If you’re a woman who likes men, and you’ve ever tried communicating with one, there’s a good chance you’re fucking it up. For one thing, you’re talking. That means you’re saying dumb shit you don’t really mean. Worse, the men you’re saying these things to aren’t smart enough to understand that you don’t really mean them, so they might actually heed your wishes. This will have the unfortunate effect of leaving you dead.

In a piece at Huffington Post called “The One Thing You Should Never Text or Say to a Man,” we are informed of a singular, “fatal mistake”—a point of no return, divulgence-wise. It’s not “I hope you die alone,” or “You have never made me orgasm, not even once.”

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It’s this:

I just wanted to let you know, you don’t have to respond.

Why, pray tell, is this such a bad thing to text or say to a man? Because as everyone knows, if you give a man an option-to-not-communicate inch, he will take a not-gonna-say-a-goddamn-thing mile. Even if he likes you. Because men. Because you. Because be careful what you wish for—you just might get it.

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Here’s an example:

My client Kathy was telling me how her brother and one of her friends started dating (let’s call them Ryan and Maya).

Ryan and Maya had been on six dates and were getting along really well. When Kathy would ask her brother about how things were going, he wouldn’t really talk about it but a huge smile would take over his face.

One day Maya felt bold, so she texted Ryan telling him how she felt about him.

She revealed that she enjoyed his company and was starting to like him, which is bold and courageous.

And then she made one fatal mistake.

She ended the text message with, “You don’t have to respond to this message.”

Guess what happened?

Wait, wait, gimme a second—she died.

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Just kidding, what happened was:

He didn’t respond to the message.

So then she died? From wondering? Ha. No. Everyone lived for the foreseeable future. But then Kathy asked her brother Ryan on Mara’s behalf why Ryan never responded to Mara’s bold, courageous admission that she simply enjoyed his company.

He said, “She said not to respond to the message.”

*Forehead slap.*

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If we’re going to be fatalistic about this, here’s the point when Kathy and Mara both should’ve murdered Ryan together in the interest of the greater good. He, after all, was not holding up his end of a basic human agreement: if someone says they like you, and you like them, too, you say it back.

And really, who doesn’t say it back? Who takes “you don’t have to respond” as a serious, actual, literal instruction, and not what it is, a bullshit dodgy phrase a million people use to signify feelings, coming your way—cringe/run/flee/hide/cower.

If someone says they like you, and you like them too, you want to respond, right? Even if they toss in a couple of “hedge phrases” to soften the blow of asking directly. That’s what all sorts of people do to stumble through a big confession of feelings.

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The piece’s author, Kavita Patel, goes on to say that women sometimes use these phrases to hide a vulnerable admission of feelings. We are saying that’s something hard to admit, and we want to guard against seeming to care too much. We say “you don’t have to respond” to keep from getting hurt. And that is probably true to some extent! Women have been vilified as needy nagging beasts for so long that I think many go out of their way to avoid looking too demanding about anything, especially feelings. Everything is presented with a cushion—”if you want” or “if it’s not too much trouble” and other assorted phrases that soften a request—because women are penalized for directness and learn how to communicate in ways that work around this perception.

In general, everyone can stand to improve their communication. But women are always getting it both ways in the romance-advice world. The first problem is that you’re a woman, the second is that you’re showing it. I don’t have a problem with telling men or women how to be better at talking, better at accountability, better at feelings. But such missives assume women are constantly self-sabotaging, and that’s what should change, rather than the default assumption that men will always be lazy as fuck when it comes to communicating feelings—especially if you give them the slightest opportunity. Don’t fuck yourself out of the prize by letting him off easy, we tell women. Demand an answer! Ask a question! And at the same time, directness in women remains demonized.

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The truth is that romance entails a kind of artful back and forth at first, and it’s not just women who are hedgy about feelings. Feelings are weird, dumb, and hard to own. We’re all capable of spazzing. Most people express feelings for the first time bookended by spaz. Typically it goes spaz spaz spaz spaz Actual Feeling Stated in Sentence Form spaz spaz spaz spaz. You just have to isolate and patiently sideline those spazzy parts to hear the message, and then likely respond with some spazzing of your own.

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If you haven’t built in plenty of room for spazzing, awkwardness, getting the words wrong, missing the cues, then you’re not even participating in courtship. You already have one foot out the door if you’re treating such tiny little exchanges as make or break. (I can say this with authority as a first-class fast ditcher.)

Patel goes on to warn that if you use this language, and the dude doesn’t respond, you’ll end up writing him off immediately when maybe you shouldn’t have:

The brain will shut off that possibility and just have you ASSUME if the guy really cared then he would have said, “I like you too” or “I’d like to see you more.”

That could be true. Or NOT.

You won’t know unless you really get his side of the story — when you get his direct answer.

But again: What crazy-face doesn’t want you to know they like you back, even when confronted with a hedge like that? Patel’s advice is to leave no room for uncertainty by ending all such admissions with a direct question. She suggests, “I’m really enjoying your company and spending time with you. I’m curious, how are you feeling about where we’re at?”

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You could certainly do that. You could also rest assured that any person who receives a nice message from someone accompanied by “you don’t have to respond to this,” and in response, simply soaks up the glory of your compliment and feels no need to acknowledge it or say anything back is, well, kind of a fucking mutant—if you’ll pardon my directness.

If you’re already having to draw out whether someone likes you—and their excuse for not reciprocating is “You said you I didn’t have to respond!”—please note that you probably shouldn’t be super shocked when it turns out to be a relationship full of frustrating omissions on the emotion front going forward. This is the person who won’t take out the trash because you accidentally said “If you’re not too busy.” This is, alternatively, someone who’s taking the chance to ghost you, which, if they’re doing it now, they were probably going to do it later anyway.

But, hey, I’m only saying all this because of how much I like you, and how much I enjoy hanging out with you, OK? :) BTW you totally don’t have to respond to this.

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Image via New Line