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Master of the Mixed Message

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You always remember your childhood... romances? ... bitter rivals? Tsunderes.
"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."
Emily, Misfile

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.

The Unlucky Everydude will often act this way toward the members of his Unwanted Harem, especially if he's aiming to Marry Them All. In a Girls' Love series it is customary that at least one pairing is like this.

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. See also Ignored Enamored Underling, whose boss may be doing this on purpose.

For obvious reasons, she won't just ask him.

Doesn't work in real life. It may work…


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Quite a few characters in Beastars:
    • Legosi is a borderline case of No Social Skills, especially with regards to his feelings towards Haru, so he has a hard time effectively communicating his intentions and desires towards her. He ends up badly hurting her when he fails to properly explain to her why he has to leave her for a while.
    • Haru herself isn't much better. She's very emotionally dependent on Legosi, to the point that she wants to have him in her life no matter what. He's her only real friend, and she also has romantic/sexual feelings towards him. However, for a long time, she wasn't sure what kind of relationship she wanted with him, so she can end up sending very mixed signals, and can come across as very moody. The latter issue is especially bad if she hasn't spent any time with him for a while.
    • On a more comedic note, Louis's father has a habit of spending large amounts of money on Louis when he's proud of him, and also when he's upset with him. Louis recalls a particular incident where he failed to get a perfect score on a test... so his father bought him a bicycle worth five hundred thousand yen.
  • Claude of Black Butler to Alois. He alternates between acting affectionate suggesting a twisted love for Alois, and acting cold and indifferent to him, even killing him.
  • Saiki appears to be this way from Teruhashi's perspective in The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.. From the audience's point of view Saiki is clearly uninterested in Teruhashi. He knows from reading her mind with his Psychic Powers that she loves him, but since she hasn't told him Saiki can't reject her without outing himself as a psychic. The only plan Saiki can think of to get her to leave him alone is to act as undesirable as possible. This might work, but whenever he tries this something comes up that makes him look interested in her, and his previous behaviour in some way excusable making him an enigma to her which just makes her more attracted to him.
  • 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…
  • Gals! has Otohata, who is usually indifferent to the titular gals' antics, but seems to give special attention to Aya (e.g. he invites her to stay with him during an interview and offers to accompany her home, allowing her to watch him work while he's DJ-ing in his school festival, etc.), but otherwise never says that he actually loves her. In between his acts of kindness towards her, he's rejected her love confession, and tells her that he's in love with Ran instead while he's sort-of dating her. Even after finally acknowledging that he and Aya are officially together, his treatment towards her doesn't really change.
  • 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.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers:
  • Toramaru from I Belong to the Baddest Girl at School has a bad habit of coming off as threatening whenever she tries to be romantic. For example, the series begins with her confessing her love to her crush by... backing him against a wall, metal pipe in hand, and telling him he belongs to her now.
  • Inuyasha: One moment Miroku'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 crosses 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.
  • The entire first arc of Itazura Na Kiss has the male lead Naoki being first extremely cold, then unexpectedly gentle, and switch again to being cold and even rude, much to the poor Kotoko's confusion. It takes a huge Green-Eyed Epiphany to finally show his true feelings.
  • Kagerou Project: Haruka Kokonose. Because of his naturally kind and sincere personality, Takane finds it hard to tell if there are deeper feelings attached when he compliments and does nice things for her. There are. Of course, her personality quirks don't make things any easier.
  • Kaguya embodies this trope during the post-culture festival arc of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, with constant contradictory actions every time she interacts with Shirogane. This is exacerbated by the fact that Shirogane is so used to their mind games that he can't see when she's trying to be direct with him, and he's too off-balance to notice her advances.
  • 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, should another man so much as look at her he flips his lid. 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.
  • Kunimasa from Love Pistols his first interactions with Noririn range from rape to help and want to marry him, not surprisingly, Noririn spends a good portion of his Character Arc wondering what exactly is their relationship and what are Kunimasa's feelings for him. Most of this seem to be fixed after their summer trip and Kunimasa's brother falls for Noririn, making Kunimasa realize that Noririn is completely capable and up to going for someone better to him and leave the relationship. Most recently on the manga, Kunimasa proposes that they get married once Noririn graduates and states clearly his feelings of love.
  • Maison Ikkoku: Kyoko alternates between keeping Yusaku at arm's length and getting visibly pissed off and jealous when he talks to other women. Her puzzling behavior is due to Kyoko being a widow who has just lost her husband: she is falling for Yusaku, but she is not ready yet to move on.
  • Maken-ki!: Haruko's been in love with Takeru since they were kids, but will vehemently deny it if anyone asks. She repeatedly asserts that they're only friends, yet she'll beat him senseless whenever she catches him with another girl. It's no wonder he doesn't know how she really feels.
  • Kyoko from March Comes in Like a Lion is a rather extreme example, though unlike Tsunderes, it's not played as cute, nor is this played purely for the romantic angles. She often jumps between signs of intense dislike toward Rei, such as verbally belittling and goading Rei into failure in shogi, and showing signs of at least concern for the more general aspects of his well-being, such as recommending that he visit his adoptive father more often and checking his face for past scars.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Asuka has this flaw. While she has an obvious crush on Shinji, she alternates between provoking him into making a move and berating him for doing so because she is afraid of being rejected. Doing this gives her an out if she is indeed rejected.
  • 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.
  • Oresuki: The first arc happens largely due to Himawari and Cosmos acting affectionate to Joro and even asking him out on a date, and right when it seems they're about to confess to him, it turns out they just wanted to play matchmaker and hook them up with his friend Sun-chan. Much to his frustration, telling him about their crush on Sun-chan doesn't change one bit how affectionate they are to Joro.
  • In Ranma ½, 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.
  • Prince Kai in The Royal Tutor unintentionally confuses his cousin/fiancée Beatrix majority of the time, as she cannot tell if he is interested in her romantically. He had claimed that he sees her as family but whether he means as his future wife or simply his cousin is a source of anguish for Beatrix. She also thinks she is not his type as Kai adores all things small and cute while Beatrix is tall and rather masculine.
  • Ritsu Onodera from Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi. What better way to prove you hate your ex and don't want his advancements than constantly letting him kiss you after denying any feelings for him and even sleeping with him repeatedly?
  • In Sora no Manimani, Mihoshi loves Saku… but it's unclear if she loves him as a childhood friend or something else.
  • SPY×FAMILY: Yor Forger towards her husband Loid. Since Yor is a Cloud Cuckoo Lander who is both insecure and not entirely honest with herself when it comes to her growing attraction towards her husband, Loid has a hard time determining how she feels about him. There are times where he is unsure if Yor only sees him as a platonic partner, has romantic feelings for him, or secretly hates him. It doesn't help that Yor has a Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality and tends to react violently when she gets too embarrassed.
  • In Sweet Blue Flowers, 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.
  • UQ Holder!: as the resident Clueless Chick-Magnet Chaste Hero, Touta naturally engages in a lot of this, though poor Kuroumaru definitely gets the worst of it. From early on, Kuroumaru nurses a giant crush on Touta despite desperately wishing to be Touta's brother in arms, and Touta mainly does treat him like a guy friend. However, Touta also has a bad habit of insisting on how cute Kuroumaru would be if he was a girl, in complete obliviousness to Kuroumaru's serious gender uncertainty. But Kuroumaru can't even say for sure that Touta is straight either, because the guy also has a tendency to say things like "Nobody hurts my Kuroumaru." Even after Touta starts displaying more overt romantic interest, Kuroumaru is still too much of an Insecure Love Interest (and too uncomfortable in their gender and body) to fully believe him.
  • In Whispered Words, 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Scott Pilgrim has Envy, Scott's ex with whom he had a bad break-up two years before the story. The first time she intervenes is with a friendly and somewhat romantic phone call in volume 2 in which she procures Scott's band a gig, then when she arrives in town she spends most of volume 3 having her new boyfriend Todd tormenting him and intentionally dragging on their fight (that she knows Scott can't win) just to make him suffer, though near the end they have a calmer moment together even before Todd is exposed as cheating on her, before leaving town. Volume 6 eventually reveals why: while Envy is mostly at fault for their relationship sinking she had been trying all the same to keep it going until a drunken Scott started a fight, causing their break-up. Just like Scott when they met again, Envy was not over their relationship and still harbored feelings for him, though they eventually managed to move on.
  • Superman was like this to Lois Lane in the Silver Age, and it drove her nuts. He always maintained that he had to keep her at arm's length to protect her from his enemies, but it seemed that everyone on the planet already considered them an item, so it should have been a moot point. He finally started to relax about it and show her his true feelings in the Bronze Age.

