We live in a society that is both more open and more frightened than any that has ever existed before. In the United States, the idea of the chaperone has become a quaint part of our history. What we’ve forgotten is that a chaperone served a very distinct purpose: A chaperone allowed two people to get together, while keeping an eye on things. Sure, you couldn’t hold hands, or kiss, or – heaven forbid – do anything more intimate without being tsk-tsked to kingdom come, but it also meant that you didn’t have to worry about improper or uncomfortable advances or fret that your date would interpret your intentions as less than honorable.
Having a chaperone along on a date may have felt restrictive, but it also meant safety. Today that restriction – and that safety – are gone. Now you’re faced with the same urge to merge but with few guidelines and no one, other than yourself, for protection.
If the two of you are ever going to have a date, you have to be able to connect. Of course, you could agree to meet on a specific street corner or at a party or restaurant or after a class. But sooner or later, it will occur to one of you that being able to get in touch if plans should change would be nice – and that means a more personal way to connect, and that means a phone number.
Getting a phone number means that the two of you have moved from being strangers to at least being acquaintances, and that can be a very large and somewhat scary first step. To compound the problem, men and women have different senses of times and different sensibilities. Men often feel they have to ask for a number even when they have no interest, and women often feel they have to give out a number even if they have no interest. To help you, this chapter covers how to both get and give a phone number – with the minimum wear and tear on both of you. It also covers what to say during the call, and if you’re hesitant to hand out your home phone number, you can also find phone number alternatives.
Asking for a Number
Whether you were introduced by friends, ran into one another on the street, or met at a party, unless you believe that the two of you share a karma that will cause you to run into one another again and again, you’re either going to have to depend on blind fate or you’re going to have to get a number: a home phone number or a cell number (a great option because it allows you to give out a number without having to transpose one of the last digits for someone you don’t really want to give your phone number to.) If you really don’t want to give a phone number, don’t do it. Give a street address, an e-mail address, a business card, or something. (I know there’s always the mutual friend route, but you’re not in 7th grade any more – I hope. Plus, if you contact the other person directly, you get a lot more – and more reliable – information.)
There are only a limited number of reasons why you might ask for a phone number:
1. You want to call the person.
2. You’re not sure whether you want to call the person but want the number just in case.
3. You know you don’t want to call, but you don’t want to appear rude. The following sections give you tips for handling each of these scenarios.
You want to get in touch with the person
When you know you want to call someone, obviously you need to ask for the phone number. One of the best ways to approach getting someone else’s number is to demonstrate your good faith and to show that you’re not Jack or Jacqueline the Ripper:
1. Smile, talk softly, and make eye contact. See Chapter 7 to find out how to approach someone without scaring the daylights out of them.
2. Ask for the number in a friendly, nonthreatening way. For example, instead of saying, “So, can I have your number?” try something like, “I’d really like to stay in touch. Is there a number where I can reach you?” Giving out your phone number if you want to is certainly okay, but doing so puts you in the position of waiting for his call. The best way to offset this position of passivity is to ask for his number as well. Or you can take his and not give yours. (Of course, if you have no intention of calling him, don’t ask for the number. It’s just as nasty for you to ask for his number and not call as it is for him to ask for your number and then not call you.) See the section “Giving Your Phone Number” later in this chapter for advice on how to take an active role in getting together.
3. Offer your own number. Offering your number is a great way to deflect suspicion by putting the proverbial ball in the other person’s court. Offering rather than asking also allows you to be vulnerable first. You can win sensitivity points by saying, “Look, I know these days, a gorgeous woman like you has to be careful, so if you would prefer, I can give you a way to get in touch with me. I’d love to court you the old-fashioned way and call you, but I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable by asking you to give me your number if you’re not ready.”
You want to keep your options open
In a perfect world, you could actually say, “I’m not sure I want to call you, but, what the heck, give me your number just in case.” Of course, a line like that isn’t exactly flattering. You’re probably better served by expressing an interest but giving yourself an out by saying something like this:
“Look, I’d really love to call you, but I’m . . . (pick one)
*really busy at work
*traveling a lot
*getting out of a relationship
*covered with herpes
*feeling poorly (not poor, which means you’re in the midst of pecuniary strangulation)
*scheduled for surgery
*about to be drafted
Advice from the animal kingdom
Yes, even at our most well-behaved, we’re still animals – human animals, but animals nonetheless. As a result, the same rules that apply to the larger animal kingdom sometimes apply to us. Lionel Tiger, an anthropology professor who has done a lot of work on animal behavior, reports that, to show that their intentions are honorable, animals bare their necks, the most vulnerable part of any animal’s body. Where do you think we got the phrase “Go for the jugular (vein)”? And you thought it came from a Dracula movie. Therefore, the best way to show how honorable your intentions are is to bare your neck metaphorically: In other words, to get a phone number, offer your own.
. . . so if it’s okay, I’d like to take your number and call you in a month or so.” (Of course, if you use the herpes line, don’t expect them to be too enthusiastic.)
