What Men Mean When We Say “I’ll Call You Later”

Published: 10th December 2010

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Filed in: Tips for Girls

Communication Tips For Girls – Tip Two – What Men Mean When We Say “I’ll Call You Later”

It’s perhaps one of the most miscommunicated terms in the English language, at one time the preserve of Hollywood movie moguls and recruiters. We have heard it a thousand times in those old black & whites and Technicolor classics. Back then it was, “don’t call us, we’ll call you” and it employed practical merit, they could only get in touch with actors who won parts, it was just far too expensive, not to say pointless, calling all the others.

In my Communication Tips for Girls (CTFG) Part One – Ladies, Tell Him post I wrote about how we men are only human, how women shouldn’t let themselves get so worked up when we forget, what to us are, inconsequential things like their dress or shoe size. Actually we didn’t even know them in the first place but that’s besides the point.

LondonDiva left a comment on the piece asking “What is up with the I’ll call you and they don’t when in a relationship and getting to the relationship stages.” Good question. The simple answer is, I don’t really know why we do it, I don’t think anyone does. I have this discussion from time to time with female friends. It’s amazing the difference in ratio of discussions I have with female friends about why men do or don’t do things and with male friends about why women do or don’t. I think therein may lie a clue to the answer, but it’s just my hunch.

Now, it’s crucial to note that LondonDiva was not so gormless as to ask why all men say “I’ll call you” and then don’t, she’s far too smart for that. Because everybody with any sense knows that a guy who says those three words at the end of a date isn’t going to call at all. He’s letting you down gently, or so he thinks. No, LondonDiva, for those who failed the first rule of exam questions, asked specifically why men who are in or are nearing a relationship with a woman still continue to do this. Why do men say it when we don’t need to, when it’s not a get out clause? Here’s my opinion.

I think men say things like this because we don’t hang on to words in the same way women do. Remember that the average woman’s vocabulary is superior to that of the above-average man’s. For women, words matter more. I remember in my early twenties I fancied this Spanish girl and we used to flirt a lot together. One day, against the Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s advice, I committed the cardinal sin and told her I liked her. After the inevitable awkward silence I took it back, because of course, it was just a joke. Right?

‘Why would you joke about something like that?’ she asked. I told her not to worry, that I didn’t really mean it. ‘What are words if they have no meaning?’ was her retort. I was confused. Like ‘What?’ I’ll never know if she intended for it to be that poetic a rebuke or whether it was just how it translated. Either way I learned an important lesson about how not to play with words when speaking to a woman.

Yet all through my twenties girlfriends bamboozled me with this all the time. ‘You said you’d call and didn’t, you’re a liar!’ I’d be like, ‘What?! When the hell did I say that? I didn’t say that!” Then they’d pull out their diary like a police officer in the witness box. Times, dates, places. What I was wearing. Jesus! The fact that I didn’t remember saying it should have been a clue as to its flippancy, but it would happen again and again, more times than I care to recall.

Often when we say things like that, it’s just for something to say. It’s kind of the same as ‘see you later.’ Everybody says see you later, even to people they know they’ll never see again. Girls say it too. They do, I’ve heard them. Men who women aren’t romantically interested in also say it but it’s as if they never did. But lo, when a man a woman is romantically interested in says it, in that woman’s mind it seems to take on a whole different dimension. It kind of swirls into a magical rainbow coloured promise. It blossoms to the proportions of an engagement. It swells into something she can embrace to her very bosom and smile about, call her friends and tell about, daydream the rest of her day about, and sit with the mobile face-up about. While for him, it was just a conversation closer.

When women tell me he didn’t call when he said he would I want to slap them about the face with a cold, wet mackerel. Metaphorically speaking. When did he call, I’d ask. Three days later. How did the conversation go, I’ll press. Well for a start he didn’t apologise for not calling when he said he would… [Intake of breath… Sigh] OK, I know where this is going. So your back went up and throughout the conversation you refused to open up. His jokes – which you normally threw your head back to in euphoria – were suddenly lame, his voice no longer soothing or warm and the invitation he extended to dinner that coming weekend was suddenly devoid of value. After all, if he wasn’t serious about calling at 21:00:00 on Tuesday 12th February this two thousand and tenth year of our Lord, then how can you be certain he’s being serious now? I mean, really! He’s quite clearly a joker. A loser. Or worse, a player.

