Friday, January 21, 2011

The Lost Art (or one of them anyway)

I realized many years ago that I have a phobia. I'm pretty sure I got it from my mom, and I'm pretty sure it's here to stay. I'm scared of the phone. Or actually, phone calls. I don't particularly like to make them or receive them. I can count on one hand how many people I don't mind talking to, which is bad since I know a decent amount of people. I hear the phone ring, I get this little knot in my stomach. Not a big one, mind you. Just a little one, like when you realize you forgot to set the DVR for a show you were looking forward to. Kinda makes you anxious but you know you'll get over it. That's how I feel when I hear my phone do its funny little new-fangled-cell-phone ring. So I started to wonder, aside from genetics (Mom): Why does it bug me so much? Why does the phone ringing make me feel like some dude just shouted "Fire!" while I'm tied to a post with a blindfold on?

And it hit me: conversation. Or, rather, the lack thereof. I truly lament the lost Art of Conversation. It sounds silly, I know. I mean, conversation is pretty basic, right? The phone rings, you answer it, you talk, you hang up. Except, more often than not, it doesn't work out that way. Usually the phone rings, I pick it up (after staring at it for a beat or two), I say 'hello', and then someone starts talking. And talking. And talking. And talking. Some of the people that call me must've been pearl divers in their past lives because they don't need to breathe. They manage to talk for hours without taking a breath. I like to say that "they speak without punctuation". You know those annoying Facebook postings where someone writes something without any capital letters, commas or periods? omg!ashleyandmejustwentoutdrinkingandgotsomessedup! That's how these people talk. I end up spending two or three hours nodding (to myself, since they can't see me) and inserting the occasional "ah" or "mm-hmm" or a generic chuckle so they know I'm still there and awake. But I find my mind wandering about 20 minutes into the monologue once I realize it's going to be one of "those calls". I start thinking about random things like updating my grocery list, or about how I've never seen "Gone With the Wind" or "Citizen Kane", or cat hair. Pretty much anything except what they're rambling on about. Why? Because I haven't gotten to say anything!

To me, conversation is about the exchange of thoughts. Give and take. I ask how you are because I care to listen to you tell me how you are, and you do the same. What I usually get is:

"Hey! How ya doin', Steven?"

"I'm good, Sarah. I went to the–"

"Omigod! You won't beLIEVE the week I've had. There was a swarm of locusts right after we blah, blah, blah-dee-blah, blah..."

It's like white noise. Just this hum of voice-sounding static. I realized that most people care far more about their own comings and goings than mine. And most people don't listen. Because, honestly, they really don't care. They're not bad people, evil people. They just don't care. And, phone-martyr that I am, I sit and listen for hours on end to self-absorbed drivel from a seemingly endless stream of 'friends'. If I could get back all the time I've wasted engaged in tedious, long-winded diatribes about co-workers, traffic, whatever, I'd be a teenager.

Now, lest I sound angry or ungrateful, I'm extremely fortunate to have a few people I truly call friends. Not acquaintances. Not intimate acquaintances. Friends. My friends can talk to me until every word in the English language has been spoken twice. And, in spite of myself and my rantings, I will probably continue to be an ear to whoever feels the need to talk endlessly and has used up all the people that actually give a crap.

But still, y'know, I'm just sayin'...


  1. Ah yes, I have at least one of those in my life. He's related to me by blood, so I can't stop talking to him. :-)

  2. I can relate to this - I also suffer from phonophobia - so much so that I refuse to own or use a cellphone.

    Great new blog - I wish you all the very best!

  3. @Christy

    if that person is at all like Steven describes, wouldn't it be more precise to say you cannot stop LISTENING to him/her? ;))

    Some people think, conversation is holding monologues and being polite enough to be silent during the time the other person involved has the part of the monologue.
    Listening is something scary though. really. (sorry, I forget using captitals too) I mean, what if you hear something that deserves a reaction, a thought, a feeling, a response: an INVOLVEMENT?

