A Valentine's Day wish for the lovelorn: Learn to pick up the phone

By Lisa Bonos
Monday, February 14, 2011

For those of us who are single, Valentine's Day can be full of bittersweet flashbacks: that first kiss on the playground after Jimmy gave you a "Be Mine" card or that time you had the guts to tell Max you wanted to be more than friends and he agreed.

When memories of loves-no-longer pop into my head, what I miss most is not a person specifically (sorry, boys) but the role the phone call used to play in the "does so-and-so like me?" courting dance.

Remember getting a call from a crush to arrange a first date? The giddy excitement of picking up with his voice on the line, almost as if he were there right beside you. You could hear the anticipation, his nervous breathing. In a moment of such raw communication, the stakes for rejection are high. But so is the potential for forging a connection.

The moves on the dating scene now are more like an out-of-step conga line. Instead of just getting a person's number and calling, the under-40 set increasingly puts the e in emote: Facebook requests collide with e-mails, Gchats, text messages and tweets. The search for love jerks us every direction but forward.

With so many ways to get in touch, the phone - the voice-transmitting part, not its other, "smarter" functions - is feeling kind of lonely. Perhaps, by extension, so are we.

Phasing out those awkward first-date calls can seem like an improvement. It's easy to tweet at someone: "@AlexanderGrahamBell: Dude, we should grab a drink sometime." And there is plenty of time to craft the pitch-perfect witty response - or, for the flirtatiously challenged, have a friend or paid consultant help do so. But those friends or consultants won't be along if you actually get the date, when you'll be expected to answer in real time. And it's hard to gauge someone's interest, or personality, in 140 characters.

It's also easier to ignore or refuse such an invitation. Each of you has less invested in the plans, no matter how invested you might be in a possible relationship.

The more we reach out and text someone, the less personal doing so becomes. This cushions our egos from rejection but also makes it harder to tell when we really want to get to know one another - or whether we have a connection.

Sure, e-mail courtships can be exciting when they reach novel length, making you feel simultaneously Victorian and oh-so-modern, but it can take a while to reach that stage in a relationship. For all your chemistry over e-mail, there may be no spark in person. The phone call, however, instantly conveys vocal inflection, laughter and sarcasm. No offense, @AlexanderGrahamBell, but u can b kind of hard 2 read sometimes.

The Internet and social media allow us to make connections that 20 years ago never would have existed, but such "networking" should complement our social lives, not become a substitute for substantive interaction. As we expand our social webs, we should also resist the hold that doing so electronically has on expressing what's in our hearts. (Those who think I'm being unfair can passive-aggressively tweet their friends while using #aninsidejokehashtag.)

After all, if this dating pas de deux is all about looking for someone we can connect with face to face, the phone call is simply asking: "May I have this dance?" Much as in grade school, the chances are better your partner will say yes if you ask out loud, rather than walk up and hand him or her a note with the question on it.

This Valentine's Day, I have one wish for the lovelorn: that they pick up the phone and dial - and dance - like it's 1999.

The writer is an editor for the editorial pages.

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