Master of the Mixed Message
"But what I really like is spending time just driving with you. You're cute when you blush, but don't get the wrong idea about what I mean by that."
Alice is in love with Bob. It's very obvious. The writers make no effort to hide the fact. However, we aren't sure how Bob feels about Alice. Every once in a while, he'll do something incredibly romantic, and then turn it into a Just Friends or something similar. He may flirt with her often, but make it seem like it's playful and doesn't mean anything. Often he'll ask her out on a date, and after she accepts reveal it's a group affair, even though the conversation beforehand hinted it might be intimate one on one time.
The idea is that Bob spends the entire time straddling the line between showing genuine romantic interest and being indifferent, which is incredibly aggravating for Alice and just gives her more and more doubts because Bob won't give any signals one way or the other. Is he unaware? Does he just like playing with her? Does he consider her to be like a sister? Is he gay? She just can't tell. Every single statement he makes can be interpreted both ways, so when he gets done, Alice is left asking "Well, how am I supposed to interpret that?"
Alice can count her blessings, though. Nine times out of ten, when it's actually revealed how he feels, it will turn out that he did like her all along. Maybe he had the same doubts she did. Maybe he never thought of her that way, but once he did, realized it was true. Or sometimes he was sending mixed messages because he was genuinely confused. Either way, they'll usually end up together, unless he's the main character and she has a lot of competition.
Compare/Contrast Tsundere, whose "mixed messages" are on the far side of the emotional spectrum rather than hovering in the middle. May require Alice asking "Did You Think I Can't Feel?" If Bob drags it out. Compare I Didn't Mean to Turn You On.
For obvious reasons, she won't just ask him.
- Kyoko from Maison Ikkoku, and pretty much every other member of a main couple in Rumiko Takahashi's works. Except Lum, of course.
- It gets worse in Takahashi's Ranma ½ series where this trope is beaten into the ground by every single member of the main teen cast towards each other in virtually every single combination possible. And a few of the adult cast too.
- To a lesser extent, Gourry towards Lina in The Slayers. Romance isn't played up all that much, but in the few times Gourry seems like he might be interested in Lina, something always happens to make us unsure again (it was usually some kind of spell or misunderstanding).
- In the anime, the problem is usually that, while Gourry seems to be kind of affectionate, it's never clear whether or not he's intelligent enough to understand what volunteering to be Lina's "Protector for Life" implies.
- One of the later movies has Gourry affected by a spell that causes everyone to speak in octopus language. Gourry spends the entire movie telling Lina "I love you" (in Gratuitous English). Lina blushes and squirms every time, despite knowing he's cursed... and is furious when he's cured and it turns out that "I love you" is octopus for "I can't pay for this".
- In Axis Powers Hetalia, England is very strongly implied to be in love with America, but it isn't clear if America is simply oblivious and just being his usual tactless self towards him, is aware of England's feelings but only likes to lead him on before shooting him down, or does like England back but has the same personality problems as he.
- In recently translated notes, it's discovered that America is tactless on purpose, so it must be one of the latter two.
- Actually it said, "He could read the atmosphere if he chose to." This doesn't necessairly imply he does or doesn't understand how England feels, but rather that he could know if he actually tried a little harder. Whether or not he does yet has yet to be revealed.
- Probably Italy, as shown in Buon San Valentino. He doesn't realize that in Germany, red roses mean a confession. therefore, Germany is rather confused as to whether Italy was just showing a friendly gesture, or if he was, in fact, confessing to be in love with Germany. This is still up for debate.
- In recently translated notes, it's discovered that America is tactless on purpose, so it must be one of the latter two.
- In Overman King Gainer, Gainer Sanga makes no secret of his crush on his schoolmate Sara Kodama, but for pretty much half the series, it is not known if Sara feels the same towards him. Even when it does become clear that Sara reciprocates (she did get pretty jealous when Gainer was going to meet Cynthia...), she seems not to know what to do about it, and ends up sending her friend contradictory signs. In the end, though, it all ends well with Gainer and Sara heavily implied to have hooked up.
- In Sasameki Koto, Ushio gives poor Sumika major headaches with this kind of behavior, although she tends to be more on the cute rather than the aloof side.
- This has recently started happening in Skip Beat!
- In Aoi Hana, Akira is more and more behaving this way toward Fumi, but in this case it's more an indication of Akira's confusion about having Fumi, a girl, confess to her.
