March 11, 2015 / Keep The Ball In Your Court
You want to "hold serve" until you're sure you can score a point.
For anyone who spent their teenage years without cell phones, you probably learned about the "Two Day Rule" — the mandatory waiting period after getting a girl’s number. The movie "Swingers" even had a key scene discussing this rule and the theory behind it:
The movie also showed the potentially disastrous consequences of not following the Two Day Rule, when Mikey calls the girl he met that same night.
I bring this up because lately I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails from readers about what I call "communication protocol." For example, one reader asks:
"So, I had plans with this girl but she texted me and had to cancel last minute. How do I respond? Should I suggest another date? Should I tell her to let me know when she is free? What’s the right move here?"
In the pre-texting era, The Two Day Rule was all you really needed to know. First you waited two days, then you called her. If you got her answering machine, you hung up and didn’t leave a message and then you’d call the next day. When you reached her, you’d talk and then ask her to meet up. If she flaked, she’d either have to call you well ahead of time (which would make it easy for her to propose another time to go out), or she’d have to stand you up, which would clearly signal that she was flakey and rude and not someone you’d want to date anyway.
Unfortunately, things aren’t so clear cut these days. For starters, when you ask for a girl’s number, it’s pretty likely she’ll ask for yours in return. She may even text you first, and well before two days. And even if she doesn’t, texting a girl the day after you meet her is hardly a signal of desperation. The good news is, these days you have more options and more direct ways to contact a girl you’re interested in. The bad news is, it can be overwhelming figuring out which option is best, and your decisions aren’t limited to just the initial contact.
But you already know this. But what you may not know is that while the Two Day Rule is mostly a relic of a previous era, the principles behind it remain. As I mentioned before, one principle is avoiding looking needy or desperate, but the act of texting already mitigates a lot of them. But there’s another, more fundamental principle behind it: waiting two days before calling keeps the ball in your court.
And this is the concept I want to talk about today: what it means to "keep the ball in your court," and why it’s important to do so as much as possible.
What "Keeping the Ball in Your Court" Means
Let’s take an extreme example. You’re talking to a girl, she seems interested in you. Instead of asking her for her number, you just hand her a business card with your office’s phone number. She puts it in her purse. You talk a little longer, and then you both go home.
You want to see her again. But… how can you reach her? You don’t have her number. You just have to wait for her to call you. She can’t even text you, she just has the number to your company’s office. The only way you’re going to see her again is if she keeps your business card, calls your office, looks up your extension, waits while your cubicle phone rings, and then leaves a message. Do you know many girls willing to do that? Probably not.
"Keeping the ball in your court" means controlling the social conventions of initiating contact. This is why the Two Day Rule was sufficient in the pre-cell phone area. There was no question that you controlled initiating contact afterwards. And if you called, you didn’t leave a message on her answering machine, because that meant immediately giving up that control. The minute you left a voicemail like, "hey, it’s Josh, call me back at 555-5555," that meant instead of her waiting for you to call, you were waiting for her.
In other words: leaving an answering machine message put the ball in her court. Now, you don’t need to worry about answering machine messages anymore, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to care about keeping the ball in your court.
Pop Quiz: Which Response Is Best To A Girl Who Flakes Out?
Let’s go back to our reader’s question. He had plans with a girl, she texts him flaking out. Let’s say her text said something like: "Hey Josh, hate to do this last-minute, but I’m slammed at work and won’t be able to meet up. Sorry!"
Which of these responses is best?
- Response A: "No problem, what about tomorrow?"
- Response B: "That’s too bad. Just let me know when you’re free."
- Response C: "All right, some other time then."
Hopefully you ruled out Response A. It is a clear demonstration that you’re too available. Being so available conveys way too much interest, way too soon. This is especially true if you’ve only talked only briefly beforehand (for example, if you met each other through online dating and this is your first date).
You may be tempted to pick Response B. Was she really busy at work, or is that just a convenient excuse for her not being that interested in you? You may think Response A is the most direct way to answer that question. If she proposes an alternate time, she’s into you. If she doesn’t, you know you should move on.
