The worst thing about being in the Friend Zone is not realizing you’re in the Friend Zone. Thankfully, a recent study has identified a sign that can clue you into whether someone looks at you as a friend rather than a potential romantic partner. And the researchers mean that literally: it’s all about how they look at you. The key, they say, is how and where a person casts their gaze on your body during some of your earliest encounters. If you notice someone looking at your legs or feet, this could be a sign that they’re evaluating you solely for friend-potential.
The study, which was published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, recruited 105 heterosexual young men and women, all undergraduate students. They were given photographs of strangers, and instructed to evaluate their potential as either a friend or a romantic partner. By monitoring the patterns of their eye movements, the researchers found that the participants looked at the heads, chests, hips, and waists of opposite-sex individuals more frequently and for longer when evaluating them romantically or sexually.
“Conversely,” the study explains, “both men and women looked at legs or feet with greater frequency when they made platonic rather than sexual judgments.” Women who looked at men’s heads for longer also tended to be more interested in friendship.
All of this goes to show that a person’s “relational goals,” or their intention for the relationship, can further perpetuate their perception of other people. In other words, if you initially think you’re assessing someone as a friend, you use a completely different mental system for evaluating their potential. This could be a small but important part of why first impressions can so deeply sway the trajectory of a relationship.
So, next time you’re with your crush, look them in the eyes—especially whenever they’re not looking at yours. And for tips on moving on from a relationship, check out The Single Best Way to Get Over Someone, According to Science.