The first thing that bothers me about phones is that you’re supposed to talk on them.
Yesterday, my phone was stolen while I was outside the bar listening to Austin the Grad Student explain why he hadn’t called me back when I left my number on his desk two months ago. This was unfortunate for obvious reasons, but one of them was that while we were talking, someone was reaching into my purse and taking my custom-duct-taped Verizon phone from where it was nestled between the pictures my three-year-old niece drew of me and my wallet, which Rotten Thief also took.
In the picture my niece drew, I am lovingly sketched out as an eight-foot tall, neckless dementor with three eyes. If this is what I look like, it might also be the reason he never called me.
A few months ago, my roommate and I started assigning ourselves tasks (“run every day” is an example of one that never happened) as part of a vague self-empowering plan. On our calendar, Ayla circled a far-off date and said that we had to give somebody our number by then. Moving swiftly, she gave her number to a boy she was interested in. Interested in no one and not moving swiftly, I didn’t.
When the circled-day came, I was studying at a coffee shop. “You’re going to lose if you don’t do it.” she said, and if there’s one thing I hate more than looking stupid, it’s losing a bet. I wrote a quick note, and put it on his table. Hi, I like your smile, I’m trying to learn how to do this, here’s my number.
I’m moving to New York in a few months and I’ve heard that the only way people make friends in big cities is by giving their number to everyone, or wishing they had (my only source of information for this is Missed Connections). It seemed wise to practice. He would either call me and I wouldn’t answer but I’d feel awesome about myself or, alternately, he wouldn’t call me and I’d never see him again.
The scientific law about giving people your number, however, is that (A) they will always have a girlfriend, (B) they will not call you, and (C) you will see them everywhere – apparating casually onto sidewalks, reading the newspaper on the bus and in every grocery store aisle buying cereal, even if it isn’t a cereal aisle. This is what happened. The first time I saw him, I was walking directly toward him across our high-visibility campus quad and, upon recognizing him, wheeled directly around and walked somewhere I didn’t need to go. It was not subtle, but when my evolutionary instincts tell me to duck, hide or run, no matter the social context, I do. Fortunately, I’m very good at blending into sidewalks.
In theory, I really like the idea of giving your number to somebody. It is assertive but gentle. It is modern yet old-fashioned. It can be cute; you can draw little yes and no boxes. But, it also means you have to answer the phone. In general, I handle phone conversations as well as I handle interacting with someone I gave my number to; by which I mean that I don’t.
Obviously, this is an extended anecdote about being awkward. But embedded is an actual question: I mean, there is a better way, right? There’s a better way than online dating, heart-gnawing flings or, alternately, getting married like everyone else at age 21? Or – equally frightening – answering the phone and enduring the dimly-lit pauses, the uncertain distance between Hey and Goodbye. Perhaps this is a barometer; the tragedy of the millennials every condescending journalist writes about, but it’s true: sometimes I am more comfortable measuring the assertion between two parentheses and falling in love with the placement of a semi colon, than I am talking on the phone. Phones are clumsy; so sticky and human. I don’t think this is just an affliction of the Mythical 20-something, I think we are all pretty afraid. Even so, everyone secretly just wants to find a napkin on their table with the small yes and no boxes open like tiny mouths.
“So, hi.” he said, coming out of the bar to where I was talking to my friend. “I’m Austin.”
“It’s okay.” I said.
“I have a girlfriend,” he continued. “But you appear on every sidewalk, so I should have said something. I mean, you seem great. You’re a great dancer.”
“She’s a great dancer.” My friend affirmed helpfully.
“You can say Hi now.” He offered. “Like, we can say Hi when we see each other. And stuff.”
“Wow, sounds great.”
“Cool.” He was terribly good-looking, and kept giving me high-fives that ended in hand-clasps the rest of the night, just to prove that we were pals.
Giving your number out is hard.
Later I looked in my purse and saw that everything – except, thank goodness, for my dementor portrait – was missing. Rightfully, I was angry. But also, what a disappointing theft it must have been: a quickly-canceled debit card and my flip-phone, artifact of 2007 and bandaged with tape, which has inspired some of my father’s worst puns (“Is this conversation being taped right now?”). The flip-phone is not the mapping, gaming or snap-chatting kind. It’s just the talking kind; filled with all the potential pauses I’m afraid of – home of the stuttering, the unfinished sentences, the tongue-clickers and the heavy breathers. And stuck in that phone, all the numbers of strangers I’ll never call: Alex the Banker, Suspenders Concert Boy, Table Sports Ryan.
Maybe, when I’m in New York, I’ll give it another go.