- Kyousuke of Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai! light novels toward his childhood friend Manami, who has a crush on him. He calls her plain and unremarkable, yet says that this is his favorite thing about her since the unfamiliarity is comforting. He keeps saying how much he appreciates her, and enjoys his study sessions with her. He also tells her that every time he's with her it's like his soul is healed of his troubles. One time he offered to take her some place special, she accepts and they have a Not a Date at the park. There she hints at him to kiss her, and he misses the cue to her disappointment. He even wants to go to the same university as her to make their comfortable relationship last as long as possible. Yet, in all those instances, he always mentions (to himself and others) that he's definitely not in love with her.
- Played even stronger with his sister, although the recipient of the mixed message is the reader. No matter which absolutely outrageous things for a brother Kyousuke does, he always denies any romantic interest saying "every brother would have done that". No, Kyousuke. They wouldn't.
- In Sora no Manimani Mihoshi loves Saku... but it's unclear if she loves him as a childhood friend or something else.
- Parodied mercilessly in Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series:
- Episode 1 of Season 0.
Yugi: "Thanks for standing up for me, Tea.
- Holo is this to Lawrence in Spice and Wolf. The main problem is that Holo is massive Tease who engages in ungodly amounts of flirting (and is intimately comfortable with Lawrence physically) even though she knows their journey has to end and thinks a long-term relationship would only end in heartbreak. Furthermore, she intermittently a) coaches Lawrence to be more Genre Savvy about relationships and to act in a manner that she considers romantic, and b) manipulates him with those same behaviors to make fun of him and get things she wants. Throughout all this, she still has enough moments of honesty that they grow just about as close as possible without actually becoming a "couple".
- It's a weird example of the trope, as she's not really being coy about the fact that she likes him, she just likes messing with his head until he has no idea how to react. And as the series progresses, he figures out how to get the better of her and starts treating her the exact same way. Which is why the series is awesome.
- Miroku in Inuyasha. One moment he's doing sweet things for Sango, or groping her or telling her how she owns his heart, and the next he's trying to bed every single pretty girl that cross his path. He continues this sort of behavior right up through the episode "Miroku's Most Dangerous Confession," at the end of which he quite seriously tells Sango that he thinks of her as a comrade in arms rather than as a woman... and then asks her to marry him and have his children.
- Tomoe from Kamisama Kiss is a regular condescending asshole to Nanami most of the time. However, he does occasionally show a sweet and caring side to her and should another man so much as look at her he flips his lid and is very protective of her. But every time Nanami asks if he likes her or loves her Tomoe is quick to deny it or invent some excuse for his actions.
- Hayate from Hayate the Combat Butler; the only person in the world who can make a kidnapping ploy sound like an Anguished Declaration of Love.
- Ryo from FAKE is a master of the mixed message. Ryo says that he doesn't want his partner Dee making passes or advancements at him and scolds him for doing so. Even encouraging his adopted son to be a Moment Killer if things heat up with Dee. Yet, he lets Dee kiss him quite a bit and other times voluntarily kissing Dee himself. All the while telling Dee he's not interested in him like that....
- Oscar in Shark Tale does this with the female fish.
- Padme from Star Wars tells Anakin their romance is wrong.... while she's wearing a leather, backless dress that shows lots of cleavage and makes her look like a dominatrix.
- In The Dark Knight Saga, Rachel does this to Bruce, which may contribute to her Scrappiness. In the first movie she kisses him, then tells him she can't be with him unless he gives up Batman, then holds his hand as they walk through the rubble of his mansion. By the second movie, she's dating Harvey Dent, but Bruce seems to think Harvey is just a placeholder until she can be with him. He's wrong, but never finds this out.
- In Linnea Sinclair's Games of Command, Kel-Paten is hopelessly in love with his subordinate officer Tasha Sebastian, who's Oblivious to Love. She jokingly tells him "I think I love you," when he completes a tricky bit of navigation. Later when she needs Kel-Paten distracted, Tasha leans in close to him and speaks softly, and agrees that walking through a fairground with him sounds like a wonderful idea. She's surprised how effective her very mild flirtation turns out to be.
- Simon and Derek both to a certain extent in Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers. Simon constantly flirts with Chloe, but in such a friendly way that she’s sure he’s completely unaware that it could be taken romantically and is just treating her as he would a little sister, and Derek goes out of his way to protect her and try to help her learn more about her powers, though has a fairly hot temper and admits that he’s been trying to push her away because he thinks he doesn’t deserve her.
