Going Old School: How to Be a Better Phone Date

People love to complain about how we’ve become too attached to our phones. The funny thing is that many of us don’t really like to actually talk on them. Even if we used to love to chat into the wee hours as teenagers, the convenience of texting, Messenger, Snapchat, and WhatsApp has converted many people into phone haters. That sing-song ring feels intrusive when you’re in the middle of something. And if you’re not feeling like your cheeriest self, the idea of having to sound instantly upbeat can be torture.

But using the phone well is really important in dating. Let’s be real: It’s a test, and you’ll need to pass it before getting to the first date.

A quick conversation is useful because it answers two crucial questions:

Does this person sound like you thought he or she would?

Matches might have an unexpected voice pitch or accent. What’s important is confirming whether they have basic social skills to carry on a conversation. A phone exchange is a preview of a longer conversation you’ll have on a date. Few people are their best on the phone, and it’s rare you’ll have amazing chemistry. But if it’s painfully awkward on the phone, your connection might not be significantly better in person.

Does this person have enough interest in you to go through the pain of setting up a phone call?

The phone has become unpopular these days because it’s hard to find a time when two people are available to talk. Not only do you have to carve out uninterrupted time, you might have to suffer through a bit of phone tag. If your match won’t make the effort to return your phone call within a day or two, it’s better to know now before making the effort to set up a first date.

Here are some tips on how to sail through the phone test:

1) Set a time

Agreeing on an actual time to talk forces both people to take the phone call more seriously. Not only does it prevent receiving a call in the middle of the workday when you’re on deadline or when you’re trying to get the kids to bed, making an appointment clarifies the next steps rather than writing an annoyingly vague “Maybe we can chat over the weekend. Like if you have nothing better to do.”

2) Keep it short and simple

Under 10 minutes is too short and over 20 minutes is too long. Save the real conversation for the actual date.

What’s more important: Letting recipients know you’re not going to grill them for 40 minutes. You’re more likely to get the phone date by writing,“I’d love to say a quick hello by phone. Do you have 10 minutes or so to chat on Tuesday evening?”

3) Find a quiet place to talk

Ideally, you’re at home and relaxing. Don’t take your date along on your errands, saying, “Well, I’m walking into the cleaners now.” And don’t make them overhear you ordering coffee. Be focused and present.

And if you’re chatting in the car, try to plan around the time you drive through that canyon, and the reception breaks up right in the middle of that important conversation about your divorce.

4) But be flexible

You’ll never find the perfect time to talk, especially on weeknight evenings. It helps to be creative. Suggest chatting during a lunch hour or morning walk. Or if you’ll have kids in the background when you plan to talk, acknowledge that it might be occasionally noisy. What’s important is making it clear that talking with your match is a priority – even if you have to juggle your schedule a bit.

Don’t wait to schedule it in two weeks when you have a free evening. Do it as soon as possible to maintain your communication momentum.

5) Ask for the date on the call

If you feel comfortable on the phone, it’s the perfect time to suggest, “It would be fun to meet sometime” and make a plan to meet – or at least a plan to make a plan. (I’ll text you early next week to make a plan after I have a better idea of my schedule.)

The worst closure: Saying, “Well, give me a call sometime if you want to talk again.” The goal is to meet as soon as possible. Who wants to try to plan another phone call?

6) Be in a good mood

This should go without saying: Be positive and upbeat – even if you have to fake it. However, if you’re feeling sick or sleepy, it’s best to let the call go to voicemail and return it when you’ll make a better first impression.

If you can’t take the call, it’s still important to acknowledge it. Send a quick text, “I just got your voicemail. I’m really sleepy and am about to turn in for the night. Would it be possible to call you back tomorrow?”

7) Give clear instructions on returning calls

Nothing kills a romance quicker than a frustrating game of phone tag. Be specific when you’ll be available for a return call or when you’ll try calling again.

And if you’re on the receiving end of a phone call, return it within a day. If you can’t, give the person a heads up, “I’ve got houseguests and look forward to returning your call early next week when they’ve left.”

How you handle phone negotiations is an indicator of how you’ll handle other kinds of communication in your relationship. It also gives you a chance to show how much you respect the other person’s time and efforts.

All the better if you end up giggling like teenagers.

What are some of your phone pet peeves?


About the Author:

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.

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