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Mistaken for Flirting

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Kitty: I really need your muscles right now.
Nate: [smiling gently] Mrs. Forman, I... I have a girlfriend.
Kitty: Oh, please. You wouldn't know what to do with this.

Social cues can be hard to read. They can vary from culture to culture and even region to region within the same culture. Plus, some people are just inherently bad at reading them.

And flirting is a very difficult social cue to read. Sometimes, someone can do something that can be mistaken for flirting, and for various reasons, the person feels like they are being hit on. This has equal potential for comedy or drama.

It can lead to an I Didn't Mean to Turn You On when the person who believes they're being flirted with believes that romance is about to happen. It can also lead to Incompatible Orientation if the two are of the same gender, or just a rejection if the person who thinks they're being flirted with is not receptive.

There are also professions, like serving as a waiter or waitress, where some degree of flirtation might be encouraged to promote more consumption and/or generate tips, but where the customers are supposed to understand that it is not meant to be taken seriously.

This trope also applies if people overhearing the conversation mistake it for flirting, though in those cases, there could be overlap with Exact Eavesdropping.

See also Accidental Proposal, Accidental Marriage. Also compare Mistaken for Romance, Imagined Innuendo, Accidental Pervert, and Mistaken for Gay. Contrast Oblivious to Love.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the seventh chapter of Asteroid in Love (animated in the third episode), Moe mistakes Misa's holding Ao's jaw and looking into her face for Misa flirting with Ao. Since Moe has a crush on Misa, this causes her to Dramatic Drop items on her as she seethes in jealousy. Doubles as Moe's Queer Establishing Moment.
  • Bloom Into You. A case of accidental flirting between people who are actually interested in each other. Touko shows up at Yuu's bookstore to buy a book from her. She chooses a lesbian romance novel with explicit scenes. Yuu assumes that Touko, who has already kissed her once, is trolling her, and doesn't react to avoid playing into her Gadfly tendencies. Except it turns out Touko didn't realize what she'd picked up until she got home, and apologizes profusely the next day.
  • The Dangers in My Heart: After their class changes seats, Ichikawa tries to come up with a way to tell Yamada that she was blocking his view of the blackboard without bringing up her height. He starts with “I could only see you”, right while Yamada was moping about him taking notes from Hara. Ichikawa cuts himself off from the rest of his explanation and realizes exactly what he just said when he sees Yamada's reaction.
  • Dungeon Friends Forever: Chapter 5 introduces Succy the Succubus, who tries to seduce Van while he's making his regular charge through the dungeon to visit his childhood friend, the final boss Ryuuka. However, among the dungeon's monsters only her top four henchmen, each of whom is also a Shipper on Deck, know the nature of their relationship. This causes Mino-san the minotaur, out of a combination of protecting Ryuuka's secret and being offended at Succy trying to get between Van and Ryuuka, to charge Van, lose, and use that as an excuse to let Van proceed to Ryuuka. Succy, unaware of what's going on, sees the whole thing as Mino-san leaping into the fray to protect her and comes to the conclusion that he has a thing for her, oblivious that he's actually very annoyed at her.
  • Lucky Star: During a field trip to Kyoto in episode 21 of the anime, Kagami gets a note from a boy in her class, asking her to meet her outside their hotel at night. She assumes it's for a love confession and isn't certain what she'll do. It turns out, however, that he just wanted to ask if he could have the keychain she bought at the gift shop because he was too embarrassed to be seen buying it in front of their classmates. Kagami quietly hands it over, but it is clear that she was a little upset about the situation.
  • My Love Story!!: In the final two episodes of the anime, pastry chef Ichinose mistakes Rinko Yamato's interest in his pastry skills as flirtation, and when he learns she's going out with Takeo, he vows to win her over to him. He never stood a chance. Rinko only has eyes for Takeo.
  • The Unpopular Mangaka and the Helpful Onryo-san: When Onryo-san makes him a bento with heart-shaped food, Senai wonders if this will change anything about their relationship. The last panel reveals she made one for Hakuu as well, and it didn't mean anything.

    Comic Books 
  • Astro City: Played for drama in "Shining Armor", as Irene Merriweather (an Expy of Lois Lane) misinterprets Atomicus' hesitation about their relationship as a hint that she had to prove herself worthy to him. In actuality, he's scared of relationships since he was Really Was Born Yesterday, and her efforts only make things worse...

