Please Teach Me How To Talk On The Phone Like A Human Being

phones terrifying

I really think bow-tie guy was underrated.

Pretty much every time my phone rings at work, I stare it for a second. Then I close my eyes and say “stop ringing” aloud. Sometimes I have to say it a few times. After a while it does. Some proofs of omnipotence are inevitable.

But still! I remember when I was 13 and all I want to do was kick my feet up on my parent’s wicker table and talk to my friends on the phone, as though I was in some kind of commercial for Girl Talk. I also remember telephones with cords. Then I guess we all got cell phones and started texting, because that is all I ever do now. The only people I talk to on the phone are my mother and grandmother.

As a result, I’m terrified of phones. When I tell people to call me and they actually call I literally do not know what to do. I mostly reply in a fashion that has been described by reviewers as “curt” “brusque” “monosyllabic” and the ever popular “I assumed you were mad at me?”

As an attempt to combat this, many of my phone calls now go something like this:

Caller: Hi Jen! How are you doing?

Me: Fine.

Caller: I wanted to check to make sure we were still on for Saturday?

Me: Yes.

Caller: Great. Any idea on places we should go?

Me: No.

Caller: I was thinking it might be fun to see the new show at MOMA, although at some point I really want to go to Central Park now that it’s nice out. We could get lunch at the boathouse.

Me: Yes.

Caller: What? Yes to?

Me: Yes.

Caller: Yes to both?

Me: I like you.

A while ago, I was seeing someone who suggested that we could have a long, lovely chat where I just sat and talked to him on the phone. He expressed this over the phone. And for a while a great and cavernous silence lingered between us on that phone line. And then I said “no. No, I don’t do that. Thank you for asking.” I like to think Lady Thatcher would have done the same.

But, honestly. Why would anyone phone when you can text? Texting allows you to be constantly in communication without ever being interrupted. You never have to figure out what to say right then. And if you’re someone who doesn’t believe you should say anything without it being passed down as some kind of bon mot – if you are, in fact, Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Darcy – then texting is your jam.

I mean, obviously you would have to call someone on the phone if something terrible happened, like you were in jail. Or dead.

In a way, I kind of like the fact that I can bond with the very elderly, because we both associate a ringing phone with the assumption that someone has died. Because otherwise people would e-mail or text (or write or send a telegram if you are the very elderly). I like the way people of my generation and people over, say, 100, both regard ringing phones with dread and suspicion.

Huh. Phones. Fucking terrifying. Right? Right?

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    • Sarah!

      I hate talking on the phone. I used to have to psych myself up to order pizza. Thank god the internet came along! Now pizza comes to me with practically zero social interaction!

      • Jennifer Wright

        JESUS CHRIST. Ordering anything ever is a nightmare. Do you use seamlessweb. I really have to figure out how to use seamless web.

      • Sarah!

        For pizza? I mostly use dominos. It’s my favorite because you get to see a picture of the pizza first. The pizza is so-so but the website is fantastic!

      • JJ

        Seamlessweb is the best invention since – I don’t know, I guess since texting? You can order when you’re drunk! When you’re sober! At 2pm! At 4am! And you can order as much food as you want, and you do not ever have to hear that JUDGMENTAL TONE at the other end of the line. You know the one I mean. The one that says, “Oh, really? You want ALL that? And that? For one person? At 10pm on a Friday night?”

      • Lauren

        Ordering food online is the best thing ever. Seamless is easy to use.

        Although I think it’s still just as judgmental when the delivery person gets there and they realize you ordered the entire left side of the menu just for yourself.

    • Jamie Peck

      I like talking on the phone to the people I know best, because they’re hilarious in any format. However, most of these calls are short and sweet so we can get to the “being hilarious in person” part.

      But seriously, FUCK a phone call from someone I don’t know very well. Unless they are offering me money to do something, I mean. Those kinds of calls are stressful but necessary.

