Should You Ever Call a Guy? Why “The Rules” Aren’t Meant to Be Followed.


A former client emailed me yesterday to say that he’s planning on getting engaged. With his note, he sent a link to this article, from the New York Times’ Modern Love series. The gist of it, if you’re impatient, is that the author got so caught up in playing by “The Rules” but found it all to be a bit inauthentic for her tastes. It wasn’t until she started taking control of her love life that she actually found true love.

It’s a cute piece, and I linked to it on Facebook (become my friend!) to get the reactions of some friends. Reliable reader Cheri wrote this on my Facebook page in response:

Ok while I understand “The Rules” are a bunch of folly, the article flies in the face of your advice that tells women to sit back and see what he does; if we like it stay, if we don’t go. So how to resolved the two?

Great question, Cheri – and suitable fodder for my blog. In short, The Rules is a good concept, taken too far. Your goal is not to feign permanent indifference and make him beg for you – lots of good guys won’t be up for begging. Your goal is to assess how serious he is about you by allowing him to make an effort on his own accord.

So while I wouldn’t advocate the exact regimen of the author – phoning him regularly, for example, isn’t a recommended move – the spirit of her article is correct.

The easiest way to do this is by mirroring – giving back the same effort you get from him. That way, you never put yourself out there to “chase”: no “miss u” texts or “when are we getting together?” phone calls. You just allow him to reveal himself to you with his actions.

Sure, you can go out to a bar and smile at a cute guy to get him to approach you. You can write a flirty confident first email that lets him know that it’s HIS lucky day if he writes back. This isn’t needy – this isn’t Sadie Hawkins – this is getting you in the game.

But after that, it’s ALL up to him. Your best move is to sit back and let him win you over.

If he doesn’t try hard enough or consistently enough, it’s pretty obvious what you should do next.

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  1. 1

    Agree completely Evan…the Rules is a good concept taken (way) too far.

    Most guys are not going to turn down a decent (or even not so decent in some cases) looking chick that is clearly into him- whether it’s because he’s bored, or horny or just doesn’t want to ‘hurt her feelings’ (i put it in quotes cause if a guy isn’t into a girl, it’s not a matter of if he’ll hurt her feelings but really when).

    And most women who chase men plan to only do it until they feel they ‘have’ them- they don’t intend for it to be a permanent state. But they are in for a really bad surprise when they stop chasing and find that their love interest isn’t so interested after all. Easiest way to avoid this? Don’t chase.

    But of course we all know that if a women were really to follow the Rules to the letter, she’d be one lonely chick, or only enjoying the company of equally manipulative or similarly flawed men, which I think is an even worse alternative.

    Evan’s advice a while ago said it best- give him a chance to act, to do something, to show some interest, and take it from there.

  2. 2

    Cute story but what would have happened if she hadn’t spotted him while out running? He’d already blown off their “email relationship” twice and there was no reason to believe he was really interested.

    I suppose the moral of this story is meant to be throw out “the rules”, but what comes across to me is to meet in person as soon as possible. lol!

  3. 3

    Well hi, it’s the Cheri in question here. So much for being incognito on the blog now. I ask the question because when a guy has disappeared, I always think it’s my fault; that I must have said or done something to scare him off because I came across as needy or desperate. So now I really hesistate to take the initiative for that reason. I know it’s possible that a guy disappears just because he does, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about asking or calling.

  4. 4

    2 things-

    This situation is clearly the exception, not the rule (no pun intended). The guy disappeared on her twice (ok, first time when his mom was sick, that I can understand)… but to do it again? I agree with the comment above that what would have made her think he was interested? I guess that’s when fate stepped in and they ran into each other randomly on the street. Maybe at that point he just realized he had feelings for her. Guys aren’t that complicated, who knows.

    Second, Cheri, this story is evidence that guys can just disappear for no reason and you cannot torture yourself thinking that something you did/said drove them away. Easier said than done, I know. The moral of this story to me was sometimes you have to spur things along a little bit, it’s definitely a gray area because you don’t want to come off as too eager, but it’s ok to show here and there that you care. Lots of guys are insecure too and showing your interest in a subtle but encouraging way – well then, at least you know that you did what you could do. If it doesn’t work out the way you had hoped, at least you tried. If he wasn’t feeling it, his loss. This story also made me realize how important timing is… and helps me let go and realize that, if things are meant to be, when the timing’s right, they’ll be.

  5. 5

    Everyone is – understandably enough – looking for concrete signposts, pointing the way to the promised land of blissful union. Look around yourself for a moment, though, and you’ll see that each of us walks a very individual path, and only if we all seek to meet up with the same person are we meant to follow the same rules or guidelines…

    There is only one dictum worth following, and that is the cliched “follow your heart”. A cliche is, after all, a motto that applies so successfully, it becomes shopworn through overuse. Why follow any other guide than your heart, when it is for your heart, after all, that you seek to find a home?

