How long should you wait to call?

It is a question that has plagued single men for the last 12 years.

How long should a guy wait to call a girl after he gets her phone number?

Before the 1996 movie “Swingers,” this was a non-issue. I was in college in 1996. When you got a girl’s phone number, you called her a day or two later – end of story. “Swingers” – because it was so brilliantly written and acted and directed – introduced a whole new level of neuroticism to the dating scene. Suddenly men were dealing with an issue that had never been an issue. Here is a link to the scene that caused the insanity.

After watching this movie, otherwise normal men started asking, “How long do I wait to call? Three days? Six days? Is that money?” We became deathly afraid of scaring away nice babies who were ready to party. Meanwhile a nation of women waited on the other end of a phone that took longer and longer to ring wondering what the hell we were doing. It is no coincidence that this is the same time that Alanis Morissette’s career took off. We gave single women the slim opening they needed to get into angry chick rock. Lilith Fair started in 1997. These things are not accidents.

More than a decade later it’s clear that “Swingers” has proved to be both a blessing and a curse. On one level it is hilarious and one of the most quotable comedies ever and has brought years of joy to my friends and me, especially when we’re in Las Vegas. On another level, this movie ushered in an unfortunate era of poor dating etiquette, wallet chains and martini shirts.

(Above: There are guys who still dress like this.)

The movie’s good far outweighs the bad, but the bad is regrettable. This is not the movie’s fault. We just weren’t ready for it.

The best historical parallel I can draw is when a bulimic Kimberly on “Diff’rent Strokes” taught young girls everywhere how to eat all they want and still stay thin. America was not ready for this information. Young women never saw the dark side of bulimia, only its practicality and joy. The same went for “Swingers.” The characters were cool guys. They could pull off waiting six days to call a girl. Sophomores at Ohio University could not. We were not cool. Guys got depressed and mopey. All of the sudden Radiohead got huge. These things are all connected.

So here we are today – the year 2008 – and my friend Mike gets a phone number and asks me, “How long do you think I should wait to call her?”

My first thought was, “This must end.”

I will answer this question once and for all.

I love “Swingers.” It’s a great movie. Line-for-line it’s probably the best comedy of the 1990s. The key word is comedy. The “how long do I wait to call?” scene was not intended as a template for courtship. The intention of that scene was to satirize the jerks who populated the Los Angeles dating scene in the mid-1990s. (Sadly, things are now worse. Today’s Los Angeles woman looks back on “Swingers” as a more innocent time, a “Little House on the Prairie” era compared to the current “Flavor of Love” scene.) Unfortunately there are men who still ask themselves or their buddies, “How long do I wait to call?”

The correct answer is – it doesn’t matter, call her when you’re ready. That was the point of the entire movie, which for some reason everyone always forgets, instead choosing to embrace the lasting memory of “those guys’ shirts were pretty awesome.”

(To hear Mike, Carlos, Joe and Lauren Ashley Bishop discuss “How long should you wait to call?” on The Second Column podcast on iTunes, click here. No iTunes? Click here.)