And while all that line of logic is true, Response C is the right answer. You keep the ball in your court. She can still follow up and suggest another time to meet. But Response B has let you keep the ball in your court, because you can propose another time to meet yourself.
The Difference With the Ball In Your Court
Some of you may think there’s not a material difference between Response B and Response C. If she is legitimately interested, either way she’s going to suggest another time to meet, right?
Leaving the ball in her court is a bad idea because it introduces an unnecessary element of risk with no benefit. Consider any of these scenarios:
- She feels really bad about flaking out, but she is really slammed at work that night. The next day she does debate texting you, but then second-guesses herself: He probably hates me after what I did last night, there’s no point.
- She would suggest another time, but she knows she’ll be busy with work for the next few days. Next week, she wants to let you know she’s free, but now she’s worried you’re not interested anymore. It’s been almost a week, he probably forgot about me anyway.
- She feels like suggesting a time to meet means she’ll also have to suggest what you guys should do, and she’s not nearly confident enough to guess what kind of restaurant or bar you’d like.
Generally speaking, women don’t want to be in a position to arrange a date. They’ve never done anything like figure out a first date routine, because they’ve never had to. A lot of women will be interested enough to go on a date with you, but not so interested they’re willing to initiate and plan their own date.
This is why "some other time" is the best option. You don’t want to leave the ball in a woman’s court because she probably doesn’t want it in her court.
There’s No Downside With the Ball In Your Court
Not only is depending on her to reach out to you introducing unnecessary risk, it provides absolutely no benefit. I literally cannot think of a single situation where leaving it up to her to contact you benefits. If you can think of one, e-mail me. As I wrote about in my article about risks justifying the rewards, don’t take risks for the sake of taking risks; take risks if there is potential benefit. There is no potential benefit in not having the ball in your court.
Other Applicable Situations
Re-arranging a date with a girl who flaked out isn’t the only time "keeping the ball in your court" is applicable. In the days of the Two Day Rule and before Caller ID, if you called a girl and she didn’t answer, you just didn’t leave a message. Now, if you call her and get her voicemail, you do want to leave a message (since she’s going to know it was you that called anyway), but your message indicate you’re keeping the ball in your court. Something like: "Hey, it’s Josh. Looks like I missed you, I’ll hit you up later."
You don’t want to say anything that indicates you’ll wait for her to call you back, because that’s putting the ball in her court. Now you can’t call again without appearing desperate, you risk that she just doesn’t check her messages much (or doesn’t pick up numbers she hasn’t saved in her phone), and you are basically captive to relying on her to get back to you. That’s going a require a lot more effort on her part than just responding to a text or call from you at a later date.
Lastly, keeping the ball in your court involves more than contact. Another common mistake men make is asking women what they want to do on a date. This is totally fine for later dates once you are more comfortable with each other, but for a first date, you should always have a good time and place to suggest for the date. Asking her to pick a date is just another example of putting the ball in her court, and it’s not likely to end well. Whatever trepidation you may have for suggesting a date she may not like, she’s going to feel it 10x more acutely.
And besides, what do you have to lose by keeping the ball in your court? Worst case, she will counter with another suggestion if she doesn’t like what you picked. But more likely than not, she’ll agree to your suggestion and you get to go on the date of your choice!
You Can Keep The Ball in Your Court, But She May Not Want to Play
This may go without saying, but this advice only applies to women that have some interest in you. To extend the analogy, any girl that wants to play tennis with you, will prefer you always serve first. But there are some girls that don’t actually want to play; despite the fact that she gave you her number, she doesn’t want to step out on the court with you.
A good rule of thumb is two missed connections. After two missed connections (e.g. calling a girl, getting her voicemail, and then calling her again and getting her voicemail again), it’s pretty clear she’s not interested. There’s not really any point in continually saying, "I’ll try calling you another time" more than once.
And if she is interested despite the two missed connections, then she should know she has to take the initiative to "put the ball back in your court" (ie. reaching out to you) to keep you on the court. Very few women will think, "crap, I missed both his calls, well I like him enough to hope he’s willing to call a third time, but not so much to actually call himself."