    Fan Works 
  • Byakuya in the Bleach fanfic Chasing the Moon does this, pretty much driving Yuzu to the point of a Did You Think I Can't Feel? speech. It doesn't help that they're both dancing on opposite sides of the Subordinate Excuse, being the captain and vice-captain of their Division respectively.
  • The Home We Built Together: Astrid is usually aloof and self-reliant, so when she tries being a little more assertive in their growing fondness for each other, it confuses Hiccup at first.
    When Hiccup envisioned dating Astrid Hofferson, he never imagined having a relationship with her would be this confusing. One day she's keeping her allotted distance; another day she’s so close she's pushing him off the bed. There are times she's allowing physical affection, but Hiccup isn't sure if he has permission to be close to her when she hasn't initiated it.
    Receiving mixed signals was an understate!
  • Oversaturated World: The final chapter of Pinkie Pie's Problematically Private Passion's Parental Personages Presented Perpostorously Prior Publishing Previously Paraphrased Preoccupation puts Pinkie through the wringer as the girl she's crushing on obliviously praises her friendship and understanding and says she feels as close as family, before tossing off a french saying and giving her a peck on the cheek in farewell. Pinkie's reaction: Summon Sunset Shimmer.
    Pinkie Pie: I need you to teleport me to my room, give me a giant plush of indeterminate species I can sit against, cover me in a thick woolen blanket, summon thirty gallons of ice cream in no less than five different flavors, and call Rarity over so we can talk about things.
    Sunset Shimmer: ...bad day?
  • Cullen is this toward Evvy in the first installment of Skyhold Academy Yearbook. By the time he finally moves past his issues, she's almost ready to pack it in, and Dorian very nearly smacks him upside the head.
  • In the Hunger Games fanfiction Some Semblance of Meaning, Vale views Obsidian as one of these. On one hand, she hates him and thinks he is a huge jerk, but on the other, she can't seem to understand why he does certain things, such as sparing her life when he finds her and her district partner asleep one night in the arena. It's pretty obvious to everyone else, though.
  • Sparkling Shimmer: Sunset becomes this in the second chapter. After getting them in the park on a date discount she pulls several romantic gestures like Win Her a Prize, You Must Be Cold, and setting up a Ferris Wheel Date Moment, then ends up denying Twilight a kiss. Of course, this is because she's acting on feelings she doesn't know she has.
  • By the Sea: Due to cultural and physiological differences between humans and merfolk as well as a language barrier preventing effective communication, it turns out that both Cody and Obi-Wan were mistakenly trying to and also unwittingly, at varying times, both display and deny their attraction to each other, only for the other to totally misinterpret it. Cody even coyly tries to feel out if Obi-Wan would be open to marriage, fully assuming that Obi-Wan would understand what he's doing, before Obi-Wan even realizes that Cody's into him.