    Like the question: "How are you?"
    How many people do you know who want an ANSWER to that question??

    happy saturday :)

  4. @mel: Good to see you here! "Phonophobia" - love it. But dude, you gotta get a cell phone. How are you gonna order pizza from the car? (They have pizza down under, don't they?)

    @Christy and sorei: Listening CAN be scary, but sometimes it's all we can do if the person is "special" (like with Christy). Sigh...

    I'm trying to think of something to say other than "How are you?" because so few people actually want an honest answer to that question. I have to keep reminding myself that it's probably better to have too many people calling me than not enough. ;-P

  5. @sorei: Ha! Very good. You're right. I can't stop LISTENING to him. I also like what you said about listening in general and the question, "How are you?" I had dinner with a friend a couple of months ago and asked her, "How are you?" Tears came to her eyes and she replied, "You're the first person to ask me and mean it." I realized that it was one of the few times that week I had asked the question and actually CARED about the answer. With the exception of people I love, I usually don't expect or want others to tell me when I ask. It's more of an inappropriate greeting.

    @Steven: If you think of something other than, "How are you?" let me know. And even though most of the people who call you carry on one sided conversations, or monologues as sorei so nicely stated, you are fortunate to have people in your life who think to call you. There are those who have phones that never ring; possibly some of the very people who choose to call you.

  6. @ Steven

    I do not trust cell phones and do not want to be brain fried or risk the possibility of a tumor, so I do not use them. I do not desire people phoning me where ever I am. As I said before, I rarely use the phone anyway - I prefer e-mail.

    I leave the pizza ordering and everything else involving the phone to the wife - she's very much a phonophile and spends (or wastes?) a lot of her time on the phone.

  7. @mel: Well when you put it that way...;-)

  8. Everyone has their fair share of what seems to be self centered selfish people that don't take a breath and let you get a word in. Because I know you, I can tell you that your problem is that you are an enabler, a genuine all around nice guy who allows them to let off their steam. It's not in you to say, "hey, shut up and let me talk for a minute". These people have no one else in their lives to be able to have this type of conversation with so you are their sounding board. It is similar to a new mother who is around children all day. They jump at the first opportunity they get to have an intelligent adult conversation with someone so that their brain doesn't turn to baby gibberish mush.
    So in summation, it sucks to be the nice guy. It can also be pretty good since you stated that you have a few true friends while many people in the world can only state that they have one.

  9. @woodysgirl64, you're right. He's too nice. I call the people who carry on "conversations" like this, drainers. They sap the energy out of those of us who sit and listen to them. When you have too many drainers in your life, it can be overwhelmingly tiring.

  10. Oh boy! I have a whole lot of these folks in my life! DRAINERS! EXCELLENT! I'm stealing that from you, Christy. That's exactly what they are, drainers. I think I'm like you, Steven. Too nice. I can't not answer the phone and I can't interrupt them. I just sit there and nod, listening as they tell me all about things I'm not interested over and over and over and over. But I figure I may be the only person they have in their life to do that with, so I go with it. Maybe I'm saving someone from something by listening to them. Who knows.

  11. @Grey Goose: Christy also has another term she coined: looping. That's when drainers endlessly go over the same thing. "So did I tell you what my boss said to me last week...?" Um, yeah, you did, pal. Looping!

    @woodysgirl64 & Christy: A nice guy enabler, you say? I think I need to work on my inner-as*hole a bit. LOL!

  12. @Grey Goose: You can use the term drainers any's free.

    @Steven: As long as you don't direct your inner @$$hole toward me. ;-) Really, I like you just the way you are.

  13. I share your pain Steve! I especially get that feeling when on of my kids calls..."ah, what do they want now?" But, yeah, anytime the phone rings and the kids are home..."Can one of you get the phone please?" Luckily my 9 year old daughter loooooves to talk on the phone so she doesn't mind a bit.

  14. @Carrie: You're lucky you have a "receptionist" at home!

