Playing the cat-and-mouse dating game can be exhausting. Whether you’ve just met a guy you like, you’ve been casually dating someone new or you can’t get over your ex, figuring out how to act is anything but easy. When you really like someone, you feel the constant urge to talk to him, text him and see him. Most of the time, you know to ask yourself and your girlfriends if you’re being too needy before hitting “send” on a text, but other times you just can’t resist—and your guy goes MIA. So how do you draw the line between acting flirty and outright desperate? We asked real college guys for the five-stage clinger behaviors that have them running for the hills as well as dating experts for how to resist those urges.
1. You text him constantly
If you both have been texting each other, it’s okay to initiate a conversation. It’s probably even acceptable to double-text him—occasionally—because we all know how nerve-racking it is to wait for a guy’s response. But according to Jodi R. R. Smith, president and owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, if you’re texting him every 10 minutes or fewer and he isn’t responding, you’ve fallen deep into the clingy zone.
If he doesn’t answer at all, needless to say it’s probably time for you to move on. Similarly, if his answers are typically one-worded, with little to no punctuation, chances are he is not playing mind games. He’s simply not interested, and he’s maintaining the minimum level of politeness.
Chris*, a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles, once had what he thought was a casual hook-up with a girl, Anna*, who then got attached. She texts him “an unnecessarily large amount of times about pointless, mostly petty things,” such as mutual acquaintances or her homework. Chris usually answers along the lines of “yeah,” “cool” or “lol haha nice.” He says this is his way of telling her he isn’t interested without being blatantly rude. If you receive this kind of message, take the hint and put an end to the conversation (or lack thereof). You deserve better, anyway.
Try to space out your texts and make sure you have a valid excuse to message him, or he might get put off and stop answering. And on that note...
2. You get nervous when he doesn’t respond
Worse, “if you get sweaty and nervous when [he doesn’t] answer,” you might want to revaluate how attached you are to this guy, Smith warns.
Christine Hart, a dating coach based in Toronto, explains that “generally, being clingy and being insecure go hand in hand.” Instead of focusing on this uncertain relationship, focus on yourself and your hobbies. Hart’s best advice is to “develop your own schedule and your own interests. Not in a way that excludes men in your life completely and makes them feel like an ‘add-on,’ but more in a way that you are committed to your own growth.”
Join clubs and organizations, develop your passions, work out, volunteer and just generally take advantage of all the opportunities a college campus has to offer. Find what you love, because if you’re happy with who you are, it will “bring more balance to your relationships,” Hart adds. So don’t fret if a guy isn’t answering, because either he’s busy, or he clearly doesn’t know what he’s missing.
3. You follow him around
Following a guy around is pretty much the definition of clingy behavior. Ryan*, a sophomore at UCLA, once met a girl at a resort where it was always possible to find each other. This girl took advantage of the situation. “I would be hanging out with my friends and she would appear,” he says. “It got really annoying.”
In Ryan’s case, this girl’s behavior was harmless, but beware of crossing into stalker territory. Smith has seen many extreme examples in her years of consulting, such as girls waiting outside guys’ lectures, registering for classes based on the classes a guy was taking or simply finding every excuse to hug or touch him. “Don’t eliminate the thrill of the chase,” Smith advises.
There are plenty of ways to show a guy you’re interested without suffocating him in the process. In a party setting, for instance, you could look at him, make flirty eye contact and then look away. See if he’ll come towards you! “Move, but not necessarily towards them—perhaps towards your girlfriends,” Smith says.
You don’t have to use a pushy approach with a shy guy either. Bernardo Mendez, a relationship coach for women, explains that the girl usually makes the first move anyway, using subtle body language. If you look kind and open, interested but not desperate, even a shy guy will naturally feel drawn to you. Make sure he has space to approach you: for example, you could stand by your girlfriend’s side rather than be surrounded by half a dozen of your besties.
4. You overanalyze his social media activity
Facebook stalking someone you like is normal, unless you’re doing it far too often. “When I see that a guy has read a message I've sent and they don’t respond right away or I don’t see the ‘typing’ sign, I immediately analyze every detail of what I said,” says Charlotte*, a junior at UCLA.
