“Do you want to say hello?” …It’s usually how the awkward conversation starts, and that’s in the rare instance you’re asked and not told to “ke ke” with whomever is on the other end of the phone. For traditional millennials, communication is best served cold — through text messages, voicenotes, and any other method that allows for the manipulation of response times. But total eradication of the ostensibly vintage practice of voice calls is not possible and leaves some of us vulnerable to the most uncomfortable conversations with strangers — because that’s who they are, really.
Let’s start with one we can all relate to — the family member. I recall a few years back when I went home to Toronto for the Christmas break and I was exhausted from the travel, albeit three and a half hours of flying time. My mother had the nerve to invite me into this teleconference with one of her relatives: “Come say hello to ‘so-and-so’”. I rolled my eyes in protest; however, being mindful of the fact that she said it out loud, I felt obligated to take the phone.
We’re pissed, but we put on our customer service voices, fake a smile, aim, then fire: “Hi Aunty! How are you?” In most cases, we have no context when conscripted into these dialogues, so the conversation becomes a series of pleasantries. I usually tune in and out of sincerity, attempting to latch on to a moment of mutual interest. It’s kind of like searching for a good radio station, hoping you’ll hear a song you can vibe to. What are we supposed to talk about? I don’t know you! And I’m not in the mood.
The parents of the new boyfriend or girlfriend
These awkward conversations are further complicated when there is something at stake — your reputation, or, at the very least, a first impression. Sure, it’s cute that your new partner is amped to introduce you to his or her parents, but why must you be summoned without warning? The struggle is real from the onset because you don’t even know how to address them. First name? Last name? Mister or Miss? Aunty? Mom? Hello, human! And again, what are we talking about? I think I blacked out once just reciting, “please don’t ask me anything about our relationship”, as some kind of zen mantra. I couldn’t help but feel like I was auditioning for the role of ‘best partner for my spawn’. Thankfully, I’m quick on the spot and witty when I need to be, so I always get the part, but I would rather not audition. Don’t give me the phone if I didn’t ask for it.
Children don’t ask for it either, but for some reason, parents/friends are eager for us to engage in baby talk. I love children, but I cannot have a phone conversation with a toddler I have never met. Someone once asked me if I wanted to say hello to his baby cousin because she’s so cute. Umm, no.
After exhausting the question bank, which consists of anything from babble to behavior, I spend the rest of the time begging the poor child to “put mommy or daddy back on the phone”. And of course my pleas fall on under-developed ears. That, or they accidentally hang up… to my relief. When they get a little older, the diaologue doesn’t get much deeper than hello (and it’s always the shy ones being forced to socialize). I wish parents would stop antagonizing their children (and me) with phone calls.
The old spouse and the new spouse
Okay, I’m not speaking from experience with this one (thankfully), but I’ve witnessed it, I’m sure it varies from person to person, and it’s worth a mention. The sizing up of the old spouse and new spouse can range from an awkward silence to passive aggressive one-upping. If the parties are not ready or mature enough to be cordial, don’t subject them to this war zone because there is not enough cover to protect anyone from the shrapnel that goes far beyond that phone conversation.
We enjoy impersonal methods of communication because they allow us to interact based on our moods, at our discretion. If I don’t feel like answering a text, I won’t. If I don’t want to talk, I decline the call. But when we don’t have control over the dial tone, we lose our autonomy and get caught between a rock and what feels like a telemarketer. Yes, we can navigate these spaces and do so respectfully, but we’d much rather you listen and take us off the list.