and I totally understand because I've done exactly the same thing like assume that it's my responsibility to prevent my partner from breaking up with somebody else or you know that I need to make sure I don't mess that relationship up. But actually, the relationship that goes on between B and J is not something that you can control. And it's not something that's even your business technically. So don't put that responsibility on your shoulders.

If you're interested in a metamour or a person that your partner is dating in the future then have a talk with B about it. It's fine. It's okay to check in about how they feel about it as long as you're not making them the referee between the two of you because that puts a lot of pressure on them. And it's really again, the relationship you have with J isn't really B's business just like the relationship that B has with J isn't really your business. Not really. All right.

So yeah, that is what I would suggest in this situation and be nice, be kind to yourself. Accept that like it makes total sense that you would feel anxious. It seems like you're doing the best that you can do. I'm really glad that you have a therapist here that can help you sense check things. And yeah, I hope this helps and good luck.

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