Sound familiar? Let’s face it, we’ve all found ourselves over-analyzing a guy’s social media activity. But try to minimize how often you do it, because it could mean you’re too desperate.
“Sometimes I'll check their page to see if they’ve had any activity after they read my message and to see if they’re responding to other people,” Charlotte adds. This becomes a problem if you get so stuck worrying about their life that you can’t get on with your own.
Beware of excessive liking or commenting as well. Jenna*, a junior at UCLA, is well aware of this: “I tend to not like guys’ posts more than once because I’m scared it will come off as clingy and annoying, unless they like all of mine.”
If cyber-stalking its compromising your independence and making you anxious, you’ve gone too far.
5. You don’t trust him
If you need to know what your guy is doing every second or you insist that he joins you everywhere you go, these are red flags. Evan*, a freshman at UCLA, once went out with a girl who “would freak out if I was with friends and went five minutes without texting her with a reason as to why I didn't text her.”
Although this is an extreme example, her behavior was most likely due to a far more common insecurity. Mendez explains that “the basis around clinginess is the fear of not being loved and not being enough.” You might feel that being clingy will forge a stronger connection between you and your guy, but it could actually have the opposite effect. Mendez advises you “be patient and wait for him to meet you halfway.” Building attachment takes time—don’t try to force it!
Jealousy is another sign that you don’t trust your guy enough. It also puts you at risk of acting clingy, like Evan’s girlfriend, who “was convinced that all of her friends had crushes on me, so I wasn't allowed to talk to or hang out with them.” She was so insecure that she tried to control him, and this should never happen in a healthy relationship.
6. You’re too accommodating
For Smith, one of the most foolproof signs of neediness is being “constantly at their beck and call.” This is especially destructive because some guys might even use your insecurity to manipulate you. “Be a woman of mystery,” she advises. Don’t always feel like you have to call him back immediately. If he asks to hang out on a night when you have plans with your girlfriends, don’t ditch them for the guy!
Likewise, if you’re “always worried about making plans with friends and family because the guy in your life might ask you to hang out,” this is not only a telling sign that you’re too needy, but it’s “insulting to friends and family” as well, Hart says.
Agreeing with everything he says, giving him little gifts and cards for no reason or simply being too nice to him when he doesn’t treat you as nicely are just some of the signs that you’re trying too hard, according to our experts. “It makes a guy undervalue you, and it leads to a vicious cycle,” Mendez warns. “Clinginess is a question of value. If you value yourself, he will do whatever it takes to get you. If you’re initiating everything, he won’t want to.”
Always remember your worth, and don’t stay with a guy who doesn’t appreciate you for it.
7. You’re moving too fast
If you’ve only just started seeing a guy, there are a few steps in your budding relationship that you absolutely should not skip. “Being clingy is about putting more pressure on the relationship than is appropriate,” says Mendez. If you’re referring to him as your boyfriend and introducing him to your family after a few weeks, or, worse yet, a few days of dating, you are moving too fast.
Talking about your future too early is equally as destructive. Even talking about the near future can be a no-no. Nick*, a sophomore at UCLA, asked a girl out a while back. During their first date, she started asking him where they would go on the next date. “She came on way too strong; it was really weird,” Nick says. “She texted me in the morning the next day and I was freaked out—stage-five clinger! It was a red flag, so I just ignored her text, which I kind of feel bad about, and we haven’t talked since.”
Although Nick’s attitude wasn’t exactly considerate, it’s actually pretty typical. Smith explains that a guy’s first reaction to clingy behavior is to disengage and avoid it. Only if you continue will a guy resort to being brutally honest. Pace yourself! Make sure you and your new guy are on the same page before trying to define the relationship as something it’s not.
If you’re guilty of any of these dating faux pas, “guys will just be so annoyed by it that you will end up being the clingy girl who gets clingier and clingier until you two break up (no fun and totally embarrassing),” Hart cautions. Clingy behavior is not exactly attractive, yet we all give into it from time to time. Hopefully these dating experts provided you with valuable insight and skills to avoid coming off as needy. Guys should be fighting to get you, not the other way round!
*Names have been changed.