I Solved the Subtle Agony of Talking on the Phone

I think?

10.05.17

It’s not the physical act of talking on the phone that I dislike (although I do have a habit of pressing the phone into my ear like I’m Liam Neeson in Taken), it’s the unspoken drivers that inspire it to take place at all. Unless it’s made urgently, a phone call is usually placed for the purpose of having a leisurely chat — an exchange of information too lengthy, complicated and intimate to happen over text. And unless I’m simultaneously bored, walking and without headphones, which rarely happens, I’m a big baby about it.

I’ve considered whether this makes me an unattached, heartless internet kid incapable of giving someone her undivided attention for more than four seconds, but I feel like it’s more than that. I love catching up in real life so much. I love grabbing someone’s hand when a moment gets serious or seeing her face laugh when I make a joke. I want to walk and eat and explore between stories and make dumb faces at each other. I imagine this isn’t an uncommon preference. Even my best friends who live all the way in California have agreed to save our big catch-ups for IRL visits. I miss them a lot as a result, but somehow it’s worth avoiding the stress of missed calls or pressure to return them.

Over the last six months, though, I’ve discovered a satisfying in-between: FaceTime. It’s more than just a “visual call”; it’s an entirely different animal, and it just might be the unsung hero of the I-miss-you-but-can’t-fully-catch-up conundrum. My calculus proof is below, in the form of five reasons people like me dread phone calls and why, I think, FaceTime solves them.

1. Calls either feel like a chore or an emergency

If my mom calls me between the hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., I assume someone’s dead and answer in a full panic. (I told her to send me an “everything’s fine” text to me before calling and she told me to look inward.) If anyone else calls, I usually don’t answer right away because I’m never ready for a long conversation on the fly. My decision to screen, however, is tantamount to adding an hour-long chore to my to-do list, which quickly devolves into a nagging sense of guilt. FaceTime feels different. No one FaceTimes out of emergency or obligation, it’s usually just a fun whim, and if you miss it, you miss it (and vice versa). “Returning a FaceTime” just isn’t a social norm in our culture.

2. Calls take too long

Since there’s usually so much I want to hear about and so much I want to say to the person on the other end of a phone call, I build it up in my mind as this end-all-be-all conversation where all ground needs to be covered. Sometimes I do enjoy taking that on once it’s already started, but it’s rare I have the time and mental resources to go there voluntarily. Over FaceTime, I don’t feel that pressure. No one really wants to hold the phone up like that for very long. It’s physically tiring, for one, and emotionally tiring to see your own face in the corner of the screen for more than 15 minutes.

3. Calls are an insufficient form of catching up

I think my phone calls stretch on for so long because it takes longer to explain things without using my hands and face, and without the easy back and forth that happens in real life. I’m often left wanting at the end of a call, even if it’s lasted an hour. On FaceTime, looking at someone’s face for five minutes feels more intimate than 30 minutes of blind talking. You really feel like you’ve seen the person, without necessarily doing a full catch-up.

4. Calls are boring

When I’m on the phone, I walk in dizzying circles and balance on random items like a circus elephant because simply holding a phone to my ear and staring into space is apparently against my body’s code of conduct. I’m under-stimulated. On FaceTime though, you can actually show each other stuff, make faces, walk around together in two places at once. It’s a much more dynamic conversation and you cover so much more emotional ground as a result. It really feels like hanging out.

5. Calls are so much pressure

Irrational as it may be, phone calls equate to social pressure for me. I’ve never mastered the five-minute hello that others seem to do with ease. In my mind, it’s a whole thing. FaceTimes defies that. They usually only take place when both parties are home and relaxed, and seem designed for a short hello, a brief chat, a quick laugh. They’re everything I wish phone calls could be, but so much more, too.

Are you a phone call lover or hater? Am I overhyping FaceTime? Check yes or no in the comments.

Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

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  • Alice

    I hate calls because they’re chores. Having to speak to my landlord or someone to schedule an appointment is the wooooorst. Always afraid of saying the wrong thing or of the dull schedule dance. “I have a slot at 8” “oh I can’t at 8 but I’m free all Tuesday afternoon” “that’s no good for us, what about Wednesday morning”.
    Only person I enjoy talking on the phone to is my mother and it’s because I just put her on speaker and start being productive.