When you take this approach, you’re not misleading anyone or setting the other person up to hang by the phone waiting for you to call. You’re simply keeping your options open without doing so at someone else’s expense.
If you’re feeling really ambivalent about asking for a phone number, you can always offer yours, saying, “Why not take my number?” Then if the other person calls, you can go out on his or her nickel and enthusiasm. After all, all of us like to be courted.
You’re not interested in the other person, but you feel it’s expected of you to ask for a number
If you’re not interested, don’t ask for the number. If you ask for a number, the assumption is that you intend to use it. Don’t spread misery like peanut butter. If you have absolutely no interest in the other person and have no intention of calling, just don’t ask.
Men especially feel that not asking for a phone number is really rude, but if you can just confine yourself to “See you around” or “Nice seeing you again,” you’ll spare yourself and the other person some wear and tear.
When not to “cell”
Somehow cell phones have allowed folks to forget basic manners and common sense. If the following list of times not to use cell phones doesn’t seem absurdly obvious and straightforward to you, you need a basic attitude adjustment. If the list seems like silly fun and you suspect that my tongue is parked firmly in my cheek – bingo!
1. At a wedding
2. At a funeral
3. At the altar
4. On a date
5. During sex
6. In the shower
7. When comforting someone who is crying
8. When celebrating birthdays or anniversaries
9. When breaking up
10.When making up
Giving Your Phone Number
You’ve been enjoying the conversation (or not), have been flattered by the attention (or not), and now you’re in the spotlight: Your phone number has been requested or his/her phone number has been offered. Now, whether you’re wildly euphoric or praying that the floor will open and swallow you whole, you have to respond.
If someone wants to contact you, you may be tempted to give your phone number for these reasons:
1. You want him or her to get in touch.
2. You’re not sure that you’re interested, but you want to keep your options open.
3. You wouldn’t spit on him if he were on fire, but you don’t want to appear rude.
The following sections help you maneuver gracefully through these scenarios.
You’d like to see the person again
If you’re interested and want to stay in touch, give out your number, but also get the other person’s number. If you only give your number and don’t get a waiting for a call. So make a deal. Say, “I’d love for you to have my number, and I’d love to have yours as well.” Exchanging numbers has the following benefits:
1. You can give the other person a jingle if he/she doesn’t call on your timetable.
2. You don’t have to be passive or nasty, just a co-equal. No more waiting around for a call, and no more fuming because you never heard from Prince or Princess Charming again.
3. If the person turns out to be a bozo, you have something to fantasize about pasting on bathroom walls – “For a good time, call. . . .” (But don’t do it! Paybacks can be really harsh.)
You’re not sure whether you’re interested
When you’re not sure that you want the person to call, you can always say you’re about to change your number because you’ve received too many hang-ups; the number used to belong to an escort service; or you want a cuter number.
If you decide that you want to give out your number and then, upon reflection, decide that it was a mistake, you can get an answering machine or a call block machine so that you can screen your calls. If it turns out that the person is more persistent than you’d like, you can change your number.
Another alternative if you’re not sure whether you want to give out your phone number is to get the person’s number instead. Of course, doing so means you have to call the person. (See the section “Asking for a Number” earlier in this chapter to find out why.)
Don’t ask for a phone number as a defensive measure, as in, “I don’t want you to have my number, but if I ask for yours, you’ll be less intense about getting mine.” Then you’re just being creepy.
No way, Jose
If there is no way that you’d ever want to see this person again, don’t be tempted to give your number. Doing so may be easy for the short term, but it actually makes the situation more uncomfortable because you’ll end up causing yourself and the other person heartache not very far down the line. Even though it’s difficult, it’s better not to mislead them or give false hope. If you’re not interested, be (gently) upfront about it and say, “Listen, I’m going to be very busy,” or “You’re very nice, but I’m going through a tough time right now,” or “I’m about to move,” or “I’m joining the French foreign legion.” The main point is don’t give someone your number if you don’t want the person to call you.
Don’t you dare give a wrong number (and yes, deliberately mixing up any two numbers in the sequence counts as a wrong number) or your mom’s – or your best friend’s or an old boyfriend’s – number. Come on, this is dating, not terrorism.
Home phone or not?
Many women are reluctant to give out home numbers for safety’s sake and are much more willing to give out work numbers because they’re not alone at work and they (generally) work during the day. Work phone numbers create their own problems, however:
1. At work other people are around, which feels safer, but it’s also less private.
2. Many if not all businesses frown on personal calls during the workday. If you’ve been given or are giving out a work number, understand that the conversations have to be shorter than they would be if you were using a home number.
Of course, not all home phone numbers automatically eliminate these problems. Sharing your home phone number with roommates or family can limit the length of the calls. If the phone has extensions, you may find that you restrict the content as well because you never know who may be listening in.