  15. Christy and Steven, I like the term looping! That really does apply to the folks who talk to me. They loop around and around and around and around. LOL! Looping Drainers! I'm really glad I found your blog, man. You guys are great!

  16. @Grey Goose: I'm glad you came by. I find myself looking forward to your comments. ;-) And sorry to "regurgitate" what you just commented on, but Christy's "drainers" and "looping" still cracks me up!

  17. Thanks man! I like the energy you have going on here. Nice folks who are willing to share intelligent opinions.

  18. Me too Steven...Were you always this way or did it happen later? I used to love talking on the phone...but at about 30 yo I did some deep soul searching (10 years worth)...I slowly let go of all the toxic people in my life (except family 'cause you can't get rid of 'em if you tried)which left me one! LOL Pathetic! I only recently upgraded my 10 yo prepaid cell for a droid...I like texting, but my phone corrects my big-finger-typos and slang and OMG...what a mess my texts are at times! I need to just get over this phobia and call somebody! Jeez! But I don't even like ordering pizza...talking to the garage guy(even though I know if I don't, I won't get my car back/fixed) WTF??? I make myself nuts...You too?

  19. A quote from your post: "And, in spite of myself and my rantings, I will probably continue to be an ear to whoever feels the need to talk endlessly and has used up all the people that actually give a crap."

    My question: Why?

    You don't owe them anything and it's hella exhausting.

    So, why?

    What need are they fulfilling inside you that you're willing to continue taking their calls? Must be something.

    Why are you willing to give up part of your life to these people who obviously don't benefit you, aren't significant to you, or don't fulfill you?


    What else could you be doing with your life instead of being used by these people who obviously don't care about you as a person?

    I mean, if they cared about you, wouldn't they listen to you?

    I may be out of line here and you can delete my comment, but I've thought about this all week and felt the need to post this.

    You need to stop letting people use you. If it's that you have a need to be liked, find someone else who will fufill that need genuinely, someone who will ask about your day and not only listen to you, but truly hear what you have to say.

    I promise you, if you cut them loose, these people aren't going to give a hoot. They'll find someone else to listen to them. You aren't the important factor. Your willingness to listen is.

    So I ask again, why are you taking their calls? Does it make you feel loved? Important? Needed? Wanted? Desired?

    What do I know? I'm just an armchair psychologist. Do what you want, but I'm telling you, life without these people would be easier and a lot more free.

    How do I know? I used to be you.

    Now I only talk to people I know actually care about me. When my phone rings, I know the person on the other end is going to want to hear what I have to say and I'm going to want to hear what they have to say.

    My life is better.

    Something to consider.

  20. This post makes me sad for what our society has become. My circle of true friends is very small because most people I come into contact with on a day to day basis don't care what is happening in my life. And to be honest, I don't really care what's happening in theirs. Fortunately, they don't call me to prattle on about their lives. I only give my phone number to people I really want to hear from. The others don't need it.

  21. @Anita and Dave:
    Funny/creepy timing that you both said what you said now because I just had a conversation last night with a friend of mine about this very thing. "Steven, why are there so many people that you let overwhelm you with unwanted contact?".

    I used to LOVE when the phone rang. I used to hope it was for me. I think my...metamorphosis happened around the same time it happened for you, Anita. 10 or 15 years ago I began to dread when the phone rang. I'd start thinking about what I'd planned on doing for the next few hours and realized there was a good chance that if I picked up the phone, I wouldn't get to do whatever it was. But I kept answering it anyway. Then I didn't. For a long while, I just ignored it. It got to the point where I didn't even want to listen to the voice messages people were leaving me. And that was a vicious circle, because the messages would get more and more desperate OR angry. And once you go a certain amount of time without calling someone back, it gets harder and harder to do it. You don't want to have to try to come up with a 'legitimate' explanation of why you blew them off. Dave, I actually discussed this with a therapist and he asked many of the same damn questions you asked me! My answer was usually a lame, "I don't know". (A lie, of course. But an 'honest' one.) Ultimately, I think it was a people-pleasing thing. I wanted people to think, "Wow, Steven's such a great guy! He's always there when I need him." Now I know that the people that really matter - the people that deserve me - will be there for me whether I'm always Johnny-On-The-Spot for them or not. I'm still working on it, but I'm getting better. Really, I am! LOL! It's been a hard, long road to establish and maintain my personal boundaries (very therapy-esque concept). And Dave, you made an excellent point that I discovered a little while back: the 'drainers' that I ditch aren't even gonna notice. They're just gonna find someone else to unload on. More power to 'em...