- He’s pretty quick to give in when she kisses him though, though...
- Not to mention he and Simon are both usually the ones to initiate any physical contact with her as well.
- Ariana Ortega from The Dresden Files. It's outright stated that she married her current husband specifically so she could spend eternity screwing with his mind.
- The Doctor with Rose. He's kissed her twice, left her stranded on a space cruiser a few thousand years in her future while running off to save a French courtesan, and more.
- He's even worse about the mixed messages with Martha, and actually reveals after she left that he knew all along about her fancying him.
- Amy calls Eleven out on this in a DVD-only scene.
- And Amy to Rory. She once wanted to pretend they were brother and sister on what could be called the night before their wedding.
- The Doctor gets a taste of his own medicine from River in the episode "Let's Kill Hitler."
- Clark Kent in Smallville sets the standard for Mixed Signals.
Ian: And Lana said you send off so many mixed signals you could scramble a radar.
- If Clark's the master, what does that make Lana?
- A variation from a multi-part episode of Farscape had Aeryn and John, after enforced snuggling in a cramped cockpit, start to make out...but then she breaks away and stalks off, saying:
Aeryn: I will not be a slave to your hormones.
- Vala Mal Doran did this constantly to Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG-1, shifting between flirting and unprovoked teasing, though it was less about her figuring out her feelings and more about just messing with him. Unfortunately, the result is that Daniel took her teasing seriously and found her annoying most of the time. When he finally does learn her true feelings, he is genuinely surprised and reciprocates. Kinda...
- Ziva and Tony in NCIS. Too much Subtext to be completely sure about anything.
- One of Carrie's boyfriends in Sex and the City 'teases her like a friend' and 'kisses her like a boyfriend', but they aren't sleeping together, so she's not sure where she stands with him.
- In one episode of Frasier, a female coworker of the titular character asks him out to dinner on Valentine's Day, ostensibly to discuss work. Because the woman had to be reminded that it was Valentine's Day and is generally flirty in everyday conversation, Frasier has no idea whether he is on a romantic date or just having dinner with a colleague. The episode ends with Frasier climbing into bed with her without any clue as to her intentions. What happens next is never resolved.
- HIMYM: Robin. Dear Lord, Robin! She does to Ted in S1, but it's even worse with Barney in Season 4 and, arguably, Season 3. She does it again to baffling extremes in Season 7 with Barney, pining after him while he dates her co-worker, eventually hooking up with him, and then freaking out and ultimately rejecting him after he tells her he wants them to be together.
- iCarly: Carly is like this with Freddie. The most obvious example is when Carly is trying to combine 2 lip gloss flavors into one. Freddie asks if it's working, and she seductively replies "You wanna find out?" Freddie practically faints, closes his eyes and is expecting a kiss. She then smashes his face with her hand after rubbing the lip gloss on it.
- The Office in the early seasons Pam acted this way sometimes. It's always clear that she enjoys being with Jim more than Roy and sometimes she slips briefly into more romantic behavior. When Pam left Roy, Jim had started dating someone else and got to do a little of this. However, Pam did make amends by confessing her feelings to Jim in front of everyone at an office retreat.
- When trying to court Erin, Andy did his best to be clear yet inevitably landed in this trope.
- Josh on The West Wing. It's ultimately most important with Donna, but he also inflicts it on Mandy, Amy and Joey. Consistently led to a Sorkin Relationship Moment.
- Mac from Green Wing does this to Caroline, knowing that she is besotted with him. Eventually she confronts him about his behaviour, telling him "You can be very cruel sometimes".
- My Name Is Earl had a girl of the week named Wendy who behaved this way with any guy she liked (the guy who was on Earl's list, then Earl himself) because she was too shy to openly admit her feelings. She would always do the goodnight cheek kiss and make a mix CD playlist that were either "Intercourse with You" and "Just Friends".
- Naomi from Skins, particularly in Katie And Emily's episode. Seriously, there can't be many characters who can deliver the lines "You look nice - from the neck down!" and "I think I'm going away for the summer. Spain, Cyprus perhaps. By myself. Spend some time by myself, you know? Do some thinking. By... myself." - and even fewer who can do them consecutively.
- Serena on Gossip Girl in season four. She can't seem to make up her mind if she loves Dan or Nate or both or neither and changes her mind every ten minutes or so. Leaving the guys confused, to say the least.