    Film — Animated 
  • Frozen (2013): A non-romantic variant: Elsa has been forced by her parents to keep her ice powers a secret from Anna, out of the possibility that she might hurt Anna with them. It doesn't help when there are several instances where Elsa acts happy to see Anna (such as her coronation party and when Anna first enters her ice palace), which gets Anna's hopes up, only for her to just as quickly turn around and abruptly tell her they can't see each other anymore.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In (500) Days of Summer, it seems that every time Summer tells Tom she's not interested in something more serious, she would immediately throw a curveball in the form of hand-holding, kissing or sex. Just before they break up, she impulsively kisses him in the street. The worst has to be after a huge fight where Summer tells Tom they are Just Friends and he storms off, she goes over to his place in the morning, has sex with him and implies she was wrong and wants to stay in the relationship.
  • In The Dark Knight Trilogy, 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 (not helped when Rachel and Bruce share a kiss just before Bruce goes to turn himself in). He's wrong, but he doesn't find that out until the third movie.

  • I Became the Villain the Hero Is Obsessed With: Da-in specifically becomes a Super Villain for the purpose of challenging Stardus, whom he is a Hero-Worshipper of, in a way that won't do any serious harm, to help her grow. With the added side benefit of getting great thrills from her being angry at him. So in their interactions, he alternates between praising her as the greatest thing ever, taunting her, and occasionally giving her advice and motivational speeches or saving her. Da-in also challenges her moral code by executing supervillains. This all gives her a great deal of confusion, eventually compounded by trauma into Double Think, and Yandere rage at him for getting along so well with other women instead of paying attention to her, while Da-in is Oblivious to Love thinking it's simple hate.
  • While Sousuke's been absolutely head over heels for Kaname following the first volume of Full Metal Panic!, but thanks to his terrible social skills, utilitarian approach to all things in life, apparent ignorance of all things romantic, and ambivalence towards his commanding officer/(very forward) other suitor, he's so bad at clearly expressing it that Kaname has trouble figuring out if he even likes hanging around with her at all or just does it because he's obligated to as her bodyguard (even after he starts doing it entirely pro bono).
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: Mo Dao Zu Shi: has a rare mutual example between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. When Wei Wuxian is resurrected at the beginning of the novel, he is utterly baffled by Lan Wangji's indulgent behavior towards him, and tries to get a rise out of him by acting like an outrageous flirt. While it is incredibly obvious to the readers that Lan Wangji is in love with him, the Anachronic Order of the novel hides the fact that Wei Wuxian is so confused because Lan Wangji acted so hostile to Wei Wuxian in his first life (for a number of reasons) that everyone, Wei Wuxian most of all, genuinely believed that Lan Wangji hated him. The indulgent behavior in his second life is such a bizarre turn that it takes months for Wei Wuxian to get a clue. On the flip side, Wei Wuxian's terrible memory hides the fact that Lan Wangji confessed to Wei Wuxian shortly before his death, and Wei Wuxian (who wasn't exactly in a stable headspace) apparently rejected him in a cruel manner. Since Lan Wangji believes Wei Wuxian remembers this event, Wei Wuxian's flirting and general outrageous behavior must have appeared very differently to him.
  • The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen towards both Gale and Peeta. Peeta eventually calls her on it. Her motives are less ambiguous in the books than in the films, since the books take place from her POV. Katniss did not want to bring children into the Crapsack World she lived in, and so she didn't want to let herself fall for either Gale or Peeta.
  • Nyaruko: Crawling with Love!: Nyarko is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Genki Girl who repeatedly tells Mahiro that she loves him… but also clings to him like a barnacle and plays around with him and his friends (like claiming she's already pregnant with their first child). In episode 7 of the first TV series, Mahiro outright tells Nyarko that because of her zany, playful nature and tendency to tell tall tales, he has a hard time believing her when she talks about love. Nyarko (who's been on better behavior this episode) explains that it's hard to say it when she's not being silly, but that she's being completely honest and will say it as many times as she needs to; then she turns around, looks Mahiro in the eyes, smiles sweetly, and simply says "I love you."
  • Kyousuke of Oreimo 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 familiarity 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 someplace 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.
    • His friend Kouhei even calls him out on this in one episode of the anime. Kyousuke describes his non-romantic interest in her as living with an old grandmother who then suddenly became a teenager again. Yet Kouhei asks if Kyousuke would get jealous if another guy pursued her, and he says he wouldn't approve of that. Kouhei sums it up as "Kyousuke won't pursue Manami romantically, but at the same time won't allow another guy to pursue her." Kyousuke answers "yes" to that with a straight face, which only further confuses his friend.
  • While most of the miscommunication between the Official Couple in Pride and Prejudice is due to Mr. Darcy having No Social Skills and way too big an ego, Elizabeth isn't blameless. For example, when she runs into him while taking her stroll through Rosings Park, she makes sure to tell him this is her favorite place to walk. Her goal was to make him avoid the area, but it's no surprise he assumed she was inviting him to meet her there and thereafter constantly shows up to walk with her.
  • Sense and Sensibility: Elinor Dashwood meets Edward Ferrars at the beginning of the novel, and they seem to hit it off, or at least Elinor's mother and sister think so. Elinor admits she likes him, but she says it's nothing serious because Edward never said he loved her and he never proposed to her. The reason for his mixed signals gets revealed soon, and it's not Edward's jerky relatives who think Elinor is not rich enough or genteel enough. Actually, Edward is involved in a dead-end relationship with Lucy Steele. He doesn't love her anymore, but considers his engagement binding.
  • To a lesser extent Gourry towards Lina in 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.