  22. @Michelle:
    My friend Christy made a comment a couple months ago that's stuck with me. She asked, "How many people do you talk to that could tell you 5 personal things about you?" That really made me think. Aside from family, I probably know anything significant about me. That's sad. And I'm with you - I honestly don't care about what most of the people I know are going through. Those letters that people send out at Christmas? Hate 'em! "Bob and Mary went to Costa Rica in June. Bob Jr. started college and Susie got her first boyfriend." Really? If I cared, I'd know already. (And the whole third-person way their written is just...weird.)

    I wish I'd learned a long time ago what you seem to know now: don't give your phone number out to people you don't want calling you. Sounds pretty basic but I'm a dope and kept doing it. Sigh...

  23. You can always change your phone number Steven. Just give the new one to the people you really care about. The others don't matter. And if they email you or send Facebook messages asking for it, you can politely explain that you're no longer giving your phone number out. If they're offended, do you really truly care? They will get over it and move on to someone else who will let them call and talk endlessly.

    I really like that question from your friend. Wow! "How many people do you talk to that could tell you 5 personal things about you?" Wow! That's really deep. I'm willing to bet she's one who could name 5 things, or I'd hope she could, if she asked the question. Besides family and my fiance, I think only one or two people could tell me 5 things about me. That's sad. Now I'm thinking about the people I know and how many things I could tell them about themselves. Thanks for sharing this. It's really made me think. Thank your friend for me. I'm going to share it.

  24. Thinking about the question from your friend. I really think you should write a blog post about it. Not many people are going to read your comment and I think it's worth sharing with everyone who reads your blog. I was just on the phone with my sister and shared it with her. Made her think. It's just a suggestion.

  25. Maybe I will at that. I'll check and make sure she doesn't mind me usurping her wisdom. (I don't think she will!) I'm glad it got you thinking; it did the same with me. Lots of hmmmm-ing about that one...

  26. Ho boy! There's a lot to chew on here. Dave, I'm in the same boat as Steven, and I have to admit that your comments made me think. My wife hasn't been happy with the amount of time I've been spending on the phone listening to folks. Don't think poorly of me, but I haven't even met most of them in person. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trolling for chicks. These are folks I've met through blogs and Facebook over the years, and all my conversations are in front of my wife so she knows there's no hanky panky. It's all innocent, but she feels like it's taking away from my time with the family, and she's probably right. I have put her on the back burner many times when someone needed an ear to listen to them. I know it isn't right, and I'm not proud of it, but I've done it. I love her and I guess I just thought she'd understand that the person on the other end didn't have anyone else to talk to, but add up all the times I've done it and she's right, I've neglected her. I also hate to admit it, but there have been times she's needed to talk and I've just plain been talked out by other folks. I just wanted to watch TV and not have to think (with her it's different, I have to participate in the conversation). So I sat there and watched TV while she sat in the other chair and stewed. Again, it's not right, but I did it. Guess it's confession time folks.

    I'm with you Steven. I want people to think what a great guy I am. I guess I have to ask myself the question, "Why?" Thanks Dave. Why isn't it enough that my wife and kids think I'm a great guy? Why do I need these other folks to think I'm great? I don't know. Or maybe I'm just not ready to dig that deep yet. Sorry Dave.

    I'm with Michelle, Steven. You need to write a post about that question. It's a really good one. Is it the same Christy that came up with drainers and looping? I like her style. Hang on to her.

