How often should you call him?: A definitive guide for smart women

This letter brings up a perennial question that every woman has, so it’s about time we tackled it:

Dr. Alex,

I really appreciate your advice and have listened to your CD over and over again. I also followed your Tao of Dating principles, which was beyond enlightening for me, as it turned the tables and made me responsible for doing my own housework and trying to be the goddess and I still think ‘What would a goddess do?’ when I’m in a situation that hurts or annoys me and this goddess-thinking prevents me from acting needy or overly emotional!

Your advice has helped me tremendously in being able to finally a great guy!! We have great communication, great attraction, share the same values, have fun together, etc. etc. etc. We have been exclusive for four months and just recently went on a fabulous trip. We see each other as much as possible, however with his child and my work schedule, it’s sometimes not as much as we would like. At any rate it is one of the best, if not the best, relationship, I have ever been in, however there is only one thing that bothers me and that I don’t know how to address it. I have been debating even asking you as it seemed trivial at first, however I don’t feel that it is.

Here it is: It really frustrates me that when I don’t see him, that we barely speak on the phone…It’s just that I would like to talk to him more when I’m not able to see him and when I don’t, I feel disconnected. I think it’s partially my fault, since following your advice, I got out and dated more than one guy at the beginning and did not call the guys but generally waited for them to call (new concept for me and it actually worked, thanks!). Eventually he rose to the top and we started dating exclusively and I continued to let him initiate most of the calls but now I don’t know if he’s gotten ‘settled in’, but when I don’t see him, he doesn’t call that often. It’s not that I never hear from him, there is the occasional text, call etc., but for a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, it’s less calling than I’m used to and although everyone is different with how much they call, I think even a goddess might get a little hurt/annoyed by this behavior lol. And I do call occasionally and it’s always a good conversation so maybe I’m blowing the whole thing out of proportion, but I feel like if he doesn’t call that maybe he’s not thinking about me, or that a boyfriend ‘should’ call more because he wants to, but I know not to get into ‘should’ thinking!!

[Omitted: big paragraph on how she's overthinking it because of her relationship history]

Anyway my burning question is what I should do?? 1) Should I just call him more if I want to talk and not worry about it seeming aggressive or overbearing cuz I am his girlfriend anyway and not one that would call 5 times a day anyway, we’re talking once every couple days or 2) should I should just suck it up and continue to not call him that much, knowing guys need their space and their cave and try not to let past insecurities get in my way but just continue to be the goddess and enjoy what I do have with this great guy or 3) can I just talk to him about this without sounding needy? Maybe it will be like other issues that I was afraid to bring up, but we had a good conversation from so I don’t know why I’m afraid other than I don’t want to do anything ungoddesslike and screw up this good relationship I finally have. Anyway your help would be greatly appreciated :))

Jill

Goodness gracious, Jill!  You’re lucky I’m not a lawyer, ’cause then I would have had to charge you $372.83 just for reading this.  Dear readers — kindly keep it under 250 words, willya.  I’ve got YouTube pet videos to surf here.

Also, you are not allowed to put ‘lol’ in a letter unless you actually laugh out loud at that moment.  Meaning that you’re laughing at your own writing, which seems mighty unlikely.  Even James Thurber didn’t do that.  And no, a mere chuckle doesn’t qualify.  So basically you can’t use ‘lol’, like, ever.  ‘MAM’, perhaps — it stands for ‘musing and mulling’.  As in, “I wonder if I’m overthinking this whole thing (MAM).”  Because you really are musing and mulling.  Or ‘SMHWTMH’ — scratch my head while twirling my hair.  As in, “We had a great first date — why hasn’t he called me yet (SMHWTMH)?  Geez.”

But no LOL.  That’s reserved for authentic guffaws and funny cat pictures.

So, the brief answer to your burning question is that you’re overthinking it (surprise!).  I mean, your letter’s twists and turns and decisions and revisions that reverse themselves make a Six Flags roller coaster seem like a stroll down a grocery aisle.  As the Tao Te Ching says, “Stop thinking and solve all your problems.”

You’re also being kinda insecure.  He’s calling as much as he ever did, so he hasn’t changed.  You have.  Now that you’ve got a great man (by your own reckoning), you’re operating out of fear of losing him as opposed to the joy of having him around.

The goddess does not fear!

If you cruise down the highway thinking “I really don’t want to crash”, what’s going to happen?  You’re probably going to crash.  And if you think “I really don’t want to come off as needy and drive him away”, you are probably going to come off as needy and drive him away.  You get more of what you focus on.