  • Spice and Wolf: Holo is a 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 coaches Lawrence about relationships and to act in a manner that she considers romantic, and manipulates him with those same behaviors to make fun of him and get the 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.
  • In Ugly Love, Miles gives some very confusing signals to Tate throughout their relationship; he insists he's not interested in an actual romance, just sex, but when they hang out together he flirts and banters with her like they're a couple - with Miles only shutting it down if Tate does it back - and he also does things like taking her up to the apartment complex's swimming pool for a romantic late-night swim. He gets jealous and possessive when he believes she's hooking up with another man, with Tate even pointing out he has no right be angry about it if their relationship truly means nothing beyond sex. He also tells her he could never love her and she shouldn't expect anything more from him...yet also says that if he was capable of love he'd love her and he wishes he could reciprocate.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a doozy drawn out across two seasons and counting: it's pretty obvious from the beginning that Jemma Simmons is in love with Leopold Fitz — they're Birds of a Feather and Everyone Can See It. Heck, she smothers him in kisses when he finally gets the nerve to tell her how he feels about her (as he's explaining a plan to rescue her from suffocating at the bottom of the ocean, likely at the cost of his own life). Except that she never thought of him that way, and it was such a shock that she had to go away for a while to clear her head and because his resulting brain trauma from rescuing her seemed to only get worse with her around. But she still really does care about him, but just as a friend. Probably. How would she know, since she's never thought about it? Though she doesn't like seeing him happy with someone else, even though it's probably platonic as just a lab partner (which was their special bond). Not that it matters, because he kept secrets from her and she hates him now. But when she gets scared she still desperately wants him to hold her hand, and when it looks like they're going to be separated for another indefinite period she signs her note to him "Love, Jemma x". As if poor Fitz didn't have a hard enough time keeping his sense of reality in check...
  • 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 occasions, 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. In the sixth season they were in a stable relationship that was going well; in fact, Penny had managed to say "I Love You" to Leonard and they were finally quite happy together. But Penny was terrified of where they were going in the relationship and they had a blow-up on Valentines Day in large part because of her own commitment phobia.
  • In The Boys (2019), Starlight ends up being forced to do this to a group of young girls, who are absolutely in awe of her, at a Christian rally. Vought Industries makes her wear a skimpy and sexy outfit, while a priest makes it clear he expects her to put forward a chaste and pure role model, so she ends up lying about being a virgin. Eventually, she breaks down on stage and blurts out everything, including being forced to blow the Deep. Surprisingly, this works out to her advantage, and her popularity ratings soar, while the Deep is Reassigned to Antarctica after being forced to give a public apology.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Season 5/6/7, Buffy and Spike both do this. There's a continual cycle of Buffy deciding they're over, and then going back to Spike. He finally states:
      I've memorized this tune, love. I think I've got the sheet music for it.
    • Played with in Season 7 episode "Chosen", when, after kissing Angel, she returns home to see him.
      Spike: Well, you're not staying here. You can't buy me off with shiny beads and sweet talk. You got Angel breath. I'm not gonna just let you whack me back and forth like a rubber ball. I've got my pride, you know!
      Buffy: I understand. [turns to go]
      Spike: Clearly you don't, 'cause the whole "having my pride" thing was just a smokescreen.
    • Buffy tells Satsu that she can't be with her, but sleeps with her; twice. Poor Satsu was more than a little confused.
    • Xander also saw Faith as this in their brief "relationship". In "The Zeppo", Xander runs down a demon Faith is fighting. They flee to her motel room and she gets aroused over the adrenaline rush, and all but pounces on Xander for some Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex. When he confesses he's a virgin, she has a seemingly rare kind moment where she tells him in a sweet tone "I'll steer you around the curves". Cue romantic music as they start to make love and we cut to them snuggling under the bedsheets in a seemingly romantic moment... then a Musicalis Interruptus Smash Cut to Faith booting Xander out the door now that she's finished making use of him. He's clearly confused by the whole ordeal and tries confronting her about it on "Consequences" where she mocks him for his Sex Equals Love mentality and thinking he has some connection with her and she ends up almost strangling him to death.
  • Cobra Kai: In season 3's "Now You're Gonna Pay", Samantha LaRusso visits Miguel Diaz in the hospital. Despite acting aloof and sounding like she's only interested in trying to be friends with Miguel again, she gives him a card with a smiling octopus holding a heart saying "You Octopi My Thoughts", leading Miguel to think back to happier times when Sam won a stuffed octopus on their first date at Golf 'n Stuff in season 1, indicating she wants to be more than just friends with him.
  • Dark Matter (2015): One has this view of Two early on, when their relationship is filled with UST that she won't acknowledge. It comes to a breaking point in episode 7, when One enters Two's cabin to give her a status report on the ship, only to find her fresh out of the shower wearing only a Modesty Towel. Flustered, he tries to leave but she tells him it's fine to stay. During his report, she casually drops her towel and starts getting dressed (with her bare back to audience), unperturbed by his presence while he tries his best to Ignore the Fanservice. He tries calling her out over whether this is her version of flirting but she just shuts him down by saying "it's complicated".
    Two: If I was flirting with you, I would be taking my clothes off, not putting them on.
  • In Doctor Who:
    • The Ninth/Tenth Doctors with Rose Tyler. He's kissed her twice,note  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 points out the Eleventh Doctor's habit of this in a DVD-only scene set after "Flesh and Stone".
