Covert Advice: Why We Read People More Than Textbooks


Dear Confused Penn Stater,

A couple of weeks ago, you asked me some very important questions:

My problem is I am bad at reading people. I feel like I’m getting mixed signals from this guy I hang out with from my dorm. Like sometimes he asks me to chill and then he’s totally unavailable. What is he trying to say? Is he trying to say anything? Why is this a problem?

These are all amazing questions. As we meet new people and make new friends, we begin to form different feelings toward all of them. We keep our friends in a safe place close to our hearts and we open ourselves up to those people we trust the most. But more often than not, it is hard to tell what we represent to someone else: are we friends, is there romance, or is this something in between? To get these answers, we read people.

This is college, but sadly, we read people more than we read textbooks. So what is he trying to tell you? Well, let’s find out.

What Is He Trying to Say?

Both nothing and everything at the same time. In better words, he is telling you everything you need to know by saying nothing at all. I know that’s an awful answer, but it’s probably the truth. When I am faced with situations like this, ones where I am forced to deal with my emotions, I tend to close up too.

If anything, his silence should be the only answer you need. If you are interested in him, let him know. And if he doesn’t act any differently after that, you know he probably isn’t the right person for you after all.

And I know how difficult it is to address a conversation like that, one where you tell someone how you feel, but if you want to know where you stand, then trying to read him will only confuse you more.

Is He Trying to Say Anything?

Most likely. If he is anything like me at all, he is probably dying to say something, but stays silent because it’s the easy way out. It’s not that he doesn’t know what to say to you, but rather that he doesn’t know what to say to himself.

Don’t get me wrong, I take the quiet route and try to read people almost every day. But most of the time, I can barely read myself. In all honesty, however, we shouldn’t be trying to read anyone. We can only understand the feelings that we, ourselves, have experienced. So anything he is trying to say to you, if anything at all, might be something that only he can put into words.

You should give him some time to figure out what he wants to say, or if you are dying to find out, just ask him. Sure, it might be embarrassing or awkward, but it probably already is.

Why Is This a Problem?

Mixed messages can definitely be the worst. Trust me: I get them everyday and I probably send them even more. That’s the worst part about reading other people though… Sometimes we are so preoccupied with reading someone that we don’t realize the messages we are giving off ourselves.

We are not psychic, and we certainly aren’t relationship experts: we are complex minds trapped in the bodies of not-so-complex college students. We love, we hate, we gossip, and we praise. We feel a million things everyday and struggle to put a handful of them into words.

We are living in a one-night-stand environment where people are secretly dying for something steady and serious. But that is the world we live in, and it will stay that way for as long as we stay silent.

My Advice:

Stop trying to read him, and try talking to him instead. He is probably thinking about this just as hard as you are, and if he isn’t, then he wasn’t good enough for your attention anyway.


Chris Covert

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