I Solved the Subtle Agony of Talking on the Phone

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.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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