      Amy: Oh, come on! You turn up in the middle of the night, get me out of my bed in my nightie — which you then don't let me change out of for ages — and take me for a spin in your time machine? No, no, you're right, no mixed signals there. That is just a signal. Like a great big Bat Signal in the sky — "Get your coat, love, the Doctor is in!"
    • Amy to Rory. She once wanted to pretend they were brother and sister on what could be called the night before their wedding.
    • Eleven finally gets a taste of his own medicine from River in "Let's Kill Hitler", where she alternates between attempts to seduce him, assassinate him or a bit of both.
  • Karma toward Amy on Faking It. Karma suggested the pair milk being lesbians for the popularity, and in the meantime Amy developed feelings for her. However, every public display of affection from Karma to Amy was simply to milk the popularity, and all of her suggestions were to further Karma's ultimate goal of hooking up with Liam (even the threesome; Karma assumed that Amy would bail so Karma and Liam would have some alone time.) When Amy finally confesses her feelings to Karma, Karma does not reciprocate in that way, and in fact tells her she slept with Liam. Amy does not take it well. As in, gets really drunk and has revenge sex not take it well. With Liam, who rejected Karma after Shane revealed to him that she was lying about being a lesbian.
  • 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.
    John: My hormones? I was lips; you were tongue!
  • 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.
  • Frasier:
    • In one episode, 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. Later in the season Frasier finally starts dating her, although it's still not clear what she meant on Valentine's Day.
    • Another episode has Frasier and Niles (who is separated from his wife at the time) meet two woman they immediately hit it off with. They decide on an impulse to spend a weekend in a cabin together. However, they were moving so fast they didn't take the time to find out what the ladies' intentions are. And their attempts to subtly figure out if there's anything romantic going on fail miserably. In this case, it does get resolved, when the women retreat to separate bedrooms and ask "Are you coming?"
  • Daenerys toward Jorah in Game of Thrones, though it's important to note that Dany is not doing it on purpose. It's pretty clear to the audience that Jorah is in love with her and that Dany considers him something of a father-figure, but given all that they've been through together, Jorah cuts a pretty sympathetic figure when it comes to trying to figure out the subtext. In one episode he spots the team Pretty Boy exiting Dany's quarters half-dressed, only for Dany to declare that she's sending him away and indicating that Jorah's position as her Number Two is assured.
    • The series portrays Jorah's unrequited feelings more sympathetically than they are in the book, where Dany is younger and explicitly thinks to herself that it was wrong of him to kiss her without her permission, and Jorah acts like he's entitled to her affection (and to her forgiveness for spying on her, instead of apologizing).
  • Gossip Girl:
    • Serena 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.
    • Blair. She tells Chuck he's her great love, then she acts like she hates him. She asks him to raise her child by another man and tells him he's all she's ever wanted, then she ignores him completely after he nearly dies in a car accident. She tells him she loves him more and more every day, then she marries another man only moments later. She tells him to wait for her while she gets out of her marriage, then she makes out with his stepbrother in his bedroom. And the list goes on.
  • 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".
  • Robin of How I Met Your Mother. There is nothing but sparks flying between her and Ted in the first two episodes, but she is adamant that she can't handle anything serious. They try being Just Friends but it doesn't fool anyone, but when Ted meets Victoria she realizes she wants him now that he is taken. They later date for a solid year before breaking up and she continues to have a complicated relationship with Ted, which gets even weirder when she and Barney get 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.
  • Judging Amy: David McLaren towards Amy. They refer to it as the "come here/go away thing". They really like each other, but they go one step forward, one step back, and again and again. It is mostly fueled by his unresolved issues — his wife was murdered a while ago and the murderer's identity had not been found.
  • In The Mighty Boosh, Howard and Vince are this to each other. First, Vince kisses Howard, then Howard confesses his love, then Vince tries to backtrack but then seems more open to love when they fall off a roof and Howard sees the birthday present Vince got him. Then a girl walks in and Howard instantly falls for her, upsetting Vince. Howard turns Vince down, Vince replies he'll never love again... Then jumps on a bouncy castle with a random girl who walked in the door. Then both girls are gone the next episode and they're back to drowning in UST. And all of this happened in ONE EPISODE, listing all the other instances would probably require its own folder.
  • 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".
  • The Office (US) 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. However, she then often appears to catch herself and immediately withdraw from the exchange or, alternatively, finds some (occasionally spurious) reason to pick a fight with Jim in order to put some distance between them. She then in turn finds herself with a case of the Green-Eyed Monster whenever another woman shows interest in Jim or vice versa. Jim, needless to say, is often left reeling a little from these exchanges. 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.
  • Parks and Recreation: Chris Traeger. Anne initially didn't even realize he'd broke up with her due to his incredibly positive attitude. Later, he accidentally leads her to believe he's interested in getting back together.
  • In Season 7 of Psych, Juliet breaks up with Shawn. Fair enough. They make up, meaning she's no longer mad at him, but she makes it clear they're not getting back together. Okay. The next episode starts with them sleeping together... and Juliet later still insists it doesn't mean they're getting back together ("Last night was a one-time thing.") And the Gold Medal for Mixed Signals goes to...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Clark Kent in Smallville and Lana, mutually send each other mixed signals.
    Ian: And Lana said you send off so many mixed signals you could scramble a radar.
  • 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…
  • 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.

