Dudes, here's a little primer on how to know if a girl is into you, based on an interaction I witnessed on a ferry yesterday in which the girl was clearly uncomfy.
1. Should you approach a lone woman? If she's wearing headphones, reading a book/device, or is napping, DO NOT APPROACH. She's not open.
2. You're in her orbit. Does she catch your eye and smile a little? Great! Say hi! Does she avoid your eyes, start texting, or find something to do in her bag? Leave her alone!
3. As you approach, does she smile, move her hair, make more eye contact? Great! Say hi! Does she look about frantically, make eye contact with other women, or move elsewhere? Leave her alone!
4. Now, this smile. If it includes teeth, lights up her eyes, or becomes a grin, that's a good sign. If it's close-lipped and doesn't touch her eyes, that's bad. This is a polite "don't kill me" smile.
5. This is a smile we've developed as animals that don't want trouble. Purse-lipped, polite-looking. This is a smile of fear. It is rare you're going to change it to the real kind of smile. Leave her alone!
6. You've said hi and you're talking. Does she respond enthusiastically with her own thoughts and feelings while smiling and gesticulating, or is it mostly nods, hmm, ah, uh huh? If she wants to talk to you, she will actually talk. Otherwise, nope!
7. Now, what about body language. Good signs: Open posture, nothing crossed, gesticulating, laughing. Bad signs: Curled in, defensive, arms crossed, nervous, eyes looking about frantically for a reason to leave.
8. Note: I'm especially talking about public transit or parties here. If you're at a bar or see a girl reading at a bookshop, YMMV. I just know that these physical signs are pretty much universal, and yet some guys never get it.
9. If you're the dude, consider this: Are you asking intrusive, threatening questions (Where do you live? What hotel are you at?) or open, interesting questions (What kind of movies do you like?) If her answers are brief or noncommittal, move on.
10. If the entire interaction is you asking intrusive questions and talking about yourself, it's not a conversation. To her, it feels like being held hostage. A conversation should be of equal enjoyment to both parties. If it's not, move on.
11. If you think you're to the point of flirting, it should go both ways. If you give her a compliment, does she compliment you back? Or does she say a terse "thanks" and look uncomfortable? If she's uncomfy, it's not flirting for her.
12. So it seems y'all are really adamant that if she's reading a book, she's open. I say it depends. Is she putting herself "out there", reading at a book store or college quad? Go for it. Is she using a book to hide her face on public transit? GTFO.
13. As a woman whose husband first approached her while she was reading a book, here's the diff: She puts the book down to focus on you with huge smile: Good. She gives you a terse answer and goes back to reading? Leave her alone.
14. And, hey. Don't start off by complimenting sexy things, ok? It's creepy. Compliment her fashion style, her eyes. Don't go for legs or tan or lips. She knows she looks good. This is not news that = she owes you conversation.
15. Is she asking you questions? This is a great sign. A woman who wants to leave the convo will do anything to avoid prolonging it.
16. If she feels trapped, it is unlikely anything you do will win her over. Being trapped does not feel good. The "don't kill me" smile hurts her face. She is a stressed animal that wants to escape. It's never gonna work. Say goodbye and leave her alone.
17. The Don't Kill Me Smile is a defense mechanism to keep us from making men angry so they won't hurt us. It is an instinctual thing. It makes your face hurt, gives you a headache. Her brain and heart are not engaged; it's just survival.
18. But, on the other hand, if you're seeing teeth, if she throws her head back to laugh, if she touches your arm or back? All great signs that she's comfortable and engaged in the conversation.
19. So when can you get touchy or sexual? SLOW YOUR GODDAMN ROLL. Women are not vending machines. You don't put in convo and wait for the groping to roll out. For the most part, she'll show you where she wants to be.
20. And all this advice goes for any interaction, especially with a power dynamic. I see agents or editors at conferences trapped by writers who reaaaallly want to make a connection, and the same rules apply. If the smile ain't real, the convo's not working.
In conclusion, for now: Whoever you are and whoever you're talking to, your goal should be a great interaction for both parties. Learn to read the positive and negative signals. If it's not working for the other party, politely withdraw. No big deal.