Phone Calls & Dating

Okay, we get it. Texting is convenient. People love to text especially adults ages 18 to 24. According to Pew Research, with an average of 109.5 texts per day 18-24 year olds text more than double the comparable figure for 25-34 year olds, and twenty-three times the figure for text messaging users who are 65 or older. But to what extent is texting appropriate for dating?

Recently, I mentioned on Twitter that a gentleman suitor called me to ask me out on a third date. That’s right, he called me. I was not prepared for the uproar this would cause. The first response came from Dan W saying, “Calling: only an acceptable activity for business (maybe), immediate family, or when texted beforehand and given permission.”

I was mildly surprised by this response, so I polled the audience for further thoughts. At first, I assumed there would be a gender divide regarding the issue but it turns out that aside from a few outliers, the Twitterverse tended to agree. Phone calls are basically completely unacceptable–except amongst the older crowd. Research aligns with this: 28% of 21 to 26 year olds and 26% of 27 to 34 year olds use texting to plan dates. That numbers drops to 30% for 35-42 year olds. In addition, via text, 21 to 34 year olds were nearly twice as likely to set up causal hangouts rather than dates compared to 35 to 42 year olds.

There were arguments debating the seriousness of relationships to determine appropriateness of phone calls. For most, serious relationships warranted talk time. Anecdotally, I have dated guys for months in which we never spoke on the phone. Statistically speaking, 28% of adult Americans are not currently in search for a romantic partner and the largest percentage of those people (31%) are between the ages of 18 and 29. There are fewer serious relationships happening, thus less phone calls and less communication. Phone calls allow things to get too serious. Phone calls require more attention than most are willing to give early on (or possibly ever).

I can rattle off all the statistics about texting, mobile phones, relationships and dating but it may not lead to what lies at the core. Dating for young adults is obviously not the same as it was even ten years ago. The average thirty-five year old is not avoidant of technology. The average thirty five year old has been exposed to technology just as long as the Millennials (roughly those born 1980 to 2000). Where did this difference come from then?

The difference between most 25 and 35 year-olds when it comes to texting and relationships is how their adolescence was spent. In 1994, a 15 year old boy probably had to listen to his voice crack over the phone while talking with his high school love—in 2004, that guy just messaged her on AIM or sent her a Myspace message, or maybe he pulled out his new Razr and texted her.

I am a Millennial. We are not lazy. We are not stupid. We are the most educated, the most liberal and the least religious. We are also a generation that lacks communication skills, fears confrontation, and disregards loyalty. We make eye contact less, handle small talk badly, and are completely risk avoidant. We are the all texting, continuously emailing, status updating generation.

We value connections but fear commitment. We fear the obligation of a phone call. We fear that it may take away our time from another, more important, activity because for under 35 year-olds, there is always a more important activity. The fear of missing out is real. The fear of dedicating 10 minutes for a call is real. The fear of scheduling three hours for a date is real. Calling was for people that didn’t have better options, as one Twitter user remarked tongue-in-cheekily “you aren’t important if you have the time to call and ‘chat it up’ with people.”

Isn’t dating that time where you’re supposed to slow down and just be with someone? Even someone you’ve just met. Isn’t a phone call where you can hear the inflection in their voice, the hint of a Southern accent, the excitement of a planned date? Can you truly get to know someone over text?  Do you really want to get to know them at all? Is everyone really just waiting around for the person that they care enough about to actually want to pick up the phone to just say hi or to plan the next date?

In a generation where non-commitment is the norm, and phone calls are for the “needy” those that feel otherwise will eventually be in the minority. Maybe that’s a good thing. Who needs confrontation when you can just as easily send a break up text with a sad face emoji?

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  • Anonymous

    I don’t forestall the usefulness of phone conversations among friends or dates (entirely). The important fact for me about calling someone is that you’re intruding immediately on her time. Of course she’s free to ignore your call, but voice mail is an irremediably stupid thing now that texting and emailing exist (and almost all voice mails anymore consist of a needless “um, hey, call me back”). Then you can play phone tag as you try to call each other and fail. That’s why you should text someone beforehand with “hey have some time to talk on the phone?” and agree upon doing so ahead of time. Calling for me is sort of like just showing up at someone’s front door unannounced. Obviously you need to be in a very specific sort of relationship to feel privileged enough to do this. And even if you are in that sort of relationship, it’s courteous to check in beforehand. Immediate family is the exception to this concept mostly because I don’t expect my grandparents to text message or to have much overall grasp of 2014 technology etiquette.

    Your article goes more in the direction of, should folks talk on the phone *ever*, which I think, if you live in the same city, you should still mostly avoid it.

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