    You will f*** up, yes, and often. But you won’t find true love and happiness by manipulating the world around you to meet your needs, as you currently understand them. First off, your needs change. Simple as that. Secondly, one must never forget the law of “equal and opposite” orces: if you manipulate the world around you, you will end up being manipulated yourself, sooner or later.

    Leave yourself open (that doesn’t mean gullible or naive) to the possibilities that abound, and – with a modicum of intelligent thought included – allow your emotions to guide your actions, tempered by good sense and sensibility.

    If you are compelled to call him, do so. If this means reaching out a little further than he already has, so what? He may just be slow to understand what a gem you are, or he may be stuck in the quagmire of past negative relationships. Sometimes, us guys require a little more pushing to come unglued, but once you get us going, there’s no stopping us!

    I met a woman many years ago, and we had a lousy date, and I blew her off. She called me a few days later and nudged me. We got married a year and a half later, and I have the most wonderful family now.

    Follow your heart.

    1. 5.1

      thank you for telling your story

    2. 5.2

      this is very encouraging.. Very often I am confused by whether I should tell my guy how I feel or follow the guideline to be cool. The guideline usually worked for the beginning, with time going on, you only realized this was not what you wanted..

    3. 5.3

      Thank you for sharing.  I needed that

    4. 5.4

      ..I think reference is made to, who was the first to say “hi”……the first three dates are anxiety filled(most likely, they won’t go well)….

    5. 5.5

      Bye Felicia

  6. 6

    The pre-internet rules no longer apply in the world of online dating. Granted, a woman with a decent picture and a generic profile will be bombarded with emails from men, and she may feel like she has unlimited choices. However, since men have to email tons of women to get just a few responses, they generally forget who they’ve emailed seconds after they click the send button. At least that was my experience. So it doesn’t behoove most women to wait around for guys to chase them online. There are simply too many choices and it’s too easy to shoot off an email to a woman even if the response rate is ridiculously low.

    Marc´s last blog post…How To Lose a Guy in 10 Words

  7. 7

    Also, the story doesn’t explain why he stopped emailing her the second time. (Assuming the first time is a legimate reason; personally I don’t see why he couldn’t keep emailing her even though his mom had a heart attack, but whatever). One could presume he became involved with someone else. But happened to be single again when she saw him on the street?

    Sure the author broke some of “The Rules”, but still, seems more a matter of timing than anything.

  8. 8

    I just read the article- I’m really happy it had a happy ending for the author, but i’m not feeling that second disappearing act, or even the first really; how hard is it to say ‘family emergency, can’t talk for a while’?
    I agree with other posters, this is about way more than just throwing the Rules out of the window- would he have gotten back in touch if she hadn’t seen him that day?

  9. 9

    I guess that I would find it very difficult to even speak to the guy casually if he had disappeared twice. I would have been more likely just to let it go and move on.

  10. 10

    I don’t understand why this is always such a complicated issue. I think the Rules really set women back and men, who are aware of the book, just become even more self involved and self oriented in the dating arena. It seems it’s all about the guy. I wish that women could get their power back. If we continue to buy into these games, they will just go on endlessly. If two people like each other, they should both make an effort to make it clear and to see each other.

    Muffy´s last blog post…Manscaping – A shaved head is hot! A shaved **** is not.

  11. 11

    Yeah Starthrower, I don’t think I would have stopped to talk to him either. Isn’t there a *rule* where you don’t bother with someone who blew you off twice before you even met? Should be. Grin. Makes it better story though. (I guess.)

  12. 12

    The Rules boil down to having good boundaries and dating with self-esteem. That’s the underpinning of all the books. People get way too hung up in the “don’t accept a Saturday night date after Wednesday” directive (and that’s as far as most people ever read or listen), and pan the whole concept because of that one thing they don’t like. But what it’s really about is, put some value on your own time, don’t be overly anxious/needy/overly available, and expect to be treated with respect while you also respect the person you’re dating. That’s it.

    Evan’s advice and The Rules are not diametrically opposed. I can say that 1) knowing Evan (having been coached by him prior to my marriage), and 2) being a Certified Rules Dating & Relationships Coach myself, having studied with Sherrie & Ellen. There is very little I tell my own clients that Evan wouldn’t tell his. I have the utmost respect for Evan’s approach, but that does not invalidate “The Rules” as an approach for those whom the books “speak to.”

    The most interesting thing I’ve found is, all good relationship advice is essentially saying the same thing. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Self-esteem, self-esteem, self-esteem. It’s a matter of finding the author or coach whose style is most meaningful to you, and resonates most clearly. Some people can’t stand the tone that “The Rules” is written in; I say fine, go read Sherry Argov or John Gray. Or Evan! Exact same information, but presented in a different style.

