Are you a phone-a-phobe? If not, maybe you know one or love one. I am a phone-a-phobe. I despise speaking on the phone and rarely do something as absurd as answer it. I’ve put years into trying to understand my phone-a-phobia, and what follows is a mix of the why, along with how to cope. Also, if you care about a phone-a-phobe (a friend or love who never, ever seems to answer your calls), you, too, will learn something.
Genesis: My phone-a-phobia began in my youth. You see, there was this man, let’s call him The Bishop (I imagined as a child that he wore a pointed hat of some kind….and he sat at a big desk Somewhere Important and Far Away), and he would take all the preachers and their families and put them on a chess board and move them around the northern part of the state. Then he would call my parents, the most powerful people I knew as a child (hell, they still are) and tell them whether we would move or stay in town in which we lived. This was The Phone Call we all dreaded and endured for many years. (It’s quite possible that this was also the beginning of my anti-authority outlook in life, but I digress). I believe it is here that the aversion to a ringing phone began.
Surely there were good phone calls but I cannot seem to recall them – I do recall, though, the one I yearned for the most: the one from my middle school love. What was the name of your heartbreaker crush? Mine was Tony B. Poor Tony B was even more of an introvert than I was, yet how I longed for his call! Alas, I was too young to know that neither of us would have a word to say to one another and that breathing over the phone would be, well, anticlimactic. I think these silent and painful phone calls were the cause of my first-ever panic attack. The sweaty receiver in my hand, the nausea bubbling, my head dizzy and wobbling. We managed to listen to The Scorpions “Tainted Love” on one call – probably the most conversant moment we had on the line. Bless you Tony B., wherever you are.
From the trauma of the middle school crush call, I came away with a very inaccurate belief: that I must be the one to carry the conversation – what pressure! Turn to the nearest introvert and tell her you’d like her to do an impromptu speech. Watch her turn very pale, then run away. This tainted belief hung with me for years, and I struggled through many conversations, always with a list of possible topics at my side to keep things going. But it almost killed me, so much so that when I actually answered calls it was with a grimace, rolling eyes, and a deep breaths. Who was calling now? And why? What would I say? In short, I have come to this conclusion: if there’s not a specific reason for a call, such as your house is on fire, your dog just ripped open my trash in my front yard, or your child is waiting for you in subzero weather at the school, the phone should not be used. I have also learned this about the phone: extroverts can smell out introverts. They lurk. They long for your ear like a vampire for a throat. Beware; you may fall into one of the following categories:
Target of the aggressive caller. The aggressive caller wants to hear your voice, at least this is what s/he says. But what the aggressive caller really wants is your ear and your mumbled affirmations or condolences. Your uh huh; umm; no way?; Really?; OMG!; I’m so sorry; I’m so happy for you; He actually said that?; It cost how much?; He had what enlarged?. The aggressive caller is like your son, who cannot yet summarize the two hour movie he has just seen and instead tells you, in intricate detail, every possible moment he recalls from the 120 minutes he has just experienced. The aggressive caller likely either loves you, likes you, or wishes to go to bed with you.
The emotional sponge. Once on a trip to New Orleans this woman with lovely red hair blowing in the wind on Jackson Square read my fortune. Not for free, of course, but she told me something, actually more than one thing, that was very accurate. She said Scorpios, my sign mind you, are like emotional sponges. We absorb every emotion in a room. And, I would like to add, also in a voice. Unless I put up my steel wall when I talk to you, all your emotions will leak out and onto me. The desires, the regrets, the joys, the sadness. These emotions are carried in your voice (til Tuesday, voices carry….) and I soak them up. If I’m not armed, if I’m tired, if I’m my usual empathic self, it’s just too much. It’s overstimulation.
So, phone-a-phobes and those who love them, here are coping strategies:
For the phone-a-phobe: Do phones still ring? I don’t know. That’s because two decades ago I married an introvert and the first thing we did was to turn off the ringer. So turn off your ringer! My children have never heard a phone ring. However, the following side-affect will occur at the office, in the homes of others, and those who stand in line in the grocery with their cells on: ringing phones will be like electric shocks. Put your finger in the nearest electrical outlet and you will experience what a phone-a-phobe feels upon hearing a phone ring. It’s imperative to silence all phones. Vibrating phones are one of the greatest gifts of technology to the introverted phone-a-phobe who must answer a call.
For the person who loves a phone-a-phobe: The first and greatest gift for a phone-a-phobe is texting. Yes! These are what phones are supposed to do! Alexander Bell and his contemporaries were just very confused. Phones are meant for texting. Scenario: I’m in new town meeting my introverted phone-a-phobe friend. Not surprisingly, I’m lost. Do I call my introverted friend? Hell no. I text. So to all those of you who love someone or like someone who is a phone-a-phobe: send a text. (It’s limited to 160 characters, but that’s okay. Brevity rocks).