Overheard on street

At Coffee Shop Bar, Union Square West, New York City

Two girls are discussing a guy that Girl A is dating. Girl A is upset because Guy has not been contacting her as frequently as she thinks he should. So last week, she tells Girl B, he sent her a text message. “A text message! So I called him right back,” she says. “I mean, clearly, he’s right beside the phone – he just sent me a text message! But he didn’t answer. How could he not answer when he was right by the phone?

“So I talked to him later and I asked him why he didn’t answer,” Girl A continues. “He says to me ‘You know, sometimes I send text messages when I do not have the opportunity to make a phone call.’

“Oh,” Girl A says. “Lesson learned.”

“Lesson learned for me, too,” Girl B says. “I never thought of it that way before.”

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I found this overheard conversation particularly interesting because I have been in the same situation as the guy several times – where I am texting someone rather than calling them for a specific reason – I’m in a loud area, I’m already on the phone (a landline), I’m waiting for a phone call, I’m about to run the vaccum cleaner, etc., etc.

Unlike the guy in this conversation, I do feel obligated to drop what I’m doing and pick up the phone in these scenarios. Like Girl A said, the person knows I am near my phone!

Recently during another trip to NYC, I was dining alone at a crowded French restaurant on the Upper West Side. I had a friend coming into the city that day, and I wanted to plan my day around her arrival. I sent her a quick text to ask her what time she wanted to meet.

About 10 seconds later, she called me. I knew there was no way I could have a conversation with her at that moment – there was a lot of ambient noise in the restaurant, I didn’t want to be rude and on my phone in such close proximity to other patrons (like most restaurants in the city, the tables were so close together we might as well have been dining all together.) Plus, I was eating! Didn’t want to answer the phone with a mouth full of food.

I did quickly send her another text explaining I was eating – and I told her I’d call her when I was finished.
She left me a voicemail, meantime, with a detailed explanation of how she and her friend had overslept, were just leaving for the city, and they were first going to run some errands (she detailed the errands as well). With all that said, she concluded it would be around 5 p.m. they’d be available.

So when I called her back after eating, she started the conversation with “I was beginning to think you didn’t want to talk to me!”

I explained again I had been eating (as a note, I did feel guilty about this. That’s my own fault – but occasionally people do give me such a hard time about not picking up the phone, that it does lead me to feel badly about it.)

“That’s fine,” she said. “I just didn’t want to go over all that using text message. It would have been too much to type.”

I agree that what she said in her voicemail was too much to type. However, the only thing I needed to know was something like, “Planning for 5, but not sure.” That could have been easily typed.

I also don’t fault her for calling vs. texting. Some people don’t like to text, and that is their choice. Some people text too much, for the record — there is a balance to be found. I just don’t like the expectation that because I am beside my phone (texting), that means I am available to answer it.

It’s probably mostly my own fault for feeling this obligation to take calls in that situation.

So I’ll say now – whether I’m texting you or not, I may not always be around to take your call. The reasons for this are varied – I might be in the middle of a design in which inspiration has struck and I don’t want to be distracted by a lengthy phone call. I might be hanging out with someone else, and I do not take phone calls without good reason when I’m spending time with someone else. I might be tired or cranky, in which case you don’t want to talk to me anyway – trust me.

With all that said, I can feel better now about not being obligated to take a phone call when I’m not in a position to take it. Lesson learned.