the human condition He promises he'll ring, so you wait and wait and wait ... Annalisa Barbieri examines the sexual politics of the call that never comes
there are several things men do that women find mystifying. They pick their noses in public places thinking no-one will notice; they sit on the Tube with legs splayed wide apart (why has no-one realised the great potential for advertising on a man's inner thighs?) oblivious to those on either side of them, and they can offer up the hackneyed phrase "I'll call you" with absolutely no intention of actually doing so.

There are, of course, plenty of men who do call when they say they will; and there are also women who don't call either. But this isn't about them. It is about the men who say they will ring and don't, who end relationships by not calling, and who don't call when they say they will - but days or sometimes weeks later. In an attempt to work out why, 43 men were interviewed for this article, ranging in ages from 23-43. The overriding reason for not calling was cowardice. But they all said that if they really wanted to call a woman, they would overcome anything to do so.

Of the 43 men, 28 said they had not called when they had promised to do so. Seven because they were too cowardly (either too shy after first meeting a girl, or too scared to let her know they didn't want to see her again); seven because they had other things to do (but five called eventually); five took several days making up their minds whether they wanted to see her again and then called late; three made the offer of calling while drunk, regretted it, and never called.

Of the "coward" group, a rather pathetic and yet endearing image emerged. A typical comment was: "I made the offer while drunk and full of Dutch courage, and the next day I thought 'why would she want to talk to me?' " Two men used it "as a pay off", one of whom said: "It gets you out of the door, especially if you've just shagged her." But mercifully only four men said they didn't call as a "tactic" (which shows that men are more scared than they are crafty) and in this group comments such as "to create mystique", "to make them them think you're busy" and "women want what they can't have" came up. These sad men are best avoided anyway.

But why are men so much worse than women at phoning? Well ironically, although men are still expected to make the first move - to "chase" the woman - they are not as good as women on the phone (and the phone is instrumental in most people's romantic lives). Dr Guy Fielding, head of communication at Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh, has been researching men and women's attitudes to the phone for 10 years. He has this to say: "As an instrument [getting things done] women and men use the phone about the same. It is in the socio-emotional context that the difference comes about. Women see the phone as multi-functional, men as a tool for getting things done. Maybe men are less happy with it because they are less skilled at communication and therefore see it as a struggle."

We are also wrong to expect that the man who was confident in the pub will be the same about using the phone. "The phone," continues Dr Fielding, "can be problematic. It is not like talking face to face, it is a different situation, it's actually a different medium. It's as different from face- to-face contact as writing a letter."

The man who ends a relationship by not calling (and 14 of the men in our survey had) is struggling further. He is already not comfortable with the phone, now he has to use it to broach the subject of ending a relationship. "If someone is skilled at using the phone they can handle a difficult situation on the phone. If they don't like it anyway, a difficult situation can scare them," says Dr Fielding.

So why, then, do men bother to say they will call but don't? I turned to Dr Roy Bailey, a chartered clinical psychologist from the New Row Clinic in Buckinghamshire, who specialises in social behaviour. "There is a type of man who expects a woman to come to him, expects a woman to solve the problem. He maybe grew up with the mother [it's always her fault, isn't it?] doing everything for him." So he may be expecting you to sort it out for him.

Doesn't this contradict the predator image? And why does he make the offer in the first place? Why, why, why? "Well it's a needs-fulfillment thing. The man makes the offer of phoning in case he needs to, but he may not need to fulfil this, so in that case he will not call." So it's a sort of gathering nuts syndrome, keeping the women on the backburner in case they are needed? "Yes."

So here is the answer. He was simply harvesting for barren times. And he didn't call because he didn't want to. Although with the advances in technology, maybe one day you can e-mail each other (men seem better at sending messages than using the phone). So then you can wait for his call / page / fax / e-mail message and realise that he didn't contact you via any of these, because he still doesn't want to.


Sick and tired of waiting for him to ring? Time to get crafty ...

CALLER RETURN (1471): This was introduced in November 1994 and is now used six million times a day. Dial it to discover the telephone number of the person who last called you (certain numbers don't register). Whereas once upon a time your partner may have discovered you were having an affair by calling last number redial, now they can also find out who called you. It is particularly good if you are the sort of person who screens calls. If lover boy rings and hangs up without leaving a message and you realise it's him (thanks to 1471) wait 10 minutes and then call him and say "I was thinking of you" and he'll think you are psychically tuned in. Crafty but who cares?

How To Beat Caller Return: When your secret love calls you, they should prefix your telephone number with the three digits that could save your marriage - 141. This way their number cannot be traced using 1471.

THE ULTIMATE TRICK: If you are the wronged one, then obviously the 1471 trick can be used to great effect if you are suspicious of your partner (unless they are too clued up and have got their lover to dial 141 first). But a particularly cruel - and fantastically successful - trick is to stop them getting any calls in the first place. This is especially effective if your partner seems edgy, as if waiting for a call and you have to go out. Disconnect the phone from the wall; there will be four brass-coloured wires in the plug. Place a very thin strip of insulating tape over the wire that is third from the flat edge of the plug and plug the phone back into the wall. This disengages the ringing sound, (but you can still dial out) so even if their long-awaited call comes, they will never be able to hear it.

"I'LL GIVE YOU A CALL": For real technophiles BT's rather wonderful CD 50 (pounds 49.99 and a subscription to Caller Display which costs pounds 3.99 per quarter) allows you to see who is calling you before you pick up (unless they've dialled 141 first, or are on certain exchanges or mobiles) and stores the last 50 numbers to have called. Not only does this allow you to prepare your voice before you take the call (deep and husky or sounding sick to your boss) it also shows just how often - or not - that man you just met has called. The CD 50 was instrumental in saving one friend's love life. After rowing with her beloved (his fault) she waited for him to call and apologise, he didn't and she went to bed. It was only in the morning when she got up and checked her CD 50 box that she realised that he had called six times. For some reason her answering machine hadn't picked up and the phone didn't ring. Had she not had that box, would she have believed him? No, she was all ready to chuck him. Sadly, CD 50 can also tell you that no one has called at all.

HELLO, HELLO? If however you need to call them, but are unsure if their other half will pick up the phone, then you need to get a telephone with a monitor button, which allows you to dial (but not talk) hands-free. If the wrong person picks up the phone, you simply depress the monitor button again and to the person at the other end it sounds as if the call never connected, as there are no suspicious putting-the-phone-down type noises.

CALL WAITING: Costs pounds 3.99 a quarter and tells if someone is trying to get through, so you can chat for hours and not miss a call (also makes you seem very popular).