  • In Ciel ~The Last Autumn Story~, Lariatte is in love with Yvienne, who says things like how she'd let the man she was dating die to save Lariatte first if given the choice.

  • Luke Bryan's "Games," in which it's a mutual game of cat and mouse, but he's finding it hard to keep up and wants to stop playing.
    You know the one where you call
    But you act like you never called me
    When you see me at a bar
    But you act like you never saw me
    When you're dancing with him, and you're looking at me
    Or I'm holding her, and I'm hoping you see
    Or the one where you don't kiss me
    Then you tell me that you miss me...
  • Parodied in Tom Cardy's "Mixed Messages". The singer has just began a committed relationship, but swings wildly between wanting to be affectionate and being a nuisance. He gets to the point of straight up assaulting his girl's father multiple times, but still madly in love with her anyway.
    I send the first text in a cute way
    and then I don't reply for seven fuckin days, yeah

  • 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, a couple that imply he thinks she's fat, and some that are outright bizarre. 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.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: In Act I Scene VI, Roxane sends her Duenna to make a date with Cyrano. Both Cyrano and his best friend Le Bret think it is a romantic date. In Act II Scene X, Cyrano believes that Roxane is confessing her love for him, but Roxane is manipulating asking him to protect Christian.
  • Hamlet 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").

    Video Games 
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Serana acts this way towards the Dragonborn. While showing great affection and caring for the protagonist throughout the questline of the Dawnguard DLC, even playfully flirting when choosing certain dialogue options, she refuses to start any kind of romantic relationship and will reject the Dragonborn should they propose the idea of marriage to her.
  • 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 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.
  • Valkyria Chronicles has Maximillian do this to Selvaria, repeatedly to motivate and goad her into going along with his schemes. By withholding affection from her if she fails in a task, and only giving it to her if she succeeds, she began to develop the impression that Maximillian would return her affections only if she performed her role as his general to the utmost. Unfortunately, she learns that he sees her as nothing but a means to an end when he orders her to use her Final Flame in a last-ditch attempt to win the war that he started.
  • Valkyria Chronicles 4 has Aoife, one of your grenadiers. Between her beauty, her sweet disposition, and her willingness to spend time with her male squadmates, she has hordes of admirers who think she might be interested in them. In her squad story, though, it's revealed that she is Happily Married and that what is mistaken for flirtation is simply her way of being nice.

    Visual Novels 
  • Being A DIK has this with Josy in most of Season 1. When the MC tells her about his crush on her, she pulls him in to kiss him, only to tearfully say that they cannot be together because she is already in a relationship. This continues into Episode 2: when the MC visits her house during his first weekend at B&R, she tells him that she loves her partner, but vents about things going badly between them; she also both asks the MC to stay the night at her home and initiates sex if he does. Episode 3's ending explains this: her partner is Maya, and the two have been kept apart by Maya's homophobic father's Financial Abuse of her. Josy, being In Love with Love, is thus rendered utterly lonely, and jumps at the chance of the intimacy that the MC can provide, only to retreat out of guilt. She is much more straightforward in subsequent episodes, regardless of if you are part of the Throuple.
  • Ikemen Sengoku:
    • Hideyoshi treats the female main character like a little sister, but on his own route his growing romantic feelings for her start coming into conflict with his "older brother" persona which leaves her feeling very confused about whether or not he likes her back.
    • Mitsunari, a Ditzy Genius who's Oblivious to Love, repeatedly says things to the main character like "I find myself curiously attracted to you" and "I'm not the cute one; you are" on his route without a trace of intended flirtation in them — he really is just that oblivious about what his sweet words may sound like to others who aren't as blind to romantic implications as him.
    • Mitsuhide, a perpetually teasing Trickster Mentor, goes out of his way to tease the main character at every single opportunity, a ritual that frequently includes comments on how cute she looks when she blushes or how adorable it is that she constantly falls for his pranks. He keeps this up even after she overhears him plotting to betray the Oda forces and he threatens and blackmails her into keeping quiet about this and even ramps up the level of affection in his words and actions towards her, causing her to almost combust in frustration about how sincere his proclaimed affection for her sounds at times but how it can't possibly be sincere because of all the messy circumstances surrounding them.
  • Little Busters!: Kyousuke to Riki in an optional scene where Riki chooses to stay with the guys rather than go on a sleepover with the girls and ends up being asked jokingly by Masato whether he has a crush on Kyousuke. If he chooses to lie and deny it, he then asks Kyousuke who he likes, and he responds, "Right now, Riki is my number one," failing to clarify what he means by that. When Riki berates himself for interpreting the situation in an "indecent" way, Kyousuke asks "Wanna do it with me?", but is only referring to playing tabletop baseball. If Riki chooses to admit it, he asks Kyousuke how he'd feel if he said he liked him, and Kyousuke says that it would make him happy since he always thought Riki was cute. But Riki asks, "And Rin?" and Kyousuke agrees that she's cute, too, making Riki depressed to think Kyousuke only sees him as a cute little brother to take care of.
  • In the Man and Elf sequel to Sable's Grimoire Lisha becomes this to protagonist Sable. She's fallen for him hard but a combination of being a Tsundere and not wanting to drop her Can't Argue with Elves attitude is making her scared of taking the next step. So the two spend most of their time together and she'll get right to the point of doing something unmistakably romantic before chickening out and running off. Given that Sable has trouble with being Oblivious to Love at the best of times he has no idea what's going on.
  • Kyohei in Scandal in the Spotlight tends to behave in unexpectedly romantic ways toward the protagonist, then play it off casually as "role-playing" intended to help inspire her to write sexy lyrics for his band's new song. As a result, she constantly reminds herself that he doesn't think of her as more than a lyricist and has herself so thoroughly conditioned not to get her hopes up that even when he calls her "the woman I love" right in front of her, she can't quite believe it.
  • The Shall We Date? games are romance games, so this trope is inevitable, but Emperor Kuze in Heian Love takes it to a whole new level. He sends the player character an anonymous love poem... which he later tells her he sent as a joke, not because he's in love with her... and then gets his feelings hurt when she doesn't want him to stay and talk to her. Later he makes a practice of showing up at her rooms to talk all night, but tells her she has no sexual appeal at all. Needless to say, all of this leaves the poor girl quite confused for a while.
  • 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.

