It’s no secret that the language of love isn’t always the most, well, direct. That’s why so many single people spend hours analyzing emails from dates trying to figure out if “I’m busy at work” is a brush-off, or wondering whether that invitation of “I’ll make dinner for you” indicates a desire to share a whole lot more than a favorite garlic chicken recipe.
How can you suss out what someone’s really trying to say? To help you out, we got a bevy of dating experts to decode eight common lines so you’ll spend less time scratching your head and more time communicating.
Line: “I’d love to stay out, but I have to get up really early tomorrow.”
What it means: “Sorry, you just aren’t floating my boat.”
Of course, if it’s 2 a.m. or your date follows up with, “But let’s get together soon—maybe this weekend?” the fact that he or she want to end the date is no big deal. But if the night is young or your date mentions an aversion to staying out late in the middle of, say, appetizers, that’s not a good sign. Your date may sense there’s no connection and want to exit sooner rather than later, says Steve Nakamoto, author of Men Are Like Fish: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Catching A Man. At least look at the upside: This person’s also freeing you from a situation that’s not going anywhere, so just enjoy your dinner, then skedaddle.
Line: “I had such a good time with you.”
What it means: “Wow, you’re actually fun and different from all the other guys/girls!”
This sentence might sound generic, but try saying it out loud: It sounds far more intense than a mere “I had a nice night,” doesn’t it? “This is a way of revealing how you feel without getting too heavy,” says Laurie Puhn, J.D., author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. “The person is letting you know that he or she really might like you, and trying to find out if you possibly feel the same.” So if the interest is mutual, let your date know by responding in kind.
Line: “I’m just not ready for a relationship.”
What it means: “I’m just not in love with you.”
It’s hard when someone you like tells you he or she’s not in a place to seriously date anyone. But it also makes you hope that the problem is timing, not your personalities. If you can just be patient, you think, things could percolate, right? Wrong. “This means ‘I don’t love you, so if that’s what you want, we should break up,'” says Puhn. Don’t be fooled—when this person does meet someone who has that spark, he or she will indeed be ready for a relationship.
Line: “I’d love to meet up, but I’m just really busy with work right now.”
What it means: “I’m trying to think of a really nice way to blow you off.”
Of course, this person could very well have a full schedule that week. But if he or she doesn’t offer any alternative dates to hang out, what you’re really being told is that this person would rather work than hang out with you. (Sorry.) “Your date very well could be busy. The question is whether your date’s focusing on the problem or finding a solution,” says Puhn. “You can always get away long enough for dinner or a drink with someone or say, ‘I’m going to call you in two weeks after this project is done.’ It’s a matter of priorities.” So if your date isn’t trying to pencil you in, it could be time to write that person off.
Line: “So, gotten any funny emails on Match.com lately?”
What it means: “Are you interested in seeing each other exclusively?”
Let’s face it, it’s intimidating to ask: “So are you seeing anyone else?” And with online dating, there’s a sneakier way to put out feelers: By asking a question that reveals whether someone’s been checking his or her Match.com account for new suitors. “In online dating, you can receive flirtatious emails 24/7, so leaving your profile up sends a message that you’re still open to other prospects,” says Nakamoto. So if your date’s asking anything about your online activities, it’s probably a sign he or she might pop the “So… do you want to see each other exclusively?” question soon.
Line: “So, want to meet for coffee?”
What it means: “Want to meet for a coffee and then have dinner if we like each other?”
It’s always smart to schedule a short, easy-to-end date when you’re first meeting a new person. “Committing to a dinner with someone new can seem like too much for a person who doesn’t want to get stuck at a table for hours if things aren’t clicking,” explains Puhn. Still, many online daters will leave the ensuing hours free in case you two hit it off. That doesn’t mean you should head to your rendezvous with overly high expectations and an empty stomach. If you’re hungry, eat already. If you end up wanting to prolong the fun on your date, you can always suggest going for dessert or a drink.
Line: “I’m meeting my friends for a drink—want to come?”
What it means: “I really like you and want to know if you get along with my pals.”
It may sound like a casual invite, but what your date is saying is that he or she is totally comfortable being seen with you as a couple—and is interested in how you’ll relate to his or her closest comrades. “Meeting the friends is an approval thing,” says Nakamoto. “Women want to see how he treats their friends, and men want to know if his friends like the girl.” It may seem intimidating, but it should actually boost your ego: You’ve passed the first tests and are now on your way to becoming a full-time boyfriend or girlfriend—provided the buddies sign off. If you’re feeling just as positive about the relationship, say “Yes,” and charm away.
Line: “Why don’t you come over and I’ll cook for you?”
What it means: “Ready to get physical?”
Cooking for a person is a show of intimacy in a couple of ways. “The person is really inviting you into his or her life,” says Puhn. “Someone’s apartment is their whole world, so they’re obviously very comfortable with you.” Then, of course, there’s the fact that you’ll conveniently be just a few steps from the couch—and the bedroom —later that night. If it’s a first or early date, this might actually be a bit too personal, especially if you’re not sure how you feel about your future together. But if you’re pretty sure you’re ready to explore things further, congratulations, tonight could be the night!
Sound off: Tell us about the best and worst dating lines that you’ve encountered. New York City freelance writer Laura Gilbert has written for Health, Stuff, Maxim, The Knot and other publications.