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How to Lead Someone On (and Why You Shouldn’t)

by Dr. Seth Meyers - February 8, 2016

When was the last time you led someone on? Odds are that you, like most people, have led someone on without even knowing it. The motivation for this behavior – leading someone on – stems from the desire to be liked and to feel attractive. Accordingly, when you have been guilty of leading someone on, you were probably responding to the sense that the individual liked you, and that undeniably feels good! Bottom line: Everyone is guilty of leading someone on from time to time. The key is to know when you’re doing it and to focus on how the other person feels so that you don’t mislead someone and ultimately leave them feeling betrayed.

What are some of the most common ways in which people lead others on? Check out the examples below and please, please, please… don’t engage in any of these behaviors with someone you’re not truly interested in.

Touching Someone Frequently

If you touch someone frequently, you are going to give that person the idea that you like them. The type of touching doesn’t have to be sexual, either. Perhaps you throw your arm around their shoulders or touch their shoulder or forearm; perhaps you reach for their hand or hug them. I believe that everyone should be careful with physical affection to the point that you should only be showing affection to those who want to receive it. (We all know that someone who gets too touchy can get annoying fast.)

Offering Multiple Compliments

I recently read an article about the dangers of complimenting someone too much, as too much complimenting makes people question the motivations of the complimenter. What does he want? What is she trying to do? One of the surest ways to lead someone on is to frequently compliment them. This tactic is especially problematic if the person being led on has low self-esteem or is in a vulnerable position in life, because they are going to be more susceptible to falling for false promises. You don’t really want to be the kind of person who is predatory, do you?

Leaving the door slightly ajar in terms of whether you’re interested…

Picture the following scenario: You recently met John at a party, gave him your number, and then had a conversation with him on the phone. The problem? You’re not so sure that you’re interested. I deal with this issue constantly in my private practice with clients: people going on dates that they were never interested in going on in the first place. The question, of course, is…why go? Many men and women lead others on because they are bored, don’t have anyone else, and like the attention. While I understand the motivation, I also know that this kind of behavior is selfish. If you know you’re not interested, don’t go on a date with someone and get their hopes up. One honest option is to say the following: “I’m not interested in dating, but if you want to go to dinner as friends, I’d like that.” You are being honest and decent, so don’t feel bad about hurting anyone’s feelings. One of the cruelest dating tricks is to lead someone on and then let them down later.

Using Misleading Language

Using misleading language is an especially manipulative tactic to lead someone on. Perhaps a man refers to his “friend” but not his girlfriend; a woman may talk about an “ex” when it’s actually someone she is still involved with. This behavior is immoral because the use of vague or misleading language requires such deliberate calculation, so don’t practice this behavior with someone who likes you. They didn’t do anything wrong to you – all they did was like you!

When you’re already in a relationship, telling someone you’ll be single soon…

This behavior happens every day: A man or woman in a relationship leads someone on by suggesting that they will be single soon or that the relationship they’re in now is coming to an end. This reminds me of an old country music song by Tanya Tucker called “Soon.” Take a listen to the way she sings about being strung along for too long, finally coming to the point of saying “Enough!” Again, don’t make half-hearted promises you can’t keep.

The ways I’ve outlined are just a few of the ways someone can lead a person on, and the main reason why you shouldn’t do it is because it’s morally wrong. Think about the other person’s feelings and remember that, if you do it to someone in the dating universe, someone else then has a get-out-of-jail free card to do the same thing to you later.

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