The Introvert's Corner

How to live a quiet life in a noisy world

Live and Learn and Adjust: Rewriting the Telephone Rules

Rewriting social rules requires give and take.

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A good friend who lives in another city recently told me that out of respect for my dislike of the phone, she does not call unless absolutely necessary.

And you know what? That makes me feel kinda bad.

Hmmm.

She and I e-mail all day, forwarding articles of interest, exchanging one-liners, discussing the important matters of the day. So that's great. It's like having a good friend in the next cubicle, even though that cubicle is 200 miles away.

But I know she also likes a good phone chat and I feel bad that she has completely deferred to my preference. In fact, I must have been missing our calls because I called her a couple of weeks ago. Just picked up the phone and called. Just like that. And it was good.

Live and learn and adjust.

Some of my other faraway friends acknowledge and respect my dislike of the phone, but basically say, "Tough noogies, we gotta talk sometimes." If they call and I absolutely don't have time, I don't pick up. Mostly I do, though. Even if  I can't talk long.

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At other times, they're fine with scheduling the calls, as I prefer, so we do that. Then, I block out enough time--at least an hour--for us to complete preliminary chit-chat and settle down to a nice, long talk. And that's good.

Many of us fall somewhere in the middle of the introvert/extrovert continuum. We don't want to opt out of more extroverted activities altogether. And we don't think our desires should always to take priority over everyone else's. But there's a learn-and-adjust phase to finding comfortable middle ground.

The trick is teasing apart the elements of certain activities that you like, and what you don't like.

I like talking to good friends but don't like chitchat or being ambushed by phone calls. Ergo, schedule the calls, and allow them enough time to get deep.

In addition, my friends seem to understand that when it's time for me to go, it's time for me to go. No offense.

This is middle ground for us and it's growing comfortable.

(In fact, now that we have e-mail and text, this might be the future of how we use the phone. Hardly anybody likes the phone anymore, even The New York Times says so. They even sorta used my headline.)

Rewriting unspoken rules (i.e. everyone must love talking on the phone) isn't easy, and it requires sensitivity on everyone's part. Rules should be written in pencil, not carved in stone. We'll figure it out.

Interestingly, I've found that taking control over my relationship with the telephone has made it less abhorrent to me. I answer it more often, and initiate calls more often. (Still rarely, but more often.) I've even given my cell phone number to a couple of people.

And the other day, I tried something entirely new with a friend: a video call via Skype. We made an appointment a few days in advance and yeah, we both put on a little makeup, tried to look nice. (We both work at home and that can get ugly.)

Wow, that may be the future of virtual visiting for me. It was fun. I saw her living room, which I'd never seen, she saw my office. By the end of the call, we were running back and forth to our bedrooms to show each other new shoes we'd bought. It was a blast.

So, another piece of information for me: I'm more uncomfortable than I thought with the disembodied voice on a telephone. Now I find technology has provided a great alternative.

Live and learn and adjust.

Are there other areas in life where you are finding middle ground?

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Sophia Dembling is a widely published Dallas, Texas-based writer. Her latest book is The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World.

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