  • Jennifer

    I hate talking on the phone. i think the last time I liked talking on the phone, I was in 7th grade. I do have some girlfriends that love to talk on the phone, and because they know I hate it, they hardly ever call me! Lol. Texting, email, sending each other memes is how I like to stay in touch. Its just quicker but still sends the message you want to send. Once in a while, I’ll hop on the phone with a gf and we’ll catch up. After I hang up I think to myself that I miss them, it was nice to catch up, but thankfully won’t have to do it again for another 90 days! Hah! The most ideal situation is to return someones call while I’m driving. Feels productive and like I have a friend in the car with me, BUT I also do like listening to podcasts or zoning out to Pandora. Haha, I’m surprised I have friends sometimes!

  • Julie May

    I am a writer and I hate talking on the phone. Chat over email? FB? Text? Any written word will likely get a welcome response. A voicemail? I probably won’t listen to it for weeks.

    • I am just like this! As a journalist, it makes my life hell. During my first job, I worried the other reporters would think I asked a stupid question or wasn’t handling a source correctly. It didn’t help that I inherited my mom’s loud, “operator” phone voice. I had a super flexible boss at first who let me do most of my long phone interviews at home, but he was just enabling me.

      Now I find if I focus on the actual conversation and asking questions, I forget others are even listening (because they usually tune us out anyway!).

    • lillian c.

      the only people who leave me voicemails are my parents and I get SO ANGRY now I just delete them

    • Oh, yes! That’s me, too.

  • Talking on the phone is not my favorite, but since my best friend and I live on opposite coasts we have a weekly call scheduled so we can bitch and gab to our heart’s content. I also make sure to call my grandma once a week. But everyone else I’d much rather text.

  • mademoisielle

    I don’t particularly like talking on the phone, but ESPECIALLY in public spaces. It horrifies me! I get so embarrassed having a phone conversation on a bus knowing that everyone can hear me. so strange, as I don’t have any issue just talking to someone in person on the bus! I also avoid calling people at work at all cost.. i don’t know why, it just makes me feel awkward. probably doesn’t help that i can never understand people’s names and even when they spell it to me twice… nightmare.

    • Helen

      I never answer the phone on trains and buses! Sometimes if I don’t want to answer a call I’ll text them saying I’m in the quiet carriage on the train so cannot answer. This is a lie 9 times out of 10.

      • rachel

        I have frequently texted people and told them I was at work when I wasn’t 🙈

  • Patrizia Chiarenza

    I only talk on the phone with my direct family and close friends when and only if there is an emergency, some serious drama that has me in tears or a particularly good story that would not translate through text.
    We do Facetime, but only if there’s a reason, like they want to see my new living room chair or I need to see their new haircut.

    I have recently started to enjoy when a potential romantic partner calls me though. I find it very attractive and very retro, in a sexy way. It shows balls, a desire to get to know me better and it gives me a glimpse into whether we “vibe” well in conversation. And although I still get nervous when i see my phone actually getting a phone call from someone i normally dont speak to, once i am actually on the phone, it’s not so bad. If he FaceTimed me, I’d die. Voice only. Maybe we can Facetime if things get more serious.

  • AG

    Haley – you are my mom in #1! If I’m calling her at an off time she picks up all panicky and (at her instruction) I quickly have to blurt out “everything’s fine.” Or god forbid I call and she misses it, I have to send a follow up text saying “just wanted to talk.” Similarly, back in high school I used to have to send an “I’m here” text whenever I got to where I was driving. Once when I forgot to let her know I safely arrived to my ballet class, she popped in her car and drove there because, as any sane human, she was convinced I had gotten in a car accident and that’s why I was incapable of texting her I got there – which led her to finding me in the backseat of a boy’s car making out…because I had been focused on sucking face and not appeasing my mother’s fears.

    • prairie dogs

      This story is so cute and your ballet class sounds like it was fun 🙂

  • Jane

    I still find that my most effective catch-up sessions with friends happen over the phone.

    One of my best friends just moved to the same city as me, after living apart for 4 years prior. We hang out periodically, but I still find that we fall into the mode of long distance friendship, where our only choice was to talk over the phone. And it’s great! We get a lot in in an hour and it kind of feels like a therapy session – everything is laid out in a set period of time and it feels like a release afterward, like it’s nice just to be caught up. Same goes for friends that have lived near for years, but with whom I don’t get together with as often as I’d like (what with busy schedules, school, work, etc.). Then it’s nice to just be able to hang out when we finally do get to see one another and feel all caught up.

    Team long-ass phone call forever.

