Q: A guy I know through mutual friends finally asked for my number, claiming he’d like to see more of me. I was elated, but he never called. After a month, I gave up hope, feeling puzzled and, honestly, kind of hurt. Why do men get your number if they’re never going to call or text?—Uncontacted
A: Men can experience a sort of temporary amnesia in the moment, leading them to ask you for your number. Shortly afterward, their memory returns: “Oh, wait—I have a girlfriend.”
Of course, it isn’t just men who are prone to ride the “seemed like a good idea at the time” seesaw. It’s anyone with a human brain. This asking-for-your-number-and-then-never-actually-dialing-it thing appears to be an example of our brain’s two systems at work—our quick-to-react emotional system and our slower-to-come-around reasoning system, which I wrote about in a recent column, per the research of psychologist Daniel Kahneman.
Again, the fast emotional system responds immediately—and automatically: “Yeah, baby! There’s a woman whose clothes I’d like to see in a pile on my bedroom rug.” Or, if the lust is for a little head-busting: “BAR FIGHT!” The rational system comes around later, often for a little rethink about whatever the emotional system got the person into.
In other words, it helps to view any request for your number as a moment of flattery—nothing more. Don’t expect a guy to call. In fact, expect most not to call. If they don’t call, you’ll be right. If they do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, like getting that winning lottery scratcher that allows you to buy that Lamborghini you’ve been eyeing—the whole car, not just the logo-adorned leather key ring to attach to the keys for your 3,000-year-old Honda.
Q: I have a very good friend—a friend who shows up for me in big ways when the chips are down. However, she is very judgmental and offers her opinion on everything from how I should groom my cat to why I shouldn’t get Botox. I wouldn’t presume to tell her how to cut her hair or treat her dogs—unless she asked. Her comments often hurt my feelings. How do I gently get her to stop acting like my vet, my beautician, etc.?—Annoyed
A: It must be tempting to ask her, “Hey, wanna come over on Thursday night? I’ll do a stir-fry, and we can watch Netflix … or you can do an hour on why my new haircut was a tragic mistake and how (for the fourth time!) the couch should be against the other wall.”
Friendly advice is not always as, uh, other-serving as it’s made out to be. Communications researcher Matthew M. Martin emphasizes that “people communicate to satisfy personal needs.” He notes that previous research identified six basic “interaction motives”: Pleasure, affection, inclusion, relaxation, control and escape (like ditching your own problems to fixate on what a hot mess your friend is).
Research by social psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, among others, suggests that it’s in our self-interest to be helpful. Helping feels good in the moment (the “pleasure” motive). Also, the sort of happiness with staying power comes from extending ourselves for others rather than, say, shoving ’em out of the way and chasing happiness for ourselves (like by amassing more shoes).
Of course, if it is the pleasure motive driving your friend, it may come from a darker place—like a desire to show off and act superior—which may dovetail with “the control motive,” which, Martin explains, “involves the need to influence others and to be viewed by others as competent.”
Regardless, you don’t owe anyone your attention—not even a compulsively helpful “very good friend.” Wait until a moment when you aren’t ducking flying tips. Tell her that you love that she’s trying to look out for you but that her values aren’t necessarily your values. Accordingly, you have a new policy: No more unsolicited advice, except in emergencies. Qualifying situations call for brief, life-preserving warnings—such as “Watch out” or “Duck!”—not the longer-winded constructive tips offered in so-called “fashion emergencies”: “Have you seen yourself from behind? You’d best rethink those pants, doll.”