In the early days of online dating, there was an easy fix to ensure you felt comfortable meeting up with a complete and total stranger: hop on a phone-call pre-date to make sure the vibes felt right. Fast-forward 15 years and the vast majority of us forget that our mobiles even have a phone in it. The idea of chatting prior to a first date can seem charmingly old-fashioned at best, and ridiculously quaint at worst…or downright terrifying if you’re one of the many millennials and Generation Z folks who are petrified of talking on the phone. So what’s up with the sudden return of the pre-date phone-call? That’s right: the pre-date call appears to be back in a big way, with more and more people of all genders asking for that chat. But why is this happening now? And how do we feel about this?
WHY ARE YOU CALLING ME?
I asked Friend of a Friend Matchmaking matchmaker Claire AH if she had any insight into why this old-school practice has become so popular again. “There’s especially been a jump with people in their 20s and 30s,” she agrees. And why? “People are looking for a little more human connection. Part of it is just to add a little bit of certainty that they’re not going to be flaked on at the last minute. Speaking with a person on the phone might make them feel a little more secure to that end. Plus it’s another chance for them to suss out if they want to go through with an in-person date. More and more people are a little dubious about how anonymous and impersonal online dating can be. The phone isn’t necessarily the best way to get to know someone, either, but it fosters more familiarity than moving straight from the app to face-to-face. Dating is about putting yourself out there, and even a little bit of added security goes a long way.”
It can also be a quick way to prevent catfishing, which, according to Camille Virginia, author of The Offline Dating Method, is on the rise these days. “The pre-meeting phone chat is definitely becoming more common. With people lying about age, looks, and social skills becoming increasingly common in online encounters, people want to make sure they aren’t wasting their valuable time on a dishonest person.”
Men may be particularly prone to ask for the call, as they may be the target of regular catfishing or pros soliciting paid dates, says Jess, 41, a heteroflexible communications specialist. “A lot of the men I encounter are terrible on apps,” she says. “They play the numbers game and ignore things like profiles and red flags, end up on porn sites, and begin to assume that every woman is a bot or a catfish. I think that a lot of them actually just want to verify that I am a woman, that I’m real.”
Or maybe, says Steph, a 36-year-old bisexual content manager, it’s a response to the Tinder graveyard—men often get hundreds of matches with no conversation. “If you speak to someone on the phone,” she says, “they become more real than a face you swiped on a screen.” And it might make us feel just a little more safe, especially if we date men.
“The phone isn’t necessarily the best way to get to know someone, either, but it fosters more familiarity.”
We checked in with a bunch of other women and non-binary folks to see how they feel about the pre-date phonecall.
There are also folks who require a pre-date phonecall for accessibility reasons, like writer Kerry, 35. “I do it because I am blind and can’t see pictures. Voice is a big part of attraction for me. I’d like to hear the voice before I would meet in person,” she says. “I understand that urge to only want to communicate by texting, but I can’t see and voice matters. I have a way I need to do the whole online dating thing and, as I can’t see photos and conversations tell me a lot, an on-the-phone talk before meeting up is essential to me. It is nice to hear a real person’s voice, even if I am always nervous when initiating that first call.”
LIFE IS BUSY
“Dates with complete strangers take energy!” laughs Kirby, a heteroflexible 34-year-old. For the super-busy TV producer, pre-date phonecalls were a key part of her dating strategy during her single days, as total time-savers. “I was showing up for dates and realizing within five minutes the guys weren’t a good match for me, but I’d gone to the effort of doing my hair and makeup and generally looking cute. And then I’d have to sit there for another hour or whatever out of politeness. It’s not like you can just walk out,” she remembers. “So after a bunch of those I started asking guys for calls first, to see if we clicked in conversation as easily as we did online. A lot is lost in written messages.”
Cara, a straight 29-year-old food stylist, agrees. “Dating is tough and I am an extremely busy person, so one thing I don’t want dating to be is a waste of time,” she says. “Before I did phone calls, I definitely went on some dates that could have been avoided.” These calls make her feel more comfortable going on a date with someone: that way, “I’ve had a proper conversation with them, not just random texts throughout the day.”
DO THE WORK
Unlike texting, talking on the phone like this also takes actual effort, which can be a great test for potential paramours, according to Starr, a 48-year-old straight actor. No matter their age, it seems, many men have difficulty putting any effort into dating these days, or even wanting to actually meet up. “I use the call to gauge actual interest and drive; I feel so many men – women, too, I’m sure – use the apps to ego-stroke, kill time, and fill a need to constantly be on a device,” she says. “I’m not a big small talker and I’ve had men just want to text and chat at me – not to me, because that type of personality wouldn’t pepper me with dozens of check-in, no-content texts, which completely turns me off.” With younger men, she says, she’s been stunned by their lack of emotional intelligence, and understanding of intimacy. With men her age, many of them are just out of long-term relationships that failed and they’ve yet to do any personal work around their experiences. “They just want to hop into another comfortable long-term set up and keep on keeping on,” Starr says.
“A phone-call can create greater intimacy, and fast.”
Who among us hasn’t endured the endless stream of “hey how r u” texts over a series of days? Or weeks? A phone-call can create greater intimacy, and fast, according to pansexual project manager Resi, 27. “Hearing a voice brings about more of a visceral connection to a person than texting behind a screen,” she says. “It’s harder to pivot when someone’s on the other line asking a question or making a comment. People have to reveal a bit more about themselves rather than what they may in a text message behind a screen.”
