Relationship Phonetics


I'm in crisis again. Fretting and quivering, tearing my hair and filing my nails incisor style. And the culprit, the instigator of this unhappy state of affairs, is sitting there smugly on the bench-top, next to the coffee cup full of pens that don't work, twirling its cord at me.

That's right, it's the phone. Wretched bloody thing. Oh, a wonderful invention to be sure, spreader of news, facilitator of business, saver of lives the world over. Instrument of torture, focus of insecurity, cause of millions of masticated cuticles.

For many years since Alexander Graham Bell first hurt himself and phoned his assistant for help, women have had a love-hate relationship with his crowning achievement. Many an unproductive hour has been spent pretending to knit or read or study while one's peripheral vision has been focused on a small shiny plastic thing with numbers on the front, waiting in a kind of masochistic limbo for the man du jour to finally remember where the HELL he left that note with your number on it.

But, you cry triumphantly, those days are done! In these the liberated Nineties, a woman no longer has to sit by the phone waiting for "him" to get his act together! And if you still do so, then you, Panthera, are an old fashioned, self-oppressed and foolish woman! Well, for your information, I don't! (Well .... (blush) ....not often.) The point I'm trying to make is, that few among the burgeoning ranks of "New Women" seems to recognise, or at least is not admitting to, the whole new range of stress and self-punishment we've opened up for ourselves in regard to the telephone.

Take right now, for example. I'm sitting here muddling, twiddling, fiddling. I met him through mutual friends and one of them gave me his number. So do I call him? Should I? Will he think I'm pushy? Ye Gods, were men going through this agony of indecision for all those years? The poor bastards!

Even worse than the phonetics of initiating a relationship, though, is the heavy hand with which the telephone rules your life when a relationship is going bad.

It's over. The whole relationship is folded up worse than a postal package with "Fragile" on it. But you're sure, certain down to your teary, heartbroken marrow, that the bust-up has been the result of some crazy, twisted misunderstanding. If only (she cries, clutching hands dramatically to chest) he could see that too!

Ok .. so call him. Oh no, NO! The pain of the break-up is still as crisp and sharp as fresh blood, and you quail at the thought that perhaps the poignant reconciliation that you visualise (Gods, doesn't this all look so pathetic once you're over it) may not come to pass. So you sit and agonise, wringing your hands and trying to gather your courage to do something that your subconscious is already telling you (quite rightly, too) is unwise.

So you grit your teeth and brace yourself to exclude the phone from your consciousness. Good. You're getting better. Besides, you rationalise, you can't bother him at work, and if you weaken and ring him at home nine times out of ten he won't be there. This, unfortunately, is where the frailties of the human psyche fall victim to the wonders of technology. I'm talking, of course, about the mobile phone. The temptation to call him is great enough without the knowledge that you can, in fact, contact the sod practically anywhere, anytime. Oh, great. Thank you ever so!

On the other hand, there is another wonder of communications tech which, although much maligned, is actually a rather wonderful thing. It's the answering machine. Oh, yes, I know, the second you hear that hollow little 'hsssssssssssss' noise that inevitably buggers the recording you start panicking; "What'll I say, what'll I say?!" Indeed, how many of us tend to hang up and dial again after we've thought up and rehearsed what we're going to say? And this is the beauty of the answering machine - it doesn't care! You don't have to be 'off the cuff'. And also, the really cute trick is, that you can call the machine when you know full well he won't be home, and leave your prepared message on the machine. "Hi, it's Panthera, wanna go to the movies on Saturday? Call me back on (number)" is a lot less stressful than, (Sweat sweat, worry) "Oh, um, hi, um, yeah, it's me, um .... " etc etc till you finally gnaw your own ear off to get away!

So what to do, what to do? The answer is simple: Pick up the phone. Dial your friends. Dial your Mum. Dial a pizza. Make prank calls (but don't get caught). Connect up a modem (ha ha!). Life is right out there and the telephone is your lifeline. He'll ring or he won't, that's his problem. And won't it serve him right if when he does dial your number it's engaged - or you are?

Yours in the name of a good gossip,