    Comic Strips 
  • In this Dilbert comic, a female cashier's "phony customer service smile" is mistaken for flirting.
  • Peanuts: Peppermint Patty is often mistaking Charlie Brown's actions for flirting. And she doesn't seem to mind the idea. Many a strip has had Peppermint Patty suggest that "Chuck" was trying to do something like hold her hand, with her grinning and calling him a "sly dog".

    Fan Works 
  • In the second one-shot in Abraxas: Empty Fullness, Rodan has mistaken all the instances where Monster X poked and prodded him in his chest (unaware that doing that is a turn-on in Rodan's species) for signs that Monster X is interested in mating him. Suffice to say, Monster X is mortified when they realize the misunderstanding, as is Rodan since the realization only comes to light for both of them after Rodan performed a courtship display in front of Monster X.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Sing 2, when Johnny first meets Nooshy and wants her to teach him her dancing skills, he asks if he could buy her coffee or something to eat so he could talk to her one to one. Nooshy responds with, "That's forward, ain't it?" thinking he was asking her out.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bullet Train: The passenger played by Channing Tatum thinks on two separate occasions that Ladybug and Tangerine are propositioning him for sex, only to be disappointed when they're not interested. Ladybug only wants his outfit for a disguise:
    Ladybug: Want to make an easy 200 bucks?
    Horny Passenger: [Beat] Is this like a... like a sex thing?
  • Godmothered: Mackenzie believes that Ray is flirting with her:
    Ray: You look hot.
    Mackenzie: You're not really supposed to say that kind of thing in the workplace anymore.
    Ray: I mean, your face is all red and sweaty.
  • In Nanny McPhee, Cedric Brown plans to marry Selma Quickly, but he's not in love with her; his aunt is pressuring him to get married or else she will send some of his kids to the workhouse. When the children are setting up pranks around the house and he is trying to protect her from them, she thinks his leaning on her, grabbing her hand, etc. are attempts at seduction.

  • In the Dr. Watson at War series by Robert Ryan, Dr. Watson asks an overworked voluntary nurse with an eye infection when she last had time off. She says they're not allowed to fraternize with doctors. Watson (who's rather overworked himself) snaps at her that he's not asking her out for a dance; he's telling her to get some rest.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: In "Exogenesis", Ivanova invites Lt. Corwin to her quarters to get a sense of whether he can be recruited into Sheridan's plans to oppose a conspiracy within EarthGov. He thinks that she's coming on to him, and arrives at her quarters with a bouquet of roses. When he realizes that he's misinterpreted the situation, he claims to have found the roses on her doorstep (leading to another mistake when she finally concludes that they were from Marcus).
  • The Big Bang Theory:
    • In one episode, Amy and Leonard attend a wedding together. When the evening is over, Amy mistakes Leonard's rather innocuous thanks as a flirtatious gesture, and she immediately runs to Penny, telling her "bestie" about it. Amy declares that her body "will never be his wonderland." Sheldon also mistakes Leonard's declaration that he had a good time as an expression of romantic intentions for Amy, and karate chops him, saying, "She is not for you!"
    • Zigzagged. After Penny becomes a rep for a big pharma company, she's supposed to flirt with her clients (male or, if necessary, female) but it's supposed to be understood as part of the sales pitch. Billy Bob Thornton didn't see it that way. He goes so far as to lock the guys in his basement for a shot at Penny.
  • In The Blacklist, Agent Malik thinks Herbie has a crush on her because he talks to her more than he talks to the others, seems to want to impress her and even asks Assistant Director Cooper for her number. It turns out he just really wants to join the team.
  • Cheers: Norm hires a secretary that responds to anything any man says to her, no matter how innocuous, as though it were a declaration of love.
  • In the first episode of Forever, Henry says to Jo, "You want a drink." Jo mistakes that for a question, as in trying to ask her out, but Henry corrects her.
    Henry: I wasn't hitting on you, Detective, merely stating a fact: you want a drink.
  • The Frasier episode "The Matchmaker" has Frasier trying to set a lonely Daphne up with a man. He tells Roz that he's looking for someone handsome, intelligent, and successful — and that's when the new station manager Tom shows up. Tom is gay, but Frasier doesn't know that, and all of his comments and casual remarks come across as extremely flirtatious to Tom; for example, when Tom compliments the view from Frasier's apartment, he replies "It's better from the bedroom!"
  • Good Omens (2019):
    • In season 2 we learn that Aziraphale and Crowley first met when angel Crowley was creating the stars. Crowley expressed his admiration for the stars he had just created, and Aziraphale briefly mistook it as a compliment:
      Aziraphale: Oh... Good Lord!..
      Crowley: Look at you, you're gorgeous.
      Aziraphale: (a happy smile, then a disappointed look upon realising it wasn't for him)
    • The same thing might have happened earlier in the same scene, when Crowley was glad Aziraphale helped him:
      Crowley: There you go, lovely.
  • House of Anubis: Eddie repeatedly makes a fool of himself around KT when they first meet, due to his having a prophetic dream about her and wanting to know why. Certain lines he uses, like calling her "the girl from my dreams", makes everyone, including KT, think that he's hitting on her.
  • M*A*S*H: In "The Best of Enemies", Margaret and Winchester are playing bridge against Col. Potter and BJ. Suddenly, Margaret feels Winchester's foot rub her leg. Her first thought it that he's playing Footsie Under the Table and calls him out on it. Potter tells her to simmer down, and then rages at Winchester, as he knows what Winchester's really doing is trying to give Margaret secret signals on what cards to bid.
  • Night Court. Harry Stone is nice to everyone. Hooker with a Heart of Gold Carla B. isn't used to being treated nicely by people unless they want her "professional" services. So she mistakes Harry's friendliness for flirting with her. When she learns this isn't the case, she's devastated, but Harry still treats her kindly and lets her down easy.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Destiny" While collaborating with a group of Cardassian scientists, one of them mistakes O'Brien's belligerence for flirting, as that's how Cardassian customs work. He's a married man and not a fan of Cardassians due to a previous war. But he does later reconcile with her and says that they can be friends and that he respects her as a professional.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise: In one episode, Hoshi Sato is trying to find out what Malcolm Reed likes to eat so that she can throw him a Surprise Party for his birthday. She asks him if he has a favourite food and mentions she has a hotplate in her quarters, but he refuses to answer and thinks she's coming onto him.
  • That '90s Show:
    • Sixteen-year-old Nate politely turns down seventy-year-old Kitty. Kitty just scoffs and says he wouldn't be able to handle her.
    • When Donna finds her old friend Fez in a pot circle with the kids, she tells him he needs to get some fresh air. Fez sadly says that he can't; her husband is his best friend. Donna rolls her eyes and drags him out anyway.