  • Allison Russo

    Yes yes yes

  • Bee

    It, of course, depends on who I’m talking to but for the most part I love talking on the phone. Am I an alien?

  • Hayley

    I agree wholeheartedly with each item. Can’t wait to send this to everyone who wants to talk on the phone with me.

  • I LOVE talking the phone, especially when biking or walking somewhere. In many ways I use it as a measure of the connection I have with people. Like, if you can’t have a phone conversation with a potential romantic partner for more than 5 minutes, its a dead end (At least for me.) And it depends, some people are a drag to talk to on the phone, so it gets really boring and draining quickly – then I start to do the circus activities as well my mind starts to wonder..

    I got into a good routine with close friends when living abroad, that we would try to call when we had a minute, but there would be no pressure to pick up or call back in case you missed it. And with some, it feels like we just hang out over the phone while walking around the apt cleaning or cooking. Like there will be silence pauses and lots of random swizzle, but its comforting.

    I have also called up guys to ask them on a date, because then you get an instant response, instead of waiting in pain for a text – and then they may say yes out of pressure and cancel via text, but at least you didn’t walk around waiting!

  • Emily

    I actually love talking on the phone, especially with friends or family. I text all the time, but I feel like for really catching up or connecting, phone calls are so much better – texting just can’t communicate closeness or tone in the same way. I also feel so warm and fuzzy hearing my friends’ voices, especially when I haven’t seen them for a while, and feel really special when I get a call, like someone really cares and wants to chat with me.

    • gracesface

      Seconded!

  • Amy

    So, first of all, I live in Los Angeles, which means I have a lot more time trapped in a car than you do….which is terrible for texting, but awesome for catching up. I also have a dog, who likes to walk around the neighborhood….also a great time for calls…But even those two things aside, I am constantly annoyed by text chains that go on FOREVER when a 3 minute phone call will solve everything. I know that’s not the kind of call you’re talking about, but there is some overlap there. I have friends who will not answer the phone, but will text me two minutes later–if I call, it’s because I can’t text or the issue requires more than an ‘ok’ ‘got it’ or ‘yes, we said 7p’… I also don’t listen to voicemails. If you call and I need to listen to something, text me and say ‘listen to the vm’ or ‘just want to catch up!’…that way, we’re all good. Otherwise, I know it’s you. I’ll call you asap…

  • I abhor phone calls. I even get a weird anxiety about listening to voicemails! I just don’t answer my phone (unless it’s my immediate fam) – I did answer once when a guy I liked called and, it turned out, he just phoned me up to dump me. Lesson learned.

    • raissaemail

      Maybe not as bad as you, but I have similar anxiety..my husband gave me two vouchers for pottery classes with an artist I really like; I was so excited and happy, and then he told me I have to call her in the end of september to see when she has room for me. Now I feel betrayed. I’m so anxious about it that I think I’ll ask him to call for me.
      I also hate voicemails, they make me feel unsafe in my personal space.

      • Kiks

        I really miss my blackberry that would transcribe each voicemail into a text message. So much less stress in my life.

  • Meemaw

    I HATE talking on the phone. Business calls are awkward and long personal conversations make me feel trapped. My hate extends to those who conduct long personal phone convos out in public. You’re not in a glass bubble, I can hear every word of your drivel.

    • rachel

      I actually don’t mind work calls, but I hate personal ones. With a work call, theres a reason, and theres a sort of loose script (“Hi Janet, this Rachel calling about so and so…”) that goes with it so I don’t have to worry about what to say. With a personal call it just meanders around awkwardly for a while until one of you dies (I know that isn’t how calls work, but man that is what it feels like).

  • Beasliee

    My boyfriend will make calls in the car while we are travelling and the constant ,mishearing, repetition and misinterpretation of jokes makes me want to die.

  • My mom is the worst about calling me. I’m an only child, and moved faaar away from home for the first time about 5 years ago. And yet, she cannot, for the life of herself, call me sporadically. She has to know my exact schedule so she doesn’t bother me. It’s insane. I always tell her that’s what voicemail is for – if I’m busy, I won’t pick up, so leave me a message and I’ll call you back when I have time. She literally can’t do it. We end up texting every day and talking on the phone maybe once a month, at a previously scheduled time.

  • Elif

    I LOVE FACETIME!!!!!! It’s my main form of commutation tbh. Texting is overrated.