THE INTIMACY ISSUE
It also lets you reveal more about yourself in a less stark setting. Folks tend to be more sympathetic to others in person or over the phone; it’s distressingly easy to dismiss someone’s pain when it’s just words on a screen. Jess, for example, has found great comfort in speaking over the phone pre-date as it allows her to share a bit about her new post-therapy dating approach. Hearing her say it, rather than reading her say it, can help the message go down a little easier. “The last person I met for a date, we’d spoken by phone once or twice, and I think it made me more comfortable meeting up with him,” she says. “Explaining how I’ve been seeing a therapist and learning about attachment styles would be complicated over text; since I was able to explain things about my dating approach, and how it’s changed made me feel more relaxed in person with him.”
Texts are, after all, the perfect medium to be funny and smart and entertaining – even if you’re, uh, very much not IRL. This is why Kendall, 53, prefers the phone, where it’s immediately apparent if you’re actually jiving with someone or not. “I do it to try and avoid the false sense of intimacy I get from texting. If a text exchange seems to go well, i.e., is enjoyable or even funny, I start to fill in the emotional blanks with warmth and camaraderie,” she says. “Then when I meet the guy in person, it’s a bit of a shock to realize that we are actually strangers with no connection.” Recently, for example, she was smitten with a man who seemed totally hilarious. Come the pre-date call, however, he was revealed to be a jittery, over-talking mess.
Over-talkers: another scourge of the dating world! Resi recently endured a phonecall where the guy who simply would not stop talking about himself: how great he is, how everyone in his office loves him, and on and on and on. “He wouldn’t allow me to get much of a word in,” Resi says. “I pointed it out to him, but, alas, the narcissism continued.” Something good came out of it after all, thankfully: “It helped me decide not to go on the pre-arranged date and save myself a seat to the one-man show!”
JUST SAY NO
Despite the advantages that some women and non-binary folks enjoy, others still rankle at the request. Thirty-four-year-old queer biologist Tilly says she typically can tell by text if potential dates are duds or not, and she’s had all kinds of horrible experiences with the men requesting the pre-date call.
“Ugh, it’s a bit annoying,” she says. “It feels completely judgemental. My guess is that people are jaded from online dating and wasting time on dates. I know, I’ve been a serial dater and it takes up a lot of time, so I think people do the pre-date calls to quickly weed people out and save on time so they can quickly move on to the next and efficiently spend their energy elsewhere. But, at times, it feels so formal and judgy. Like an over-the-phone job interview with the HR intake coordinator.”
Then there was the dude who had a “skill-testing question” for her. “If you arrived at a party and there was a dog there, who would you greet first: the dog or the humans? She said the dog. “Good,” he replied. “Because if you said humans then I wouldn’t have gone on a date with you.”
Another one told her that he called to find out if she had an annoying voice, or “sounded dumb.”
“And,” says Tilly, “I cannot tell you how many guys I’ve talked to on the phone who jump head-first into the sexy talk.” They ask her what she’s wearing, what positions she likes in bed, how sexually adventurous she is. “They lower their voice into what they probably think is a soft, sexy tone,” Tilly shrieks. “Ohhh, puhlease! Barf. I need more than that.”
Steph has also experienced this low-key harassment as well. “Years ago” she remembers, “a man felt the need to ask me if I wore tights or pantyhose. He had a fetish and decided a pre-date phone call was a good time to talk about it.”
Consent-wise, she’s also noticed an increase in people calling without asking first. She doesn’t like the pre-screen call (“I find phone calls with strangers more awkward than meeting in person”), but she’ll do it if it’s important to them. So what if you absolutely hate talking on the phone?
“Ask yourself what specifically you hate about talking on the phone. Is it that any type of contact with a potential mate that isn’t done from behind a screen gives you anxiety?”
SO, WHAT IF YOU HATE IT?
Film costumer Cristina, 29, for example, never asks for a pre-screen call. “Talking on the phone causes me great anxiety and I don’t want to inflict that on other people,” she says. What if someone asks her for one? “I usually tell them upfront that I’m not comfortable speaking on the phone and prefer to meet up in person first.”
It can be a good exercise to figure out just why you hate the phone so much. Virginia recommends asking yourself what specifically you hate about it. Is it that any type of contact with a potential mate that isn’t done from behind a screen gives you anxiety? “If so, then it’s not the phone you hate, it’s something deeper, like a fear of rejection or even social anxiety,” she says. “In that case, the phone may actually be the perfect next step for you because you can start to practice your connection skills minus the handicap of a screen, without yet being face-to-face with someone. It allows you to not only screen this person but also get comfortable with them by connecting more personally, so the next step of meeting face-to-face feels more relaxed and fun.”
But what if you’ve always hated the phone…but are comfortable with (or even prefer!) in-person interactions? Then it really is a phone-specific thing, she says: “I suggest setting up a video call, like FaceTime or even a Zoom video conference call between you and your match, to mimic the in-person experience without committing to a full evening or afternoon with each other in the real world just yet. That way you can see what they look like, read into their body language, etc. and get some of your preferred in-person connection benefits.”
In either case, Virgina recommends warming up your social skills (and vocal cords) before getting on that pre-meeting phone chat. “That could be as simple as calling or meeting up with a friend right before your call with your online match. Then, while you’re on the call with your potential date, try standing up and even walking around, or go for a walk outside while you chat! This gives your nerves a natural outlet so they don’t build up inside you, or worse come out through your voice.” She also recommends smiling, especially when you first start chatting: people can hear it in your voice and it will put both of you more at ease.
If you really don’t want to take that pre-date call, that’s okay, too. I, for example, loathe talking on the phone most of the time and, if I was on the dating scene again, would probably refuse. How do you compromise? Just tell them you prefer to meet up in person, but are happy to do it as a quick coffee so there’s no big time-spend on either side. This move might even give you a feeling of empowerment and will also help you establish that you’re comfortable setting boundaries, right off the top. If they really want to meet you, they should, hopefully, be okay with compromising for your conditions.
The ability to compromise? Now that’s sexy.
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