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The guy at the bar who thought he read a signal and sent a drink your way. The dude who took you out on a date or two and hoped it was definitely going somewhere. The longtime friend who all of a sudden wanted to be more than that. He liked you, thought you maybe liked him too, and now he’s confused because you say you actually don’t like him that way. Before we know it, accusations of leading someone on are being tossed around.

For a guy, this is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to us in romance—and, unfortunately, it happens a lot.

Before I continue, let me say that I am not accusing women of asking for unwanted attention. Leading somebody on, or “breadcrumbing” as we like to call it these days, requires nefarious intent by definition. Nobody should be accusing anyone of such things without serious evidence of wrongdoing. It’s also worth noting that any man who goes out of his way to vengefully accuse a woman of leading him on is probably not the type of man who reasonably handles relationships and all their complexities.

That said, I have found that sometimes women just don’t know that they’re sending stronger signals than they intend (and vice versa). For the sake of perspective, here are four clues a man looks for to determine a woman’s level of interest. Hopefully this information will come in handy both when you intend to leave a breadcrumb trail (because you are actually interested) and when you want to be sure a guy doesn’t get the wrong idea.

01. Verbal Cues

You went out on a date, maybe more than one date. At some point, you’re not feeling it. Of course, in a perfect world, you tell him exactly that immediately, he’s cool with it, and you go your separate ways.

But this isn’t a perfect world. Maybe you've been burned before, or you just don't like confrontation, so you don't want to tell him that you aren't interested. While it's understandable that you don't want to turn a guy down directly, if your verbal cues don't match your more nonverbal clues, the guy might trust what you said.

Here’s an example.

One of the most frustrating instances I’ve encountered is when I went out on a really nice first date with Charlotte, and she was giving me all the verbal cues that she was interested in seeing me again, like inviting me to things down the road—even specific dates on the calendar. We both were traveling in the near future so it was a little bit of a challenge scheduling a second date, but she was saying things like, “let’s definitely get together before I leave town” or, when that didn't work out, “let’s definitely get together when I get back.”

It became clear at a certain point that she was delaying the second date, for some reason. Until, that is, it became more clear that she trying to avoid me altogether. I don’t doubt her initial sincerity, but at a certain point something in her obviously changed, and I was left to figure it out on my own over an extended period of time.

I probably could have been quicker to notice Charlotte’s avoidance tactics, but why not give a guy a break and tell it to him straight: you don't want to see him again (now or after vacation).

02. Physical Touch

Believe you me, a man will notice if you touch him. Of course, not every instance of physical touch carries with it an intention of impending romance, nor do we interpret everything that way. But it definitely can get the wheels turning. Especially certain types of touch.

Take hugs for example. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Hugs? Now I can’t even hug a guy without him thinking I’m interested?!” Well, let me just say, not all hugs are created equal. If she seems to go out of her way to hug me, if her hugs are particularly long and/or intense, that stands out.

Then there are other lingering touches. You know, like couples do: Hand-holding, arm-linking, cuddling, etc. Guys don’t do this with women they don’t like, so they interpret these things to be flirty. If you aren't looking for something romantic, it's best to take a hands-off approach—literally speaking, of course.

03. Exclusivity

Yeah, if we like a girl, we notice what sort of attention she gives to other guys and how we compare. So if we’re at a party or going out with a group, and she’s giving me her undivided attention, I figure that means something. If she hugs me longer than she hugs Jim or Ted, then I start to wonder why. If she wants to spend one-on-one time with me, even if it’s not in an overtly romantic context, I take note of that, too.

I get it, sometimes conversations just flow. I’m not saying every guy will think you’re interested just for being an engaged communicator. But it’s a simple fact that if you and a guy are acting like an island among a group, things might seem a certain way. Best to work the room if you don’t want a guy to think you’re dropping clues.

04. Receptivity

Of course, there’s only so much a guy can observe from afar, and there are very few signs we’re capable of picking up on (sorry, ladies!). So the only thing left to do is to go for it, at least incrementally, and see how she reacts.

If you’re out and about, the easiest way for a guy to gauge interest is by buying her a drink. There are plenty of girls who won’t let a man buy her a drink if she’s not interested or unavailable. So while a girl letting you buy her one isn’t necessarily a telltale sign she’s interested, it is a telltale sign that she hasn’t yet indicated that she’s not interested, if you know what I mean. That being said, if a guy offers to buy a second drink, and she accepts, this is typically a more sure sign.

If you find yourself at this crossroads and you're not feeling it, this is a convenient time to interject with something to the effect of, “Actually, I should go say hi to my friends. It was nice talking to you.” or “That’s very nice of you to offer, but I don’t want to give you the wrong impression.” Something to that effect will leave no gray area. Accepting drinks does not mean a woman owes a man anything! It's just that such actions, both giving and receiving, take on symbolic meaning for most single men.

I get it, navigating the dating world is tricky. But I don’t think it hurts for us to understand the opposite sex and how they might perceive our actions. If a little forethought can prevent confusion and even hurt feelings, it’s probably not a bad thing.

Image Credit: Jennifer Trahan