    • Amanda Chatel

      Nine times out of ten, when someone calls me I stare at the phone until it stops ringing. Then I text them some bullshit about how I’m at a noisy bar and they should just text me whatever the hell they want… also nine times out of ten, I’m actually just at home on my couch.

      • Jennifer Wright

        Today someone called the office to offer me something cool and I did not pick up the phone. I guess that’s happened before? Then they e-mailed to say that they were offering something cool, but they assumed my phone did not work. I could not find a way to say “no, I sit here, watching it ring and not picking up” so I just said I was “away from my desk a lot.”

        High five.

    • Emma

      I think the line from a recent Community episode sums it up best.

      She’s calling him?!
      She was born in the 80′s! She still uses her phone like a phone!

      Although I was born in the 80′s whenever my phone rings and it’s not one of my parents I can’t help but feeling what can only be described as fear. It is irrational fear that has no discernible source, yet fear is what I feel.

    • Jinx

      When my phone rings, I ignore it and send a text: “sorry, at the library!”

      • woo

        OK, you are a GENIUS!!!

    • Katie

      I get far more calls from numbers I don’t recognize than from people I know. When my friends that live far away call to talk, that’s nice..but at the same time, they can really interrupt whatever I was doing, like napping.

      My job however, involves calling around 40 people a day, so I have finally gotten over my fear of ordering things over the phone. My Dad and I were literally get into arguments about who had to order Chinese when I was growing up because we both hated it so much.

      Also, now my parents just assume something absolutely terrible has happened if I call them when they aren’t expecting it.

    • JJ

      So, I hate talking on the phone! It is terrifying, especially if the person calling you is a boy, because that is just inevitably going to be an awkward and stilted conversation. But! My friend recently clued me into this nifty iPhone app called “Voxer” which is like texting, but with voices, so basically, it is a walkie-talkie? So you talk, and leave a voice message, and then your friend can listen and respond, and then you can listen – and you get it, I am sure – but the POINT IS, you do not have to worry about responding RIGHT AWAY and so it is magical.

    • Magda

      I only speak on the phone for “official” calls. Like setting up an appointment with my therapist or scheduling an interview. Why can’t my therapist just use text messaging? It baffles me.

      Also, my mother refuses to learn how to text, so she calls me.

      I rarely talk to my friends over the phone unless its a quick exchange of semilengthy info about plans but those calls are brief and to the point because sometimes a phone call is quicker than a text. Rarely, but sometimes.

      But most of the time if my phone rings I let it go to voicemail and console myself with the idea that if its important, they will leave a voicemail and if its SUPER important, they will shoot me a text.

    • Lauren

      Every time my boss tells me to call someone, I email them. I make the excuse that I like to have everything in writing, just in case someone tries to screw me over. Then I say that since I work in the web department, email makes the most sense.

      Really, I just dread talking on the phone. I screen all my calls, work and personal. If I answer the phone people I know usually get startled and don’t know what to do because they were prepping to leave me a message.

      • Sam

        Haha, I do the same thing at work! Same exscuse and everything. My boss just gives me the eye and walks away.

    • Meg

      Absolutely. Recently, I was dating someone almost ten years older than me, and clearly from a different generation (as far as phone usage goes). Whenever I would text him, he would call to respond. Then suddenly there would be a whole lot of pressure to be interesting when I really had nothing more to say than “I like you, but am a boring human being!”
      Phone calls are the worst. And ordering off of Domino’s IS awesome, Sarah.

      You guys should also know that this is the first time I’ve commented on an article, thanks to the article earlier today. Which I read! Feel free to text me in appreciation.

      • Sarah!

        I know. When your pizza arrives it is like old friends reuniting.

    • porkchop

      I’m amazing on the phone. The advantage I have on the phone is so huge I almost feel guilty. I can’t even tell you the level of things I’ve been able to get people to do.

      It think it’s because other people are bad at reading mood and intention without seeing the other person’s face, but I’m good at it. For example, when you try to express confusion over the phone, it’s usually read as anger or impatience. I never use that tone, not even if I’m so angry that I’m making stabbing motions with my free hand.