    Video Games 
  • Octopath Traveler has Cyrus Albright, a Pretty Boy Badass Bookworm whose good looks and comments to women charm them, realizing too late that he is very Oblivious to Love in regards to women falling in love with him.
  • Invoked in Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 3. Bounty hunter Morgan Le Flay thinks that wimpy pirate Noogie is hiding a dark secret. Guybrush must give "interrogation" tips that make it as pleasant as possible, so that Noogie believes it's a date and rewards Guybrush for setting it up.
  • Them's Fightin' Herds: Sometimes when certain characters approach Cashmere wearing the "Mistletoe on a Stick" accessory (during Holidays) she interprets it as flirting gestured to her.
  • Aigis in Persona 3. Besides being a robot with No Social Skills, she was heavily damaged before the start of the game, including her memory banks. So while she knows what she has to do for her mission, she either doesn't know or can't articulate why she's doing it. When she first meets the protagonist, she immediately hugs him and declares that her highest priority is to be with him. Her desire to be with him at all times first appears to be a crush, until it's revealed that she sealed the powerful Shadow called Death within him when he was a child. Aigis's mission is to keep an eye on Death, which extends to watching over him.

  • Daily JoJo: Josh wants to "execute" A-yeong by shame after she called him "new money". His methods include driving her home in the car she thinks is useless, belting out "Happy Birthday" to embarrass her in front of the team, and buying her an expensive watch strap after she said she wouldn't wear it. The whole team thinks Josh is interested in A-yeong, and so does she. It's later revealed that A-yeong has had a crush on Josh since the beginning, and what he thought was an insult was meant to be a flirtatious joke.
  • Paranatural: Spender offers to show Day around Mayview and take her to a "macrobrewery". She mistakes his intentions for romantic due to his mannerisms making him come off too strong.
  • Team Fortress 2: Zhanna thinks Miss Pauling is attracted to Soldier (who is naked and covered in honey at the moment) and threatens to harm her. Even Soldier thinks she was looking at him with lust (and not, y'know, horror).
  • Yumi's Cells: When Ruby meets Control-Z, she decides he isn't her type and acts casual. Her "casual" manner happens to include her normal flirtatious tactics, which Control-Z picks up on. He tries to dissuade her by using a buttery technique, but she's so starved for affection that she likes it. They end up dating.
  • Drowtales: Sara'hilana's cheery, outgoing behavior can be a little weird when she starts a conversation with "I have something for you inside my chestplate."