- Chuck can be pretty good at this too when it comes to Blair.
- The Big Bang Theory has the first season mostly about Leonard trying to work up the nerve to ask Penny out. For the most part she treated Leonard and the other guys as good friends, hanging out with them and getting involved with their activities at times. Yet she showed signs of liking Leonard a little bit more than she let on, being both subtle (signs of interest when Leonard had a brief fling with a co-worker, which he tried and failed to analyze) and overt (she kissed him on several occassions, once when drunk and another as a sort of birthday present). Even when his feelings were made clear the majority of their relationship, either in a Romantic Upgrade or Just Friends, rested on what her feelings were at the time. Leonard otherwise has always been fairly clear about where his feelings were.
- Shortly into their we're-not-a-couple-but-still-friends phase, Penny tries to pull this trope by going on a (not-a-)date with Leonard and still expecting him to behave like a boyfriend (meaning, let her have her way on everything and Leonard pays). Leonard calls her on this, saying that if they're just out as friends he should have as much say in picking the movie and restaurant, that they should both pay, and she can't have any of his fries.
- Santana to Britney in Glee. Until she realizes she's gay.
- Simon of Firefly towards Kaylee. The audience has him figured pretty early, but Kaylee has some pretty solid doubts even up 'til the climax of the Big Damn Movie. It's usually just his habit of accidentally insulting her or Serenity, but in Jaynestown he actually says that he wouldn't. He meant that he wouldn't take advantage of a drunk crewmate, but it didn't quite come out that way. Closer to "wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot-pole" with (as Cleolinda put it) "icky like a sister" overtones.
- In Noah and Saskia, one of the major sources of drama is that Noah is this. Even when he's not being impersonated by well meaning relatives and friends.
- Arguably Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years is this to Kevin.
- Princeton from Avenue Q toward Kate Monster. In the song "Mix Tape" he makes her one, which she uses to try to interpret how he feels about her. The songs send an ambiguous message with a few songs with the word "friend" in the title, many love songs and a couple that imply he thinks she's fat. Finally, after she decides that the tape is a romantic gesture, he reveals that he's making one for the rest of the apartment. He invites her out with a bunch of his friends that night, and she asks "Like a date?" He says "Sure," as if the idea had never occurred to him.
- Hamlet does this to Ophelia. Just how much depends on the interpretation (if Hamlet is not actually insane, then his behavior towards her is much more this trope). Early in the play, Ophelia tells Polonius how Hamlet has lately "made many tenders of his affection" to her. Act II, scene i has Ophelia describing how the disheveled Hamlet comes to her for comfort (just after speaking with the Ghost, though she doesn't know that). In Act III, Scene i, he tells her "I did love you once" and then immediately tells her that he never loved her. In many productions, this scene is made into more of a Mind Screw by having Hamlet passionately kiss Ophelia at some point, usually just before he begins verbally abusing her, which he famously finishes off by telling her she'd be better off as a nun (or a whore, depending on how you want to take the word "nunnery").
- Cyrano De Bergerac: At Act I Scene VI, Roxane sends his Duenna to make a date with Cyrano. Both Cyrano and his best friend Le Bret think it is a romantic date. At Act II Scene X, Cyrano believes that Roxane is confessing his love for him, but Roxane is
manipulatingasking him to protect Christian.
- Lan/Netto Hikari in regards to his canon love interest in Mega Man Battle Network. He's generally a nice guy to everyone, but goes out of his way to make her feel better several times and they even go on a couple of dates in both the show and game canons. However, it always seems as though he's totally oblivious to her affections, though one does have to wonder...especially when in the game series' ending, they end up together with a son. This doesn't seem to apply to the manga however, which contains a lot more...other interesting notes... Lan also seems to know Mayl has a crush on him in the manga, at least according to the first volume (he says that they shouldn't be seen walking home together because people 'might get ideas' in a very teasing manner).
- In Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side 2, Akagi Kazuyuki's entire route is complicated by poor communication between himself and the heroine; it hits this trope when he invites her out (claiming he "just happened" to have tickets to a concert and the friend he was going to go with couldn't make it) and subsequently completely fails to clarify whether or not it's an actual date. Matters are further complicated when he manages to bungle his attempt to explain himself to the point that the heroine concludes that he wasn't interested in her at all and begins avoiding him when he tries to talk to her. He doesn't manage to sort things out properly until nearly the end of the game.