    I suggest that we not bash other approaches but instead embrace them all, and do that thing they teach in the 12-step programs: “Take what you want and leave the rest.”

  13. 13

    Ladies and gents, keep in mind that the woman in the article in question and her now-husband HAD NEVER MET IN PERSON before she spotted him on the street. To me, that’s a game-changer. Was it rude for him to disappear on her twice? Yes. However, two people have so little (if anything) is invested in each other during the email phases of online dating that I don’t really think much of his disappearing acts. Online dating at that point for him was probably low on his priority list. Regardless, this is still one of those one-in-a-million type of stories. While I’m glad it worked out for the happy couple, I don’t expect events like this to occur very frequently.

  14. 14
    Sigrid Macdonald

    Evan, thanks so much for the post. I must say that I have ambivalent feelings about The Rules and reviewed the book on my own website about a year ago. Suffice to say that it all sounds very sexist to let the guy call all the shots. So I like your modification but I still think that it gives the guy way too much power.

    In my own life and relationships, I’ve always tried to treat the guy I’m seeing just the way I would a female friend (and how’s that working out for me? you ask) but of course men are socialized differently to be the hunter. It sucks but it’s reality and I’ve changed my behaviors accordingly over the years. I don’t pursue anymore and I do mirror, but I think it’s really sad and unfortunate that women have to do that.

    Sigrid Macdonald´s last blog post…Book Review: Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi

  15. 15

    I guess I sort of sit in the guy in question’s camp. Women who know what they want and make life easy for men by, you know, telling them stuff are the best.

    Why should dating have to be a confusing labyrinth of conjecture, inference and deduction, anyway? Who has the time?´s last blog post…Faux fuck buddy needed

  16. 16
    Curly Girl

    Hmm. Never read “The Rules.” I just hated the title. And the cover. Never read “The Secret” for the same reason. I did read “The Pearl,” though. Really sad ending. Do you think that Steinbeck had any trouble dating or finding “the one”?

    Just musing.

  17. 17

    @ casual,

    No it shouldn’t be all that conjecture, etc., but it’s apparent a woman has to “be” and “not be” at the same time; open but appropriately detatched; attentive but not eager, etc. It’s still feels like walking on eggshells.

  18. 18

    My applause to casualencounter.

  19. 19

    Did anyone else get a chill running down the spine regarding the father’s role in the entire story in the article? There seems to be a rising talk about how men could gain a valuable insight into how to treat a woman by just thinking that “every woman is some man’s daughter”, and how women are in general lost if for whatever reason they do not receive a blueprint from daddy on how to be treated.

    It’s good to read about one happy ending, but it indeed rather sounds like an exception. Or just that eventually, someone may/or may not, magically turn up and enter your life, if you are willing to wait until you are 35 and beyond. Which sounds, kinda, hopeful.

  20. 20

    BTW, amen, sistah! The Rules is just a metaphor for the same stuff the other self-help books say. Basically don’t put up with crap.

    And I agree with casual encounters. The problem is, there’s all this advice out there (even from EMK himself!) discouraging women from stating what they want because guys see it as ‘nagging’ or they freak out because they think you want to change them. So we put up w crap and call our gf’s and overanalyze. Truth is, if a guy freak out when you set boundaries, take it as a red flag and run.

  21. 21

    I also don’t think the writer from the Times broke the “Rules” in spirit. I’ll bet when she approached the guy it was in a flirty, non-threatening way, like “Hey, are you xyz?” rather than “Hey, xyz, why’d you not call?”.

    Who knows why he didn’t call….couldn’t been burned out on bad online dating experiences but when he saw her in person he realized what a gem she was.

    I’ve had and seen experiences where women pick up on a vibe, make a little effort and it clicks. This is different from agressively pursuing a guy.

  22. 22

    I’ve read the Rules (and the Secret and The Pearl as well and you are right Curly Girl, the Pearl was straight depressing!) and if I remember correctly the authors did not present the Rules as something to be followed ‘in spirit’ but rather literally.

    I think that is one of the reasons the Rules was so offputting to some, because it implied that they were meant to be followed to the letter, not allowing for much flexibility. That’s why i felt it was a decent concept taken too far.

    I think the best self-help/dating books push the theory that you set boundaries and don’t settle for disrespect because you care about and respect yourself too much to put yourself in a compromising position, not to simply ‘appear’ aloof. Of course, it’s a lot easier to get people to act a certain way than to really feel it inside.

  23. 23
    Karl R

    starthrower68 said: (#3)
    “when a guy has disappeared, I always think it’s my fault; that I must have said or done something to scare him off because I came across as needy or desperate. So now I really hesistate to take the initiative for that reason.”

