I had a friend who always got in trouble in one of the singles groups I used to be in. Whether he actually did anything wrong was a matter of debate, that debate usually splitting down the great sex divide. You see, he was nice. When he talked to women, he was attentive and actively listened. He walked ladies to their car. He checked on them if they were down or sick. He hung out with them regularly and paid for lunch when he did. To guys like me, we thought we numbered among a dying breed: the fabled gentleman. To the ladies in the group, he sent mixed signals of interest.

One of the peculiarities of that beast we call the singles group is how the dating tension is an ever-present specter. It hovers over each activity, conversation, and interaction, bubbling with attendant drama for the group. All because it’s tough having male/female friendships without sending “mixed” signals.

Because singles groups exist to kill time before people drop out of them, one of the casualties becomes the prospect of real friendship across the sexes. Everything become fraught with “is he interested in me” or “is she too into me” type questions in the back of people’s minds.

We’ve come so far in our social interactions, and by far I mean men have sunk so low, that gentlemanly actions, which were once routine, now signal interest. Apparently, if you do the gentleman thing with a lot of your female friends, despite your intent, it stirs up their passions. Why ELSE would you be so attentive? There’s nothing worse than a nice guy dangling themselves in front of a woman. So it was explained to me/us.

As I’ve managed to get my brain around this notion, despite what we said or how clear we’ve been about our intent (“I’m just looking to be a friend. I just want to get to know you better as a person”), we gave the illusion of interest. By giving the illusion of increasing intimacy (arm holding, lots of one-on-one time, even what we would consider simple politeness), we sent the signal that we were interested. In other words, it’s the couch dilemma (and will result in the dreaded “Defining The Relationship” talk).

Don’t get me wrong, if you find yourself (even in a platonic) cuddling scenario or if part of your act is being a perennial flirt, you do confuse the issue and send a mixed signal. It’s a fine tightwalk to walk. I tended to err on the side of love. I would risk helping, protecting, and nurturing because I try to be genuinely loving. If that sends a mixed signal, then, well I’m sorry society has conditioned us to believe that’s a mixed signal. In the end, I’m guilty of being nice. That being said, there is trust and friendship and relationship, none are to be treaded upon lightly. We want relationships, all types of friendships, so we need to be ever-mindful of the signals we send and the feelings that may get hurt.