  • molly_maureen

    SO MUCH YES TO THIS! I feel pressure to make a phone call “worth while.” I plan out talking points and build a library of experiences to discuss with long-distance friends only to talk through those experiences in seconds. It was so much more fun in the moment but explaining my life over the past few months to a friend over the phone doesn’t convey the magic. Short, frequent phone calls would be more efficient, but, alas, I can’t quit my lengthy, once-every-few-months phone call sessions. Pls advise

  • Iva Quint

    I text all the time but I try to plan ahead and block out an hour or two with friends to catch up. There are usually a few months between each phone call but I appreciate the intimacy that comes from speaking and the fun turns that a phone call can take – it’s so much more spontaneous than a text!

  • shannon

    oh no, the “call me when you can” text from my mom is the worst & i instantly assume someone was in an accident or something. why do mom’s do this?!

    but i really don’t mind talking on the phone, depending who it is. having either a catch up or storytime with friends via text is exhausting bc i either can’t commit time wise to be fully engaged or facetime is the best option for exactly the reasons you said!

  • Sara

    YES! I have been team FaceTime for some time now and actively force everyone to switch to FaceTime. Except for Comcast reps.

  • Jay

    I have never tried… actually never opened that app even. But just decided that it might boost my relationships. Cause I am all on the „make faces“ „show things“ „express yourself“…

    But I’m a bit scared that my mom is gonna be like „This old thing?! That’s so yesterday…“

    Cause honestly?! Can someone explain to me the difference to skype (very oldschool maybe?!) or snapchat (wtf is that?) or …

  • Hansika Vijayaraghavan

    I got into my facetime habit in my first year of college when I had shitty cell phone reception but good wifi in my dorm. Still only facetime my parents!

  • rachel

    I have seriously told every friend/boyfriend I’ve ever had not to call me unless it is a straight up emergency.

  • i hate talking on the phone so much that i don’t have a phone… i hate facetiming so much that i turned off it’s notifications and will only call my parents. i generally hate interacting with other people who are outside my daily social circle though, if we can’t do something in person i have no idea what we’re supposed to do. i would basically only willingly call someone if we’re trying to have a text conversation that is bordering on ridiculous and it makes more sense to just talk.

  • Eszter Sólyom

    I hate phone calls to the point that if my friends ever refused to order pizza on the phone for me I would just give up and not get pizza.. Now I work at a place where I have to answer the phone and it’s the literal worst, I get anxiety if I only hear a similar ringtone out and about (or in a youtube video even!). Idk why cause I remember in primary school I would spend hours and hours chatting with my friends on the landline!

  • Lanatria Brackett Ellis

    Sooooooo, it’s not just me.Thank God! I only talk to 3 people on the phone, my sister, my bestie,and my hubs no one else can get that much of my time over the phone.Its too exhausting.I just watch my phone ring and ignore the bih.

  • Bailey

    Really enjoyed this article and totally respect that you are diving into this subject…but I have to admit, the extreme loathing of phone calls in the comments truly bugs me and I wonder if I’m alone?? I completely agree that nothing can replace the real life hang, and I am a big proponent of face time too! But to be blunt, this argument does not cancel out the fact that yes, many of you phone haters are 100% a product the internet age and acting like children (especially the comments about being afraid to order a pizza????). One of the greatest downsides of tech is how isolated it makes us. This is how people start to lose the ability to relate to those outside of their bubble or close social circle. Convenience is valued above all else, and I find it downright clueless and petulant how our generation has become convinced that sending memes or a text can replace the intimacy, as Haley mentioned, of hearing another person’s voice, their tone, their laugh, the comfortable or uncomfortable silences, and the spontaneous moments that could never ever happen via text. I don’t want my interactions with the people in my life to be so premeditated that they lose all soul (even my relationship with my pizza shop guy). I complain, often jokingly, about how my fellow millennials are so afraid of human interaction, and that this will be the downfall of our society (picture the first scene in Wall-E). And then I read these comments and I realize that’s not a joke or an exaggeration at all! Buck up ladies and connect to your fellow humans before this shit turns into 1984 and the only mode of communication we understand is the almighty “like”. Sorry, rant over.

    • LM

      i was born (and became a teenager) before the internet, like many other people who dislike talking on the phone; my late grandmother also hated it, so i don’t think it’s a product of our time. some people are not petulant or clueless, but instead have real feelings of social anxiety, fear and inadequacy. also worth mentioning that not everyone is a “people person” craving personal interactions and really wanting to connect to as many fellow humans as possible – and that is ok, too.