    Web Original 
  • On this Asexuality Archive article, the author states that he's tried to have normal conversations, only to not only be mistaken for flirting but told he's good at flirting.

    Western Animation 
  • Daria:
    • In one episode, Kevin and Brittany are going through yet another of their frequent break-ups, and Daria offers Kevin some advice. Kevin mistakes this as Daria trying to ask him out, and says, "No offense, Daria, but you're not my type."
    • Resident lech "Upchuck" has a tendency to interpret most interactions with his female classmates as their attempts to flirt with him, and when they rebuff him, he'll simply declare that they're "Feisty."
    • When former Lawndale legend Tommy Sherman pays a visit to his old school, he insults or propositions almost everyone he talks to. Daria, who is most definitely put off by him, tries to get him to move away from her locker by saying, "Excuse me.", which he interprets as her attempt to flirt with him. Daria points out that she just wants access to her locker, and gives him a brief but on-point "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
    • The "Is It Fall, Yet?" special has a more ambiguous example. Jane, spending time at an artist colony for the summer, is befriended by a woman named Allison. Allison interprets some of her interactions with Jane as flirting and plys her with alcohol. When Jane realizes that Allison is trying to sleep with her, she tells her that she's not gay. Allison insists that she's never wrong about these things and that Jane just isn't ready to admit it. The whole thing leaves Jane questioning herself, and Allison later suggests maybe she was just hoping a bit too hard. Then Jane finds out that Allison is sleeping with the pretentious male artist who runs the art colony, and Jane is incensed that Allison would say that she gave off "gay vibes to get into her pants". The story never makes it clear if Allison was genuinely mistaking Jane's friendship for flirting, or if she was attempting to manipulate her for her own ends.
  • The Dragon Prince: In the season 3 episode "The Midnight Desert", Rayla kisses Callum on the lips after he finishes telling her You Are Better Than You Think You Are, misreading it as a romantic gesture. While he is attracted to her, in that moment, he was honestly just trying to be there for her during an emotional low point.
  • Futurama: In "Why Must I Be A Crustacean In Love?", Zoidberg is trying to hook up with childhood friend Edna, leading Fry to feed Zoidberg pick-up lines. Leela later tells Edna about the situation, leading Edna to try to seduce Fry.
  • Gravity Falls: In "Roadside Attraction", Dipper, his confidence boosted by getting a random girl's number, offhandedly compliments Candy. Candy responds by immediately developing a crush on the newly-confident Dipper.
  • Zig-zag: In the Daffy Duck vehicle "The Super Snooper," Daffy is detective Duck Drake trying to solve a murder at a ritzy Beverage Hills estate. He holds a voluptuous femme fatale (anthropomorphized duck, naturally) as a suspect and grills her about the crime:
    Drake: Then what did you do?
    Femme fatale: Search me.
    Drake: Business before pleasure...please!
  • The Simpsons: When Homer becomes the head of the union in "Last Exit to Springfield", Burns tries using the standard euphemisms to offer him a bribe. Homer, stupid as ever, thinks Burns is flirting with him.
    Mr. Burns: We don't have to be adversaries, Homer. We both want a fair union contract.
    Homer: [thinking] Why is Mr. Burns being so nice to me?
    Mr. Burns: And if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.
    Homer: [thinking] Wait a minute. Is he coming on to me?
    Mr. Burns: I mean, if I should slip something into your pocket, what's the harm?
    Homer: [thinking] Oh my God! He is coming on to me!
    Mr. Burns: After all, negotiations make strange bedfellows. [giggles and winks]
    Homer: [thinking] AAAGHH!!! [out loud] Sorry, Mr. Burns, but I don't go in for these backdoor shenanigans! Sure, I'm flattered, maybe even a little curious, but the answer is no!
  • South Park: In "Raisins", Butters visits Raisins (a Hooters Expy) and mistakes Lexus, one of the waitresses, flirting with him to be her actually in love with him (really she's just trying to abuse the fact that guys in love tip better).