      When I call people, I let them know straight out that I’m going to be grateful whether they can help me or not. That has to be real, not some polite words thinly veiling contempt. When people feel valued they will try to help you.

      When people call me, the first thing I do is address their latent fears about blindly entering a territory where there ignorance could be used against them. 99 times out of 100, people warm up to you when you subtly congratulate them for being brave enough to approach your terrifying service line/bureaucracy/helpdesk.

      EVEN SO, I also hate talking on the phone. It’s unnatural.

      • len132

        You actually just nailed my problems with phones right on the head! I’m really good at interpreting facial expressions and body language, so I guess I just don’t rely on voice. So I hate not being able to see people when I talk to them.

    • Lo

      The phone’s great when you have to contact someone immediately about something important. That’s kind of why I hate it. It’s an awkward conversation I can’t escape with visual cues, in my house, when I’m right in the middle of lying around and scratching myself, and I have to answer the phone right away because it could be an emergency.

    • Gen

      I’m so happy to know I’m not the only one with an irrational fear of phones! My phone phobia is such that I won’t pick up calls for other people. Like, when someone isn’t within arms reach of their phone, but I am and they ask, “can you grab that?” I will typically refuse regardless of who’s calling or why (I don’t always SAY no, sometimes I’ll pretend to be confused and try and toss the unanswered phone at its owner). It kind of makes me an asshole, and it frustrates the hell out of my fiance, but for some reason being forced to answer someone else’s phone is twice as scary as having to answer my own.

    • Grace

      I work in a call centre but still can’t handle personal calls. It’s like as soon as it’s not about the company I work for my brain breaks down and I turn socially awkward.

      • Carla

        I am your exact twin. I can do customer support all day for work and answer all sorts of questions from the important to the inane.

        If my cell phone rings, I glare at it and ignore that fucker.

    • Hae

      the absolute worst is when I have to leave a message for (relative) strangers or to make appointments.
      I had to leave a message to my property management office about a problem in the house and it ended up being a two minute trail of blubbering and never getting to the point. blerg.

    • MeaganR

      Oh my god, you people make me feel so normal. I love it. When I see the little “missed call” icon on my phone I feel sick. If the person left a voicemail, it’s over.
      I cannot stand listening to messages. The absolute worst though, is if I go to my parents’ house and they listen to their messages, and one of the messages is from me. We actually had a huge fight about this because I can’t stand hearing my own messages, and my dad likes to save them for sentimental value so they always play after the new message.

    • Nessy

      I can only handle myself if I’m calling a live person, but I just lose it with voice mail. My messages get long and weird, sometimes I forget to leave my number, and I have been known to end them with “I love you! Bye-bye!” My friends in college would sit around and listen to me make them, which just added to the nerves. Also, my friends in college were jerks.

      • Jennifer Wright

        Once I was talking to a business associate who sounded vaguely like my mom. I forgot I was not talking to my mom and ended by saying “love you, talk to you later!”

        It wasn’t my strongest Thatcher moment.

    • Tulip Jefferson

      I have nothing to say other than, HOLY SHIT, DATE LINE!!!!!

      • EKS

        hahaha, exactly!

    • woo

      When I was of the age to be playing the above pictured board game (ie listening to the tape in a tape deck by myself) I used to fear the phone ringing. My dad was super anal about phone etiquette and if my friends called and said “Is Nadia there?” without identifying themselves first he would literally just hang up, or sometimes do some yelling.

      To this day, the phone ringing still makes my butt clench up in fear.

    • anna

      god i hate you guys. texting is so stressful and seems so cold, my texts are always 3 pages long and much perkier than my actual personality.

    • libba

      you sound like every boyfriend i’ve had. i call when stuck in traffic. call to say hi. call to ask what our plans are. call to say i’m on my way over.

      i also talk to my mom at least 3 times a day because i know she’s the only one who will pick up and actually TALK to me.