    Based on my experience, I think it’s highly unlikely that this is the case. The few women who “scared me off” did so by telling me the gory details of their life stories within 30 minutes of meeting them. As long as you’re sharing details about yourself at roughly the same rate that the other person is, then you’re unlikely to have this problem.

    Thinking back over the last several years, I can’t think of a single woman that I exchanged phone numbers with where that was a factor in me breaking things off (or not starting things in the first place). The real reasons included:
    1) Not attractive enough
    2) I was more interested in another woman
    3) Too young/immature
    4) She wanted kids (or had them already)
    5) I believed she wasn’t that interested in me
    6) We didn’t have enough in common (values or interests)
    7) She was too reserved / not that fun to be around

    It’s entirely possible to come across badly, but “needy” and “desperate” just aren’t common problems in my experience.

  24. 24

    Karl, thanks for the insight. Starthrower’s comment is all too common among women. When something doesn’t go wrong we tend to blame ourselves. Truth is, 99% of the time it has nothing to do w them.

  25. 25

    Well in a sense it is our fault, according to the reasons Karl lists, with maybe the exception of 2. The rest of it we may or may not be able to do something about. I’m not being critical of women by saying that. But everything Karl lists are things I think were wrong with me when the disappearing act is pulled.

  26. 26

    I am with Starthrower – those are all things I would conclude were things that were wrong with me. I tend to be very reserved when I meet someone new and it’s not until I feel comfortable that I really start be show my personality. Take this blog, for example, I’ve been reading your comments for a year and have only recently started to add my own.

    This is an interesting topic because I’ve always acted on my feelings, calling someone just to say “hi” or if I saw some little thing that reminded me of someone, i’d pick it up and give it to them and I never worried about how my actions would be construed. Of course, I was married and my actions – to me – only indicated friendship. Now, though, I’m not suppose to call guys or I have to be careful about what I say in case I scare them off. Although really, I have trouble picturing anyone scared of me. I’d like to be able to be myself – that is really what I want. To call a guy if I want to without them thinking I was chasing them, or too forward or anything other than just a call. Can’t we just be friends? Does it have to mean more?

  27. 27

    That’s a great article, def. recommend that everyone read it. I love the sense of excitement the author gets as she breaks all the rules and “empowers” herself. I agree with everything her therapist said, especially this part:
    ”Stop living in a women’s magazine version of the world,” he would plead, trying to prod me into action. ”Start being real — and having needs. You won’t have a satisfying relationship until you do.”

    Man, I wish my last girlfriend realized that.

    Coupla things. Online dating is the wild west and anything can happen. If he disappears, that usually means SOMETHING else is going on, whether it’s a dead grandma or another chick. I never take it personally and generally I won’t hold it against the other person because I do the EXACT SAME THING. Also, view the initial contact as an investment vs. an actual relationship. She established contact and then, via the fates, they actually met, and it took off from there. There’s no need to shut that door early on.

    Lance´s last blog post…Vegas Memorial Weekend Sextacular: Preview

  28. 28

    Or sometimes the man expresses interest and when you feel safe enough to return it, that’s when they choose to disappear. But again, I guess those are the ones that are flaky and why would we want them anyway?

  29. 29
    Karl R

    starthrower68 said: (#25)
    “everything Karl lists are things I think were wrong with me when the disappearing act is pulled.”
    Kristyn said: (#26)
    “those are all things I would conclude were things that were wrong with me.”

    Half of them could easily be considered flaws with the guy (me):
    3) She’s young and immature, but from her perspective I’m old and uptight.
    4) She wants/has kids; I don’t want/have kids.
    6) If we don’t share values/interests, that involves my values/interests as much as hers (provided we both have values and interests).
    7) She’s reserved and not much fun, because I’m an extrovert who likes other extroverts.

    Whose flaw is it? It’s a matter of perspective.

    Even when we get to things like attractiveness, there’s no single standard of beauty. I don’t like bleach-blond sun-worshippers. Lance prefers thin women with small breasts. Attractiveness has as much to do with personal preferences as any unified standards.

    And even if I call things off because the woman was “flawed” (in my opinion), the woman didn’t “scare me off” by being assertive. And when I bail because the woman seems disinterested, that’s the exact opposite situation. If the two women had showed initiative in calling me or asking me out on dates, I would have assumed they were interested and continued to date them.

    For some perverse reason, everyone wants to internalize the blame when the other person vanishes. Usually it’s just not about us.

  30. 30

    In the book “Why He Didn’t Call You Back,” that author argues that when men vanish or don’t call, more often that not, it IS the woman’s fault. And she provides a whole list of things women can do to stop turning guys off so early on in the dating process. Lots of women really liked her advice.

    I personally prefer Karl’s point of view that it’s just as likely to be the guy’s issue as it is the woman’s issue. Or better yet, why can’t it simply be that the woman and the man just aren’t compatible and NEITHER person is flawed?

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