- In Radiant Historia, Raynie is this toward Stocke. She initially says she admires her friendship with Captain Rosch and asks if she could be such a friend with him.
- Faye would do this to Marten a lot, at first.
Marten: Congratulations, that is the most infuriatingly open-to-interpretation statement I have ever heard.
- Faye and Marten manage to do this (probably unconsciously) to everyone else about the nature of their relationship, which is probably one of the factors that contributed to Marten's breakup with Dora. She was never able to trust him fully... which is pretty reasonable considering that, among other things, when she wanted to move in with him, he managed to argue for letting Faye continue to live with him as well.
- There was a two-girl variation that was happening in Misfile. Ash very obviously likes Emily, but Emily can't seem to make up her mind. Complicating the issue is the fact that Emily is (supposedly) straight, and Ash used to be a guy. More recently, however, Emily gave in and tried to kiss Ash . . . but Ash reluctantly walked away; s/he doesn't want to be "too happy", afraid of giving up on getting back his/her old life.
- Rumsiel also calls Ash out on this about a boy interested in "her".
- Emily later cranks this up when she starts pushing Ash for a more physical relationship... while at the same time expressing a dislike of lesbian sex. Nonsexually, there's how she wants to handle their romantic relationship, where she'll waffle back and forth over the lesbian/straight nature of it in a single conversation. Ash at some point seems to have just given up and only responds to these enough to convince Emily she's listening.
- One arc of Wapsi Square had Shelly playing this role towards Heather. Heather eventually called her out on it. Unlike most examples of this trope, they did not end up together.
- Not being one to enjoy having feelings, The Nostalgia Chick will either care for or abuse the people closest to her, it just all depends on her mood at that specific time. Those people in question get understandably confused.
- Patti Mayonnaise from Doug. Doug likes her, but we are never sure if she likes him back or sees him as a friend. She does do a few really sweet things for him, though. It's revealed later in the series that she's not sure either.
- Katara of Avatar: The Last Airbender: Even when she gets to know how Aang feels, nothing whatsoever happens for a few episodes and then she tells him she's confused. She does other things to confuse the issue, like when she suggested kissing as a way to get out of the cave of two lovers, and mixing playing his Team Mom with, for example, using the Hands-On Approach. Ah, adolescence and the emotional befuddlement it causes.
- Zuko is prone to this at times. Prime example? Shouting She Is Not My Girlfriend while on a date.
- To be fair, she asked him out, and Iroh accepted for him. So it's entirely possible that he just doesn't really want to be there/have a girlfriend/have an Earth Kingdom girlfriend, but warms up to her later on in the date.
- Zuko is prone to this at times. Prime example? Shouting She Is Not My Girlfriend while on a date.
- It's painfully obvious Sam likes Danny in Danny Phantom, but it's not as straightforward with the latter who either romantically crushes on her or just treats her as a friend. To be fair, he's pretty clueless. He eventually develops feelings for her by Season Three.
- Abe on Clone High makes this an art form, unfortunately for poor Joan. He does it so much that once she gets used to it, he then reveals his feelings.
- Jimmy and Cindy of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius to each other. Especially Jimmy, due to the whole "girls are icky" phase. They generally had a Slap Slap Kiss thing going on because Cindy would be the smartest kid in school if Jimmy wasn't a super-genius. Once when stranded together on an island and away from other people they got along phenominally, but of course they eventually had to go back to civilization. They got together in the end though.
- Helga of Hey Arnold!. As an archetypical Tsundere, she constantly bullied him for being the voice of reason, while secretly adoring him for being the Nice Guy. On several occassions she tried to get closer to him, only to back away if Arnold ever started to catch on. She confessed her feelings in The Movie and the (never made) Grand Finale movie would have Arnold finally admit to her (and himself?) that he liked her all along.
- These are the tactics the "Seduction Community" recommends to men that want to be more successful with women, the logic goes as this: If you are a man and you are open about your feelings, the woman will take you for granted and lose interest in you, on the other hand, if you "play" by sending mixed signals (like flirting once and then Playing Hard to Get) the woman will be constantly wondering about your true feelings and intentions (ergo: thinking about you, and being intrigued) which will "open" her to be more receptive to you. How effective are these tactics is open to debate, and that's all what is going to be said about it here.
- The Rules suggests women adopt these obnoxious behaviors too. This will surely end well..