It’s a situation nearly every single man and woman has experienced at some point while looking for love (and is none too glad about it, we might add): guy meets girl. Guy is thinking, Wow, I think she’s really into me! Meanwhile, the girl is thinking, Why can’t this dude take a hint and leave me alone?

Why are mixed signals like this so common? To get to the root of this misunderstanding, researchers at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Ruban Ethology in Vienna, Austria, observed 45 pairs of men and women who had never met before as they interacted for 10 minutes at a time; they then asked the women whether they were attracted to the male subject.

The results, which were published in the journal, Evolution and Human Behavior, offer plenty of clues as to why dating is confusing. Whether they know it or not, women gave off positive courtship cues (such as hair flipping, chest thrusting and fidgeting with their clothing) even when they were not into a guy. Even more frustrating, women gave off more negative courtship cues (arm and leg crossing) when they did like someone. What gives?
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“There was hardly any difference in the number of courtship signals given off by those women who did express an interest and those who didn’t,” said Professor Karl Grammer, who headed the research team. “And the women who said they were interested in the man gave off more negative signals than those who weren’t interested.”

Why women do this is not completely understood, but if you want to avoid sending men mixed messages, make sure your body language supports your agenda. If you’re interested, let him know with a flirty hair toss; if you’re not, cross your arms or legs instead. Meanwhile, a guy who could swear a woman is into him — or is acting aloof — may want to avoid making any snap judgments about her level of interest and try to gather more information first.

Riki Markowitz is a writer living in Brooklyn.