Every situation has a silver lining – discover a mindset that heals and enlightens.

October 24, 2021 · 8 min read

leading someone on
Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack. - Brandon Sanderson

Have you ever been confused by other person’s actions and intentions?


That’s what leading someone on is all about. It sets uncertainty, doubt, and misunderstanding of intentions. Our minds don’t know how to react and what to expect next.

When a situation is not clearly defined, we get entangled in a world full of twists. We have to navigate our way out of that condition with a roadmap.


Here you will find 12 signs of leading someone on and 5 tips how to solve it.

What does leading someone on mean?

Leading someone on means to misinterpret other person’s intentions and feelings. This happens purely because of ignorance.

To lead someone on is based on insisting on falsely presumed assumptions which are to be delivered in the future.


For example, you are expected to get a raise next year. Your employer confirmed that too. However, after a year you didn’t get a raise. This is what leading someone on mean.

Why are people leading someone on?

People lead someone on either because of intentional or unintentional reasons.


Leading someone on unintentionally happens when a person is overly friendly and doesn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by rejecting him.

Leading someone on intentionally happens when a person is unsure about his current position and intentions. It could be also that a person is fully aware of the situation and does it on purpose. In such scenario mixed signals occur and confusion sets in.


In either way, some people like to play with others’ feelings or gain benefits from them. Benefits occur in forms such as boosting one’s confidence, gaining physical or emotional pleasure, pleasing one’s personal needs, and similar.

12 Signs you’re leading someone on

1. Touching

Depending on the person and how much experience he has with the touching, he might misinterpret that with a romantic interest. A person that has never been in a relationship will most likely think that you are attracted to him/her.


Touching is an intimate physical expression. It also depends on where you touch the other person. If you touch legs, it’s an expression of attraction. If you touch a shoulder, it’s a sign of friendliness.

leading someone on

Some people are used to touch other people and they can deeply misunderstand your intention. That’s especially true if you did this with a stranger – he doesn’t know your natural patterns of behavior. Friends may know, but a stranger won’t.


A study has shown that men misinterpret more often that women. Whenever a woman is friendly, a man is more likely to misinterpret that as a sexual interest.

2. Words are based on lies

People that lie are wimps. They’re afraid of embracing the real scenario and sugar coat the situation instead.


Everyone has been burnt by someone’s lie. That kind of behavior makes you believe in false statements and live with that until you find out the lie yourself.

Whether that’s a lie from your boss to get a raise after a half year, co-worker/classmate that gave a word to do his task on time, or your friend that lied to you to arrange a plan for a vacation.


Some people are living by lies and all you can do is only ditch them. They’re not worthy of trust and respect. They only drain your emotional and physical energy for their own needs.

3. Messaging

The more you message with a stranger or a friend, the more you might be leading him/her on. Some of your friends, especially the opposite gender, might’ve crush on you and can interpret this sign of attraction. I know that because I had fallen for this hook when I had very little experience in relationships.

When you have expectations, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. - Ryan Reynolds

Another leading on problem is when a person continues to reply to messages even though he has no intentions to meet him/her ever again. That usually happens because you are too soft, good-hearted, and don’t want to hurt anyone. You hope that everything will end on its own.


However, such approach does more harm than the good. You waste your time and you make the other person feel more and more affectionate about you. In the end it concludes with a heart break.

4. Uncertainty

Uncertainty not only means that you lead someone on, but you also do that to yourself. In other words, you try to predict future events based on your current limited knowledge of your own feelings.

If you have the skills to fake your uncertainty, you might get away from letting the other person understanding that you are unsure him. On the other hand, if you find it harder to hide your feelings, the word ‘uncertainty’ will be written on your forehead.


You lead not only the other person, but you also lead on yourself.

5. Mixed signals

Mixed signals are slightly different than uncertainty. It’s based on showing interest to other person while maintaining a distance on purpose.


For example, a person might be bored and start messaging to the other person and talking for hours. It may happen for one day or a bit longer. After that, the ties are cut off which sets confusion.

leading someone on

Another sign of a mixed signal is being available only when it’s convenient for a person. Picture this: a person tells you that he cares about you and will be always there for you. However, when you need him and times are rough, he simply disappears.


Mixed signals are hard to interpret, especially when the other person is not committed to you. If you feel like you need stability in a relationship, then it’s time to evaluate if such behavior satisfies your needs and if you can continue like this.

People that send mixed signals lack essential communication skills and put emotional stress on other people.

6. Dating other people

Psycho-sexologist Kate Moyle notes that dating multiple people can upset other people. They believe that you are dating only each other, when in reality you’re dating more than one person.


