Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Breathalizer Phone

Communications Technology and Dating

I grew up about a hundred years ago and more than 2000 miles away from this cosmopolitan city I now live in. I received my first date invitation when I was 13 years old, via a telephone call. Normal enough. EXCEPT ... I lived in a rural area and we still had party lines. For those of you born way after me and in a more populated area: a party line is a telephone line that is shared by multiple households. Inevitably there are always some people who find it entertaining to 'rubber-neck' (where, I wonder, did that term come from?) on other people's conversations.

The morning after I accepted the invitation to my very first date, I boarded my school bus only to face teasing and cat calls regarding my up-coming date. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the details of my fledgling romance. Needless to say I was relatively mortified.

My father bought me my first telephone answering machine when I was in my mid twenties. It revolutionized my dating habits. Not at first... but like most people I eventually learned that if I was fearful of talking to someone I could let the machine take their call. Even more importantly, if I wanted to communicate with someone but was fearful of actually speaking to them, I could approximate a good time to call when I would be likely to get the machine and leave my message then. Suddenly, a lot of 'date' related phone calls were getting made in the middle of the day!

While this sounds awfully wimpy - I must note I certainly was not the only one making use of this technique!

For the next decade or more I was in relationship(s) and not paying a lot of attention to changes in dating rituals. Bring on the Internet generation and I'm again participating in the dating game. While the telephone is obviously still being used, it is perhaps less prevalent than other communications technologies. Now, I often meet people online, communicate with them through email and instant messaging and use text messaging on my cell phone as an alternative communications method.

Oh.... the choices! Now, if I (or one of my paramours) wants to communicate we have a variety of methods to choose from. Depending on the message, the distance, the time of day (or night), the status of the relationship.... etc. etc.... which communications method is appropriate and/or comfortable?

I have sent flirtatious or funny text messages to a friend's phone when I knew they were likely to be in the middle of a stressful work day. I have manipulated my online status to control who I will talk to online - I can appear to not be online and only show that I am online when the person(s) I am hoping will contact me come online. I can set my status to 'busy' with the hope that the object of my affection will get curious as to what I am doing / who I am talking to and make contact. I can chose to send an email to say thanks for a good time; or a text message; or a phone call. I can have phone sex with my boyfriends or we can have 'virtual sex' - which is basically the same as phone sex - only in written form using instant messaging. I can engage in writing erotic or flirtatious ficticious stories with my boyfriends by sending emails back and forth with each of us adding a scene to the story.

I have friends and colleagues who decry the reduction of face to face communications that people engage in - they are suspicious and critical and fear that by avoiding communicating in person we are reducing our ability to engage in community with others. I see their point.

Personally, I like written communications. I always have. I was a letter writer as a child and young adult and I took to the email generation even before the world wide web was a reality. For a variety of reasons there are things that are easier to say in written form than in verbal form. I have sometimes grown closer to people through correspondence. I embrace the variety of communications .... but have never really been a telephone person.... I blame it on that first date experience.

My friend, R, invented the Breathalizer Phone. (Of course it only exists in our imaginations so far). A telephone that will not operate if you are drunk, because of course, we have all come to consiousness on a Sunday morning with the vague memory of phoning a boyfriend or ex boyfriend and making complete asses of ourselves. Remember the Friend's episode where Rachel calls Ross for 'closure'? No? well.... you likely get the picture anyway.

"Don't Drink and Dial" is as much a part of our parlance as "Don't Drink and Drive". And now we have to add: Don't Drink and Text! Sheesh...

For more on dating communications etiquette see:

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