Dating? Don’t Overthink Body Language

 There are as many myths about body language as there are stereotypes about people.  Relying too heavily on body language myths in new relationships can have you easily confused, upset or worse, derailing a relationship based on false information.  Here are some common body language myths debunked:

NO. 1 MYTH: Crossing your arms on a date means that you are closed off!

One of the most recognized body language mantras you have undoubtedly heard from friends, enemies and your mother is “don’t cross your arms!”  You may have even wondered about friends and dates that crossed their arms when in conversation with you, “What are they thinking?” or “Are they displeased with me?”.

While the negative association with crossed arms has been ingrained in our society, think a minute about all of the reasons someone may cross their arms:

  • Are they cold and trying to conserve body heat?
  • Is a woman trying to hike and squeeze “the girls” into optimal viewing?
  • Is a man showing off his arm muscles?
  • Are they nervous and trying to find some place to put their hands?

The truth is, any number of things may be the reason someone crosses their arms, most of which have nothing at all to do with you!  So let’s all relax a little!

Are you thinking about the time someone crossed their arms and was glowering at you from across the table and there was no question about the negative non-verbal communication!  Now try to recall times you were at a coffee shop with your best friend who sat with crossed arms.  Did you wonder if she was closing off?  Probably not, because there were other factors influencing her non-verbal communication.

What makes an arm cross positive or negative?

HOW the arm cross is performed…

How a movement is performed is more important than the resulting posture itself.  Movements do not occur in a vacuum.  There is just as much context to non-verbal as verbal communication.  When movements are performed with qualities that pair well together, the movement will be subconsciously perceived as positive.  If movements are performed with qualities that do not pair well together, the movement will be subconsciously perceived as negative.

How do we know what movement qualities pair well together?  Movement theory developed and proven by Rudolf Laban illuminates qualities of movement that are affined, or in other words, that go together, like chocolate and peanut butter.  If a movement slows down while moving forward in space, it is perceived as pleasing.  In our arm crossing example, this would be the friend at the coffee shop who slowly leans in to you while crossing their arms.  This gesture is non-threatening and welcoming, even though the arms may be crossed.  Conversely, the glowering person named above probably crossed their arms while slowly retreating backward in their chair.  Slow, retreating movements are not affined and are perceived negatively by the viewer because they are not pleasing.

However, slowly leaning forward is only one of several combinations of movement qualities that create a positive context, so don’t automatically misinterpret other combinations as being negative.

Micro-facial expressions and focus

Do not discount micro-facial expressions and focus when examining your partner to determine whether an arm-cross is positive or negative.  If the person across the table is smiling and nodding empathetically, then most likely chemistry is working and you needn’t fret the arm cross.  If this person has pursed lips and is looking away from you, most likely they are using the arm-cross to create a barrier with you.

Duration of the arm-cross

Finally, be aware of the duration of the arm-cross.  Is the arm-cross a more transitory movement that quickly changes into something else or do the arms seemed parked there?  Many people use their arms and hands to gesture when they are talking and then cross their arms when not speaking as simply habit or as somewhere to place their arms.  If your date leaves their arms crossed for a length of time, and especially while talking, look for other signs of displeasure like facial expressions.


So what is the good news to take away?


It is the whole context of your movement that matters and not just a single gesture.  It’s okay to cross your arms if you do it slowly while advancing forward.  Remember to genuinely smile and don’t rest there too long. Don’t forget that it works both ways!  If your partner is crossing their arms, look at the whole context of the movement before you start to worry.

So relax, forget the myths and make meaningful connections!

Courtesy of the certified movement analysts with The Next Move LLC. For more information about body language and The Next Move, LLC, please visit  


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