So instead of thinking “I don’t want to lose him” (which is the root of why you want to call him, needily, and also why you don’t want to call him, so you don’t seem needy, which is still neediness), think, “Gosh, I really like my man and I’d like to speak to him and convey to him how great he is and how much I appreciate him and love talking to him!”

In fact, I find it interesting that you should be worried that your calling him is a burden to him.  How did that ever happen?  I thought calling someone was an expression of love and connection, so aren’t you the one doing him a favor?  It’s like asking, “Am I giving him too many blowjobs?  Am I going to drive him away?”  Well, as long as he’s enjoying them, there is no upper limit to how many blowjobs you’re allowed to give him.

Similarly, if every time that you call him you make him feel like a trillion bucks, there’s really no upper limit to how often you can call him.

So if you or any of the other ladies reading this have wondered whether you’re erring on the side of calling too much, ask yourself whether the energy of your calling is one of neediness, desperation or taking, vs nurturing, giving, elevating and sharing.

The goddess does not whine!  However, the goddess can get lonely.  She does crave companionship and connection — sometimes more than her man.  So once you’re in a committed relationship, don’t be surprised if you’re doing most of the calling.

So call him when you feel like calling him.  That’s the whole point of real intimacy: the ability to be vulnerable with each other.  Can you be comfortable with your needs without being needy?  That’s being in your yin energy, your feminine essence, and it’s hot.

Jill’s letter astutely observes another principle: there is a developmental arc to the frequency of contact and who’s initiating it.  Also, guys love their freedom.  So here are some quick guidelines on getting your guy on the line:

1) Early on, let him call you first. In the early stages of courtship, you want to let yourself be pursued.  Sure, you’ll prime the pump with a hair flip and provocative look, a quick text or email, but he has to come to you.

2) In a relationship, train your man by setting expectations. Human beings are phenomenally good at noticing deviations from a baseline.  So as soon as you’re in an established intimate relationship, decide how often you want to speak to him, and establish that as a baseline.  In other words, create a baseline according to your needs.

Let’s say that’s once a day and call it Scenario A.  Now, if you get busy and forget to call him one day, guess what — he’s going to miss you.  Why?  Because you’ve deviated from baseline by under-calling him.  So he will want to hear from you.

Now let’s say you did what Jill did, and established a baseline according to his needs as you perceive them: “Oh, he’s a guy, he wants to go in his cave, I really don’t want to bother him, let him be free etc.”  Now you’re calling him every other day — say, Mon, Wed, Fri (Scenario B).  Now if you call him on a Thursday, he’s going to notice a deviation from baseline and wonder what’s up.  And the extra call may count against you.

So go with your needs first.  And if they aren’t compatible with his needs, maybe you shouldn’t be together anyway.  A man will only love you for who really are, not who you’re pretending to be.

Notice how in both Scenario A and Scenario B, the ladies have called their men 4 times in a 5-day stretch.  But the fourth call in Scenario A is more likely to be welcome than the one in Scenario B.

Why?  Because of the way expectations are set. In B, the guy’s thinking he’s got an amazingly self-sufficient girlfriend who barely needs to call him.  So the extra call is more likely to count against.

There’s a whole section on irregular schedule of reinforcement in Chapter 13 of The Tao of Dating for Women which should be mandatory reading for all of you.

3) Trust your intuition without dumping on him too much. If you had a bad day and you really want to talk to your guy, call him.  For godssakes that’s supposed to be one of the perks of intimacy.  Guys actually like having a chance to cheer you up — it makes us feel useful.

Unless you’re always calling us with a litany of pain and disaster, in which case we will soon develop a phobia to your calls and stop looking forward to hearing your voice.  If you still need to talk to people about your woes, distribute the pain amongst your girlfriends.

The 5:1 rule, as propounded by Prof John Gottman, that genius of relationship research, is a good one for maintaining a happy, balanced relationship: aim for 5 positive interactions with your man for every negative one.  And for girlfriend talk, use your girlfriends.

4) Use asynchronous communication as spice, not the main dish. Cute little emails and texts that say “I’m thinking about you” are nice.  However, be careful: you should use them only as an adjunct, not as a primary mode of communication.  Two ironclad rules about texts and emails:

a) Write them a text or email only if you’re cool with not receiving a timely response. That’s why they’re called ‘asynchronous communication.’  They’re also unreliable — you never really know if someone got a text or email.  If you pass out from holding your breath waiting for a response to an oh-so-important text he should have responded to, like, immediately, you’re a masochist.

b) No emotional communication over text or email. Ever.  Trust me — it’s the best decision you ever made.  I wrote a whole separate article about this, so I shan’t belabor the point.

Best

Dr Ali B

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