  • Adrian on Always Raining Here basically takes Carter on an emotional rollercoaster. First, he is annoyed by Carter's advances and turns him down time after time, to them make out with him while drunk in a party, them becomes closer while clearly not wanting to be all that close to him, reaches new heights when they have sex on Adrian's house after which he becomes distant and cold. On the end of volume one, though Adrian apologizes, saying he was going through a lot, and decides to date Carter.
  • In Avialae, Gannet rejects Bailey's first love confession and flat-out declares that he doesn't do relationships... but is still totally game for making out with Bailey whenever he wants. And responds to a Not a Date with Bailey turning into an actual date by inwardly panicking and thinking that he needs to tell Bailey that there can't be anything between them... only to find himself asking Bailey if he wants to make out in the car instead. He ends up admitting later on that his mixed signals came from him being terrified of having genuine feelings for someone else for probably the first time in his life and trying to deny them.
  • Bittersweet Candy Bowl's Lucy is terrible about this. Unfortunately, by the time she decides to admit that she actually likes Mike, its too late. Worse, she treats Paulo the same way and ends up unable to date him either.
  • Moloch von Zinzer of Girl Genius displays his mastery of this trope in this strip.
    Moloch: Until these last few days, I never had a chance to get used to being around attractive women! So, Sanaa? Yeah, she's smart and tough and I like being around her - but since I feel the same way about you, I obviously don't know anything about romance. Stupid, huh?
    Snaug: Oh, Professor! I want to kill something so very, very much!
  • Homestuck: Jake apparently used to say some rather questionable things to Dirk before he realised he was in love with him.
    • There's also a more complicated example with Karkat and Terezi. Trolls in Homestuck have multiple types of romantic relationship; one of them is based on love, and another is based on hate. Karkat at one point has an epiphany where he realizes his relationship with Terezi is so screwed up because, by flirting with her and then insulting her, he’s been sending mixed signals about which type of relationship he actually wants to have with her.
  • 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. Later on, 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.
    • Ash has a problem with this when it comes to male friends. Ash tends to do things that make boys mistakenly believe he's interested in them, when Ash's intention was only to be friendly. Examples include suggesting going to a movie (just the two of them), and treating another to lunch as a "thank you". This is mostly due to the fact that Ash staunchly refuses to see himself as a girl, so he doesn't seem to consider how his actions appear when coming from a girl.
  • In Questionable Content, 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: I have attained girlvana.
  • Jeremy of Split Screen. His attempts to play Oblivious to Love with Jan came out this way to her. It only got worse after she actually confessed her feelings (but lied about it being past tense).
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • In Twig, Sylvester is very open about his respect for Mary, calling her the one person he'd least like to fight, but he's always careful to avoid admitting he loves her as anything more than a friend. When a frustrated Mary corners him with a knife to his throat and informs him that she likes him, he admits that he knows, but he (correctly) suspects that she also likes Gordon, and thinks that the two of them deserve to be happy in the time they have left.
  • Ultra Fast Pony: Fancypants. He's already married and just wants to be friends with Rarity, but he loads all of his conversations with completely accidental innuendo because he's a naive dork.
    Rarity: Well, it wasn't easy, I'll tell you that!
    Fancypants: Oh, yes, I see. It's not the only thing between the two of us that feels quite hard.
    Rarity: Oh, really?
    Fancypants: Yes, this whole "being friends" thing is much more difficult than I thought.
    Rarity: Oh, that's what you meant.
  • Parodied mercilessly in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series:
    • Episode 1 of Season 0.
    Yugi: Thanks for standing up for me, Tea.
    Tea: That's okay, Yugi. You know I think you're really cute.
    Yugi: Hey, you wanna go out some time?
    Tea: I meant as a friend, Yugi.
    Yugi: ...oh, um, okay... sorry.
    Tea: But I do love you.
    Yugi: Really?!
    Tea: As a friend, Yugi!
    Yugi: Oh. ...Alright.
    Tea: Let's have sex later, okay?
    Yugi: ...huh?
    Tea: AS FRIENDS, Yugi! Geez, such a pervert.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise:
    • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
      • Katara - 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.
    • The Legend of Korra: Avatar Korra gives Mako a "Shut Up" Kiss the night after she went on a date with Bolin. Fortunately, the writers restrain the strife she causes between the two brothers with her mixed signals to one episode; the same cannot be said of how Mako refuses to come clean with his girlfriend Asami after making no attempt to hide his obvious feelings for Korra. In the end, it doesn't really matter though; Mako ends up with neither of them. Korra and Asami end up with each other.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hey Arnold!
    • Helga is an archetypical tsundere, she constantly bullied him for being the voice of reason, while secretly adoring him for being the Nice Guy. On several occasions 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 (not made until 2017) Grand Finale movie had Arnold finally admit to her (and himself?) that he liked her all along.