Also, the more people you date, the more you believe that the chance of finding a perfect partner is just behind the corner.  Such mindset hurts other people which have hopes to start with you something more serious.

It's a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations. - Danny Boyle

Dating a lot of people at the same time becomes like a playground. People expect undivided attention and to bond with you. They want to feel worthy of attention and love. A person that is very aware of his value won’t stay for too long and may end dating with you himself.


Lastly, dating more than one person can feel like a job and it can lead to a burnout. When you reach this mental overburn, you lead other people on and end dating them. High expectations of dating leads to emotional stress. You disappoint yourself and others.

7. Having interest in physical pleasure

Having physical intimacy can often lead someone on. While for one person it might be simply a fun way to spend time, the other person can misinterpret that as a beginning of a relationship.


It all falls to the fundamentals of person’s emotional attachment level.  The more person deprived of emotional intimacy is, the more he’s likely to misinterpret sexual pleasures with a beginning of a relationship.

leading someone on

Physical attraction doesn’t equal to love. Sexual attraction is only one part of the puzzle in love relationship. The formula is much more complex. It adds up to having mutual hobbies, interests, similar view of the future plans, and more.

Therefore, it’s very important to set boundaries and have clear communication. The intentions and expectations have to be identified by both parties. In this case, the intention is only physical and not emotional.

8. Flirting

Flirting can be driven by a few factors:

  • Fun. People like to be playful and have a good time.
  • Exploring. Flirting lets to determine how other person reacts and whether he’s interesting and your type of person.
  • Sex. Flirtatious behavior is primarily driven by physical attraction.
  • Relationships. Flirting can be utilized as a tool to close the “formalities” and give a signal that things are going more serious. In other words, flirting is used to shift from a normal relationship to a romantic relationship.
  • Self-esteem. Some people use flirting as a tool to validate or increase their self-esteem.

While sometimes flirting can be completely harmless and very engaging for both persons, it can also be used to manipulate other people. People are on very different levels on interpreting the outcomes of flirting.


The more person is inexperienced in flirting, the more likely he’s going to catch feelings. If people are on different levels in terms of experience in relationships, they’ll interpret flirting differently.

I honestly believe true happiness lies in lowered expectations. In opening the door to let the air in. - Sara Pascoe

Definitely, there are chances that both people will interpret flirting in the same way, but usually it’s not easy to draw a fine line.


A person that has never been in a relationship doesn’t know what real love feels like. It’s common that such person thinks of flirting as a sign of romance.

9. Showing more attention

More attention doesn’t equal to undivided attention. Regardless of that, some people can misunderstand that with a sign of romantic feelings. 


For example, talking to someone more through a phone doesn’t equal to taking that person to a restaurant or booking a trip for just you two. Showing attention can be done on whole different levels.

Similarly to other aforementioned signs, leading someone on happens because of misunderstanding. Communication is neglected and ends up with false assumptions. The latter can result in heartbreaks, disappointments, or arguments.

10. Accepting the invitations

People accept invitations:

  • To have fun.
  • To pass the time.
  • To get any kind of benefits.
  • To look friendly.
  • In hopes to start an affair.

Imagine this: you invite a friend to have a road trip. You let him know that he won’t have to pay for anything.


Your friend will accept the request to look friendly and in hopes to start a relationship with you. He/she doesn’t like to have road trips, though.

lead someone on

On the other hand, all you want to do is to have some fun because that’s what you love to do. It’s obvious that your friend will have different assumptions than yours. Also, the expectations differ vastly and will result in dissatisfaction and disappointment, at least for your friend.


This example shows that it’s important not to blindly invite people to activities that only you like. The best way to deal with this is to find out if the other person likes such activity too. Though, don’t let it look obvious.

Instead of asking “Hey, do you want to go road trip with me?”, ask “How do you feel about travelling? Have you had experience with it?”. In that way, you will be able to assess the situation much better.


Note, that this works both ways (both from inviter and acceptor positions) in finding out the real intentions of invitations.

11. Talking about future

Talking about future plans is definitely a clear sign of leading someone on if there are no relationship intentions. That ends up with shattered heart and confidence loss in relationships.

You can't base your life on other people's expectations. - Stevie Wonder

You may jokingly think out loud “Imagine if we travelled there…”, while the other person could have this ‘a-ha’ moment and misunderstand that with you thinking of him/her and desire for a relationship.


The more affection a person has towards you, the more he’s likely to interpret every future detail that slips out of your mouth. Talking about future plans has to be done very responsibly not to lead someone on.

12. Making promises

Promises are very common to slip on. There are 2 scenarios.


The first one happens when a person is desperate to look good in front of your eyes and makes promises to get into a relationship. Promises can be on very different levels: from picking you up from school/work every other day, to fully organizing a party or an event.

