For the past ten years as a dating coach, I conducted an unusual research project. I interviewed 1,000 single men asking why they didn’t call a woman back after a date. This included asking why they lost interest after flirting with her at a party or after exchanging emails with her through an online dating site. (Rest assured, I didn’t accept glib answers such as “There was just no chemistry;” rather, I used an “Exit Interview” technique I learned at Harvard Business School to prompt very candid responses.)
This infuriating situation is all too familiar for single women. You think there’s a connection, but then suddenly you never hear from him again. What really happened? It turns out there are consistent reasons why men don’t call back. Interestingly, these reasons rarely reflect who a woman is deep down, but rather the wrong impression she gave inadvertently by saying or doing small things. And the shocker? My research shows that 90% of the time your guesses are wrong.
What was the #1 reason that 1,000 men didn’t pursue a woman whom they were initially interested in? I’ve labeled it “The Boss Lady.” He thinks she’s terrific—smart and successful—but he decides he’d rather hire her than date her. In such a situation, women typically guess that men are intimidated by their success or strong personality. But men said they get enough aggression at work all day, and when they come home they want to be with someone softer, more nurturing. They do want someone intelligent with an interesting career, but they prefer a warm demeanor.
The term “boss” here reflects men’s attitudes that certain women seem either argumentative, competitive, controlling, not feminine, too independent, not nurturing, or some combination of the above. Of course, women don’t use the same terminology to describe this behavior. Instead, women might rightfully identify themselves as persuasive, capable, street-smart, organized, modern, confident, or forthright. You say “potato;” he says “po-tah-to.”
Importantly, the real issue is not what you are or aren’t at your core, but rather that trivial comments or actions are screening you out before he can really get to know and appreciate all of you. For example, during one of my Exit Interviews, Paul (from Miami) labeled two women he dated “argumentative.” He expressed frustration that he couldn’t find a woman who challenged him intellectually but didn’t bulldoze him at the same time. He said, “I want a conversation to be a fun, intellectual exchange of ideas—not a heated argument.”
Scott (from St. Louis) described one date that fizzled after trying to select an appetizer to share at dinner. He mentioned that he didn’t like curry. His date shot back, “Who doesn’t like curry? How can you not like curry?” Scott said the curry issue was argued for several minutes, and no matter what he said, she had a challenging retort. The whole thing just got exasperating. “Jeez,” he sighed to me, “all she had to do was say, ‘Okay, you don’t like curry, then do you want to share the artichoke dip?’”
Jake (from New York City) thought his date was smart but he wasn’t attracted to her “masculine vibe.” She was wearing a dark business suit, no jewelry, and had a short haircut. He summed it up, “If you’re a girl, dress like a girl!” Other men described “manly” women who had a brisk power stride when they walked down the sidewalk, or women who tried to hail the taxi during their date instead of letting the man do it, or women who frequently used business-speak such as “The bottom line is….” The Boss Lady made him feel like he was at the office, not on a romantic date.
Let me be very clear: my research does not imply you should change who you are or pretend to be someone you’re not. Rather, the goal is to keep the ball in your court. If you are aware of the stereotypes which men label women, and if you can make a few quick and easy adjustments, then more men will call you for a second date. Then you will increase your options to choose the man you prefer, instead of waiting and wondering what happened when Mr. Potential vanishes. If you don’t want a second date with him, that’s fine—you can politely decline when asked.
So, what to do if you think men are stereotyping you as The Boss Lady? Here are three easy tips:
- Soften your delivery
Some of the negative perceptions a man has about The Boss Lady are reactions to how she speaks and acts, not about her inherent personality. Toning down your conversation style from combative or challenging to gracious and even a little flirtatious, goes a long way. And if you find yourself on opposite sides of an issue, try sprinkling qualifying words into your dialogue such as, “I think” or “I wonder” or “maybe,” which allow for disagreement but aren’t adversarial.
- Look like a woman
At work, conservative and structured clothing allows you to be taken seriously, but it’s not exactly sexy by candlelight. Don’t go straight from work in your power suit to meet him for dinner; rather, change into something soft and flirty. And try growing your hair longer: men told me that shoulder-length hair (or below) is more feminine. Sure, you’re a strong and capable woman, but think “Scarlett O’Hara” not “Hillary Clinton.”
- Select what you need, not want
Like the Rolling Stones say, “You can’t always get what you want, but you just might find, you get what you need.” So think hard about the men you’re selecting. For The Boss Lady, a nurturing, giving type of guy can be optimal (maybe he’s a teacher or chef instead of Wall Street broker?). That’s the opposite image of what most successful career women seek, but your best match might be a man who balances you emotionally: someone who is laid-back, sweet, surrendering, and patient. He might be just what you need.
You’ll find all the other reasons men don’t call back (and what you can do about them) in my new book, Have Him at Hello: Confessions from 1,000 Guys About What Makes Them Fall in Love . . . Or Never Call Back.