When it comes to dating, cell phones are really lifesavers, allowing you to remain coy about home and work numbers. Giving out a home number is giving an awful lot of information to a stranger. Giving a work number may compromise you at work because when they call, the timing may be unfortunate due to lack of privacy, running afoul of company policy, or any one of a number of constraints. An operator or a voice mail may identify the name and/or address of your workplace, which may be more information than you want a stranger to have about you initially. Ta-da – cell phones to the rescue! Among other things, cell phones have caller ID and are mobile, thus not identifying any geographical location where you can be found. The disadvantage of a cell over a land line is you can’t block a cell number, but you know who it is before you have to answer. Also, if someone is sneaky enough to use “restricted,” you can just let it ring through to voice mail. In a worst-case stalker scenario, it’s a lot easier to change your cell phone number than your home or office phone.
As long as we’re talking cell phones, just a note of caution here: If there’s somebody in your life who has access to your cell phone bill, your entire life will be laid out, chapter and verse. Ma Bell has single handedly wiped out adultery as we know it with the combination of itemized bills, star (*) 69, and caller ID.
Phone number alternatives
There are a number of ways to give out a phone number without actually giving out a phone number:
1. I’m listed. If you want the person to get in touch, make sure you’ve made the listing clear as it appears in the phone book. In many cases, though, directing someone to the phone book means you’ve given out your home address as well. You can be a bit suaver but if your name is
hard to spell, you may have blown the deal.
2. Business card. A business card usually has a work phone number, often a fax number, a business address, and an e-mail address. If you don’t have a business card, for very little money, you can have one printed up that gives out whatever information you want to share. (You can usually get around 500 business cards for between $15 and $25 or less.) If you are self-employed or work at home, having a business card can make you feel a little more professional as well.
3. Home address. Giving out a home address is a bit risky. Of course, sooner or later, if the two of you hook up, you’re very likely to exchange home addresses. The question is, sooner or later? My advice is later – when you’re sure this is someone you trust to behave respectfully and appropriately after he or she knows where you live. If you have even the most minor inkling that this person may surprise you by lurking on your doorstep, trust your instinct for heaven’s sake, and don’t give out your address.
4. E-mail. For many folks, giving out an e-mail address is a safer alternative than giving out a phone number. Of course, you have to balance your sense of safety and your need for intimacy. I may be old-fashioned, but I think that actually hearing a voice is a nice way to begin to connect with someone.
Decoding Girl Time versus Boy Time
Girl time is quite different from boy time. When a guy asks for a girl’s number, she assumes that means he’s going to call on the way home from the party. She checks her machine twice an hour, has the phone company check to make sure the line is okay, and won’t take a bath for fear she’ll miss the call. If Mom calls to talk about Dad’s surgery, she’ll politely mention that she’s expecting an important call and will call back.
Guys, on the other hand, will almost never call on the way home from the party or even the next day. They think it makes them look too needy. Because nobody ever calls near a weekend for a first date, the better part of a week may pass before a guy even thinks about calling. If he left the number at home or gets busy or gets a cold, well, it may be two weeks before he calls. By this time, the woman is just plain furious.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
If you really like a woman, it’s okay to call the next day. It’s also okay to make a date. Just don’t stay on the phone too long and keep the patter light.
Cool your jets a bit. You’ve been smart enough to get his phone number, so you can wait this one out a while. If he hasn’t called in a week or so and you want to give him a ring, fine. Just keep the conversation light and short and
don’t ask why he hasn’t called.
Talking on the phone is a nice way to begin getting to know one another. It’s personal without being overly intimate: You’re at arm’s – or, literally, at phone’s – length from one another.
During the first conversations, keep things short and casual. Those let’s-putthe- phone-on-the-pillow-and-listen-to-each-other-breathe-as-we-fall-asleep things come much, much later. So don’t worry about the sweaty palms (as long as the phone doesn’t slip), don’t hang up, and don’t try too hard.
Never make a date with a machine. Whether it’s the first date or the fiftieth, unless it’s an emergency, get in touch with the person mouth to ear so that you know the message has been received loud and clear.
Rules in a Nutshell
The following are the rules for getting, giving, and using phone numbers:
1. If you want a number, ask and be willing to offer your own.
2. If you don’t want to see the person again, don’t ask for a number and don’t give a number.
3. If you’re not sure, build a time frame into your response so that nobody is sitting around waiting for you to call.
4. Exchanging phone numbers is the fun, easy part, so relax a bit and don’t get too involved before you’ve even had a first date. It’s not worth the stomach acid.
5. Calling and hanging up is not okay; neither is driving by. All states now have anti-stalking laws, and they are enforced (see Chapter 27 for information on stalking). Playing games can get you into serious trouble, so don’t be silly here. Plus, caller ID has made hang-ups traceable. You don’t need police on your doorstep as part of your dating experience. In a nutshell, a phone is quicker than pony express, less traumatic than a telegram, more personal than e-mail, more fun than smoke signals, and the first major step toward moving from strangers to something much bigger and better.