    • Lila developed a crush on Arnold in season 3 after Helga wrote "Arnold Loves Lila" on a wall (it was originally her own name, but she panicked and changed it after she heard people coming) but Arnold had no interest in her until after he let her down, only for Lila to decide that she no longer likes him. Arnold then spends the next two seasons trying to woo Lila, and she does seemingly lead him on at times, only for her to later remind him that she doesn't like him like him.
  • Kaeloo is this to Mr. Cat. It's painfully obvious that he has a massive crush on her, but it isn't quite clear whether she just sees him as a friend or likes him back.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: Both of the protagonists are guilty of this, which serves primarily to fuel the facepalm-inducing Two-Person Love Square they're stuck in.
    • Adrien is the more obvious of the two - many of his interactions with Marinette push into Ship Tease territory, to the point where even other characters notice it, but whenever he's called on it, Adrien insists that Marinette is "just a friend". In his defense, a lot of it comes from Plagg, meaning he can probably be excused for writing a lot of it off as just the kwami trolling him as usual. Ironically, he runs into the opposite problem as Chat Noir - while he is serious about his affection for Ladybug, he expresses it in such an over-the-top manner that she thinks he's just joking.
    • Marinette isn't quite as bad as Adrien in this regard, but she (as Ladybug) occasionally returns Chat Noir's over-the-top flirting, under the impression that he's not being serious, leading Chat to suspect she was just toying with him. The fact that she starts calling him "kitty" after finding out (as Marinette) that Chat is serious does not help her case. She gets worse (as Marinette) in the third season, repeatedly denying any interest in Adrien and having their friends do the same, which, combined with the fact that Adrien has basically No Social Skills due to his upbringing, is a recipe for disaster, and probably played a role in pushing him toward Kagami in "Heart Hunter". In the New York special, Alya even points out (in response to Nino lampshading Adrien's insane obliviousness) that Marinette isn't sending clear signals.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Phineas is this to Isabella, oh so very much. It's clear that she has a massive crush on him, but his feelings towards her are a bit more ambiguous. They spend a lot of time together, and she seems to be one of his closest friends in particular, as they're often paired together in group activities. Aside from his stepbrother Ferb, Isabella is the one Phineas is most likely to team up or hang around with in their friend group. It's revealed that he was completely unaware of her crush on him until told directly by one of their friends many years later, right before college. He later admits that he had started developing romantic feelings toward her during high school, while he was still unaware that she had a crush on him too.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Marge presents herself as an overworked and under-appreciated housewife and mother despite repeatedly showing that she gets thrills out of monotonous activities such as household chores. She also becomes incredibly neurotic whenever she gets a chance to relax, as seen in "Regarding Margie." This is especially seen with Homer: while she is repeatedly shown to be tired of his antics, when he becomes normal and thoughtful in "Jaws Wired Shut," she finds it painfully dull and goes into a dangerous situation in a desperate attempt for excitement. She has also repeatedly told Homer he didn't have to do something such as going to Patty's new girlfriend's soft opening, then gets mad when he doesn't do it. She also repeatedly uses Passive-Aggressive Kombat to tell Bart he will be a Future Loser.
    • "Jazzy and the Pussycats" has Homer intentionally serving as this to Bart.
      Homer: Boy, get dressed! You're going to a jazz brunch as a punishment for all the racket you're making!
      Bart: I thought you wanted me to drum!
      Homer: I'm sending you mixed messages! Now get the hell out of here! (slams door, then opens it again) I love you so much. Damn you! (slams door, opens it again to blow him a kiss, slams it again)
  • Steven Universe: Switching sides has not done a favor to Peridot's sanity. Trying to get a consistent understanding of Peridot's mindset is a messy, confusing, affair as she expects everyone to know what she wants when even she doesn't know that. She is a contrarian, lost on an alien world with a shattered mindset of right and wrong. She isn't even satisfied when others do exactly what she tells them to do.
    Peridot: Are you ready to drill down into the planet, to depths never before reached by your species, to stop the Cluster and save your world?
    Steven: I don't know!
    Peridot: Don't say that! Say "We'll do this together and it's gonna be great!"
    Steven: We're gonna do this together and it's gonna be great!
    Peridot: LIAR!
  • Cheetara from Thunder Cats 2011 is kind to Lion-O, vaguely flirtatious towards him, and kisses him on the cheek at least once. The Kittens (and many viewers) ship them, and while Lion-O and Tygra are competing for her attention, both think Lion-O has the upper hand. But they are wrong.
  • April O'Neal in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) is such a master of this it's hard for even the audience to tell her actual feelings. Whenever Donnie outwardly shows his feelings for her or tries to get her attention she either ignores him, tries not to acknowledge it, or acts extremely uncomfortable. However she's also prone to things like kissing him on the head/cheek, and never outright turns him down. In the end we never really figure out how she actually feels about either of her love interests.

    Real Life 
  • 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. It's known as the "Cat String Theory"; named after a cat's tendency to chase after string that's difficult to get, but lose interest the moment they've got it for sure.
  • The Rules suggests women adopt these obnoxious behaviors too. This will surely end well..