It always amazes me how, for women in the throes of romance, a word which the Merriam Webster dictionary defines as ‘at some time subsequent to a given time‘ suddenly takes on a precise exact time in that woman’s heart mind. The Collins English dictionary defines the phrase ‘see you later‘ as slang for ‘an expression of farewell‘. I think when a man says “I’ll call you later‘ and subsequently doesn’t, this was precisely the very same definition he was using. The same goes for “I’ll call you tonight”. It never actually means he’s going to call you tonight, nor ‘at some time subsequent to any given time’, it doesn’t really mean he is going to call at all, even if you’re married! (Note that married men who know what’s good for them, as a matter of survival, quickly unlearn this behaviour).

If a man actually wants to communicate that he is going to call he may do so in a S.M.A.R.T manner, loosely speaking. He might say something similar to “I’ll call you at home tonight at/after 8.” Of course, this doesn’t guarantee he actually will, it just signifies the intention is there. When a man says he’ll call you later understand that he’s not intentionally lying to you or leading you on, we have other mechanisms for that (usually saying shit like ‘I love you’ before you’ve had sex is a fairly good indicator).

So the next time a man you have been seeing for quite some time says those three little words, in fact any three words, take it with a handful of pure sodium. A pinch isn’t anywhere near enough.

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3 Responses to “What Men Mean When We Say “I’ll Call You Later””

  1. avatar Kentucky lady says:

    Exactly. I agree with the post above. If someone says they’re gonna call.. You’d expect they would. After all, you have no reason to think they wouldn’t. But then, it’s like they take it for granted. They don’t call. I don’t think they forgot. It could be a handful of things. Try to stay calm, stay busy and just watch how he acts in the next few weeks. This should give you a really good indication on how well the relationship is developing. If he doesn’t call at all, it wasn’t meant to be. When a guy wants to talk to you, he’ll call. Meanwhile, carry on. It’ll be difficult since you can really miss and like the person, but keep steady and don’t confront. Stay positive. They want someone who will not change and be an ass to them? Every guy is different. Good luck

  2. avatar LondonDiva says:

    Thanks for writing this post. This one like your previous one 'Ladies, Tell Him' really do lift the lid on the minds of some men.

    I am like one of those women you described, I remember what you said, what time you said it and I can even remember what I was wearing and doing when you said it. The mental note is made and I will keep it locked firmly in my mental little black detective diary should you fail to call.

    Honestly I don't make an issue of it all the time. Now when it's a constant thing, then yes I'll bring it up. I'm at the point in (now he's calling…but I'm commenting on your post….it can ring HA HA)…I'm at the point in my life (age 31) and stage in my life where it's a simple, "look, no need to say it for the sake of saying it to pacify me, call when you want to call, I don't need to be hearing I'll call you later and you don't." I actually found this to be more effective. Rather than me just get on an on about missed verbal appointments, which you so rightly pointed out we women hold dear and memorise, I just make my little speech and refuse to expect that call.

    @Belle we women don't need to start acting like men, that is why we are women and they are men. It doesn't and it won't work because we aren't equipped to understand the male psyche enough to adopt it. It seems in the new millenium this is the new approach for women who maybe somewhat frustrated in how men are in relationships/dating/chasing game and adopt this "if you can't beat em TRY and join em" attitude. A man won't want a woman with a male mindset unless he's gay. The best way to deal with men, is to learn why they do/say the things they do and do what you need to do based on that. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    Back to the general comment again. From a woman's POV, for us this is frustrating. Now I don't care how independent a woman claims to be, every woman has waitied for his call at some point in their lives. Every woman has put off doing something like going to see that movie, or washing her hair because he said he'll call her later. We can't help it. Like you said, you tell us something we're believing those words. "he said he'll call, he's going to call. Even though he might not, he still may call." Then when he doesn't and our scalps are itching the next day because we should have washed it the night before, or all your friends had a great time at the cinema we are VEX. Then when he eventually calls we don't answer and become unavailble aka payback or like you stated pick up and don't say much.

    It's very rare for women to say things like I'll call you later and reneg on it. We put ourselves in the man's position and say "I could never say I'm going to call him later and then just go home to my bed, that's just badmind." We feel less important, and more importantly dumb for believing those 3 words "I'll call you" yet again.

    But, no matter how many blogs are written, this will always be a battle of the sexes issue when it comes to dating and relationships…the "I'll call you" syndrome.

    Great post

    Thanks again.

  3. avatar Belle says:

    HAH! This is sooo true, not that it’s ever happened to me, im far to good of a conversationalist and a cool person for men to never want to speak to me again.
    But yh I guess we women do need to calm down and start acting like men, but its like why cant men say farewell in a way that wont make a women feel like shes being promised something and at the same time giving her something, anything to look forward to; for example, “hope to see you soon”. He isnt promising anything there so he cant really get in trouble, its simple dont say you will call when you wont or say ill call in the future, be specific if you must, its only fair

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