While that act of kindness to you may look nothing more than simply a friendly gesture, the other person may have a whole different point of view. In this scenario, you might lead someone on accidentally.


The other group of people that make promises is the crowd pleasers that don’t evaluate their capabilities and other people’s feelings.

lead someone on

I’ll give you my example. I know one person (very closely related) that’s incredibly ignorant and sugar coats every detail into a beautiful promise. The less you know that person, the more you’re likely to believe him. Nevertheless, you can trip even with people that you know pretty well.


People that make a lot of promises to make themselves look good and later don’t fulfill them are not worthy of trust and respect. That is particularly true if that promise hits you on personal level, for example, promising to come to your birthday and then not showing up without even telling you about it in advance.

Such approach of promises lead people on and hurt them. Promises are words of honor and should not be taken lightly. For some people a promise is sacred and shouldn’t be broken. They might never forgive for betraying them.

5 Tips how not to lead someone on

1. Be precise

Precision translates to effective communication. The more accurate you are, the easier it will be to understand another person.


It’s important to practice this tip from the beginning to avoid miscommunication. The more you delay your intentions, the harder it will be to open up. Everything will stack on top and be hard to get off.

If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed. - Terrell Owens

Just to give an example, imagine you started dating someone. First date is usually dedicated learning general things about the person: hobbies, interests, past events, life achievements, etc.


The second date can be more focused about future plans, children, and similar. You need to be precise and align your values with the other person and see if they match.

It would be really bad if you talked with each other on a surface level for a year just to find out later that one person has a lot of ambitions in life while the other hasn’t. Such differences often end with a breakup and a lot of emotional pain.


Having great time together doesn’t translate to a happy mutual life. Your interests must align and the only way to find out is by asking precise questions.

2. Find out the expectations

Having very blank and dull conversations leads to nowhere. If you aren’t interested in another person, you will never understand how the other person thinks like.


Similarly, you need to know what your needs are. If your intentions are purely just for entertainment, make it clear.

lead someone on

If the other person’s expectations are affection, kindness, respect, then you both need to align the moral values, communication, and find consensus. If both of your expectations pass on each other, you need to move on.


This point of view works for almost every area of life.

3. Be responsible

Treat the other person as it was you. Take control of the things that you can and be responsible for them.


The less you care, the more problems you make for yourself and others. Some decisions can be not rational and very careless.

Unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations. - Edward de Bono

People like to blame environment for everything that’s happening around them. That’s poor outlook of the world and you’ll be always wondering why your relationships, finances, and health are not in a position that you’d like them to be in.

Personal responsibility is the key to everything. Same goes for not leading other people and avoiding being led by other people.


The moment you will be self-aware of your own actions and power to turn events to a mutual positive outcome, the happier you and others will be.


Don’t rely on other people to do everything for you. Take the actions into your own hands.

4. Tell the truth

Sometimes truth can be very hard to tell. Nevertheless, honesty is the key to feel free in life. In makes us more consistent in our behavior and it will lead to more positive outcomes.


If you are honest to yourself and others, you will never lead yourself and other people. It’s better to be harsh than to lie about everything and trying to avoid uncomfortable situations.

lead people on

When your words are honest, you make others’ lives much easier. Even if those words hurt, it’s way better than to ghost someone and leave their life without knowing what and how it happened.


Honesty is one of the main elements of a quality communication and relationships. If there was only one thing that I’d recommend you taking away from this article, then that thing would to be honest with yourself and others.

5. Don’t wait

Don’t delay telling your real intentions. The longer you wait, the more chaos it can cause. That’s one of the communication problems.


For example, if you notice that the other person might have caught feelings on you, it’s not necessary to say straight into the face to someone that you are just having fun being around him/her and have no romantic intentions.

 You can just go with “Hey, I enjoy your company. It’s great to spend time together with you. I just want to make it clear from the beginning that I’m not ready for a relationship”.


Notice that you’re not saying “I don’t want to be in a relationship with you”. Instead, you address the message to yourself by saying ‘I am’ and don’t hurt the other person as much.

This method works in a lot of different situations of life if you want to minimize the damage and don’t want to hurt another person.



Here’s an informational video how other people might lead you on. It may give you another point of view what to avoid:

Final Words From Delightful Mindset

Leading someone on happened for every one of us. We’ve been in both positions: being led by others and leading others from the truth.

The most important thing to remember is to be very self-aware of situation and think of how the other person feels and what expects from you.


The moment you will understand yourself and others’ intentions, you will start living a guilty-free life of not leading other people and understanding how to avoid being led by others’ needs.