The way technology is going, 50 years from now we will be able to flirt, marry and have kids with little more than a Wi-Fi connection. Until that day comes, though, odds are good you’re going to have to at least speak to your crush on the telephone before going out on your next date.
Sadly, poor phone etiquette has led to the untimely demise of many a promising budding relationship. Here are some mistakes that are best avoided:
Phone hang-up #1: Not having anything to say.
The garrulous, uninhibited nature of some folks’ texts, emails and IMs are inversely proportional to their dull, monosyllabic conversation skills — which puts an unfair burden on the caller (or answerer). After exchanging a few emails with a guy she’d met online, New Yorker Nathalie Steyn, 30, called him up only to be confronted with the telephonic version of a root canal: “The conversation was so halting, and it was so difficult to get him to talk, that I hung up as soon as I could.”
Tip to try: If you’re the shy type who finds it difficult to speak (but easy to write), try typing out a few talking points beforehand to consult during slow spots in the conversation.
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Phone hang-up #2: Starting a deliberate game of phone tag.
I’ve been guilty of this one myself. Here’s how it works: After exchanging a few messages with someone you’re kinda (but not overwhelmingly) interested in, this person shares his/her phone number and mentions being available to chat in the early evenings. Being a complete nervous wreck, you call on a weekday when you know this person be at work and leave a message along the lines of “Gosh, I know you said you’re around in the evenings, but I’m busy this week, so I thought I’d just leave a quick message. Here’s my phone number.” Then, the recipient does the exact same thing to you. Repeat two or three times until you both lose interest.
Tip to try: Oh, come now — maybe this person is the future love of your life. Suck it up and call when you say you will, then see where it goes from there.
Phone hang-up #3: Not being prepared.
If you’re the type who likes to date around, you might be dealing with two or three prospects at any given time — which (depending on your time-management capabilities) can be a lot to juggle. In fact, it can easily lead to very unfunny mix-ups if you aren’t careful. “It’s important to keep straight whom you’re talking to at any given time,” says Sam Albert, 41, of Washington, D.C. “It’s not enough just to have the person’s information stored away somewhere, especially if two people share similar (or identical) names.” The instant you say, “So, being a Marine must be very exciting” and the person on the other end of the line reminds you that he or she is actually an insurance adjuster, you can pretty much cross having a romantic future together off your list.
Tip to try: This is where your note-taking skills from college or high school will come in handy. Scribble yourself a little cheat sheet about each person you chat with — including name and where you met/who introduced you to each other highlighted in the fluorescent color of your choice — and refer to this when dialing. (You can also do this electronically, provided you avoid sharing your documents with anyone else online.)
Phone hang-up #4: Not calling when you say you will.
Believe it or not, there are people who take their phone calls seriously and will actually schedule time to receive or initiate one (the word for this kind of behavior is “polite”). “There was one guy who specifically told me to call on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., and when I did, his voicemail picked up. I hung up without leaving a message, and half an hour later he still wasn’t home,” says 35-year-old Andrea Christopher of Boston. By the same token, it’s bad form to say you’ll call at a certain time, then send a text or email the next day apologizing for the mix-up. If your date is smart, he or she will forgo the rescheduled phone call for a more attentive love interest.
Tip to try: If you set up a phone date, make sure you turn up for it just as you would for a face-to-face date. Use online calendars, program your smartphone to remind you, or use whatever tactic will make you remember to stick to that commitment... even if you write it in Sharpie on the back of your hand.
Three guidelines for a great phone call: 1. Give the other person your full, undivided attention. Nothing turns a person off like hearing the big game blaring away in the background or dropping the call because you’re driving through a dead zone.
2. Ask lots of questions. This applies in real life, too, but especially on the phone. Any love interest will appreciate being able to get a word in edgewise (unless he or she is actually ignoring you and surreptitiously driving somewhere).
3. Know when to hang up. If the conversation begins to drift, it’s better to wrap things up with a perky “Gotta go now! Let’s talk again soon!” than to ask your date for an opinion on the current state of the global economic meltdown. Always end your conversation on a positive note, if possible.
Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on About.com, the online information network owned by the New York Times.