    Lots to think about. I hear my wife in the kitchen now. I suddenly have this urge to spend some time with her, listening if that's what she wants. Thanks guys. I really appreciate what you're all giving me, even if you don't know you're doing it.

  27. @Goose: I think all of us have a tendency to take the ones we live with and love for granted now and then. It’s human nature. At least you’re realizing it and can do something about it. That’s good! BTW, I am the same one who came up with the terms "looping" and "drainers" and shared it with Steven. Thanks :-)

    @Michelle: Glad you like my question and shared it. I’d really like to see Steven write about it too.

  28. I'm glad we're not the only phonephobics! I was thinking I was a going a little crazy...But I heard a quote recently from a movie, I think... and since I heard it I no longer worry about my sanity...(Well, not too much). It went something like this: "You are not crazy because crazy people don't actually think they are crazy!"

  29. @Anita: You are not alone! You are not alone! Phonophobia runs rampant int the Heartland (and beyond). And I'm gonna go nuts trying to figure where that "crazy" quote came from! I know it. I...just...can't...remember...

    @Goose: Wow. Feel better now? LOL!

    But seriously, I'm with Christy. Realizing that you're doing something screwy is a huge step. Trying to do something about it is huger. And hearing about your screwed-up-ness from your wife and listening is hugerer. Welcome to the wild, wacky world of Phonoholics Anonymous (not to be confused with Phonophobics Anon of which Anita and I are members.) Not that you asked for my advice, per se, but the first thing I did when I started trying to cut down on the time I was spending on the phone (and emailing and texting, etc.): I started to look really hard at what I was getting from my 'conversations' with these folks. That made it a lot easier to start cutting people loose. I think Dave is probably right; these people will have already found someone else to drain while we're still lamenting hurting their feelings.

    Now I think I'm gonna take your's and Michelle's advice and go write something about some folks who don't know squat about me and should. :-)

  30. phonophobic, well .... a little, I guess.

    a short side aspect:
    sadly realizing what is up does not at all automatically lead to the ability to do something about it (although there is a german saying, that pretends it works this way), as Steven sais, this is a step much more huge, and it has nothing to do with intelligence whatsoever when we sometimes just KNOW what is wrong and still do not change something.
    Once you're familiar with a pattern, there is nothing more difficult than changing it.
    It is not a rational or intellectual thing in my experience.

    so please be gentle with yourself ;)

    Then again, once you really REALLY know and feel what YOU want, it gets easier to sort of "just stand up and do it".
    But this can take decades. (Or sometimes, seconds)

  31. @sorei: Too true. First it took me years to get over my "fear" of the phone. Now it's taking me some more time to "balance" my fear with the other extreme: my tendency to let people talk my ear off whenever they want to. Eventually I hope to get to the point where it won't matter when the phone rings because I know it will only be people I want to talk to. Looooong process... (sure would be nice if it was only seconds!)

  32. @sorei: Sigh... It really would be nice if standing up and doing it only took seconds with any kind of change. :-) Unfortunately, it usually is a long journey. You're right, being willing to make the change is the most important step. Doing something about is the next. Just realizing something needs to change means nothing if one doesn't take action and truly want to be different longterm. I'm in the process of trying to change some things in my life now, so I know how hard it is.

  33. Was going to read all the comments but I'm overwhelmed. Too many. Conversation is an art and too many people haven't learned it. Selfishness prevails. Don't talk at me, talk to me. I just don't give my number to people. Problem solved.

  34. @Kyle: I just scrolled down (and down and down and down...) to write this comment and saw all the previous comments. Yeah, I'd be a bit overwhelmed too! But it sounds like you gt the gist of the thread anyway. Don't give your number out to people you don't wanna talk to, dammit!

  35. @Amazing: Thanks for diggin' my thoughts! :-) As long as folks like you keep coming back, I'll keep plugging away, spouting off randomly. LOL!

  36. I heard this quote once and it's remained with me.

    “A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That's why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.” - Truman Capote

    As I read your post, I thought about that quote and thought you might be able to relate to it.