As long as there have been phones, there have been people in different stages of love waiting for them to ring. Countless pop hits have chronicled the vulnerability of waiting by the phone for more than 40 years. Back in 1968, The Foundations lamented about how "worst of all, you never call baby when you say you will" in "Build Me Up Buttercup." At the turn of the millennium, Blink 182 sang about "playing these games while I wait for your call" in "Untitled." And most recently, Carly Rae Jepson, invited her potential paramour to "call her maybe." But I think we all know that these days she'd be lucky to get a text, a Friend request or an Instagram following from her knight in ripped jeans.
I remember a time not long ago in years but eons ago in technology; the winter of '99. I gave a boy I liked my phone number in a Christmas card, inviting him to call me "if he got bored" over vacation. Every day I went out and did my thing, perusing the aisles at Wet Seal or whatever, and was able to escape the prison of waiting for his call (I was very much waiting even though he never said he would). My stomach lurched when I got home and ran to the answering machine, hoping that the flashing light would signify that his boredom had finally arrived.
I don't tell this story to illustrate the repeated cycles in my life but to highlight the notion that the smart phone has created a one way ticket to hell for the lover in waiting. Not only is he not calling, he's not texting, emailing, or liking my Facebook status, and I am expected to carry this harbinger of unfulfilled dreams everywhere I go. Of the myriad communication "improvements" of the past decade, the text message is the most insidious. Every time you send a text message, you are essentially handing out a Christmas card with your number. Instead of a phone call that can be immediately answered, thus fulfilling the communication request of the moment, a text message puts the ball in the other person's court inviting him to respond at his convenience while you "play these games." In the days of landlines, there were protocols of decency. Around ten o'clock, the daily sentence was over. But a text can be sent any time, day or night. Phantom ringtones rouse me from my sleep and vibrate in my pockets. And I don't know how to opt out of my self-imposed sentence!
The problem with these robo-phones is that we assume that everyone is carrying them at all times, deliberately ignoring our "Christmas card requests." When a friend of mine called me recently with a "Build Me Up Buttercup" emergency, I told her that his phone was probably dead and she should take a few shots of vodka to make the night go away. The downside to the old drink your anxiety away advice is that sometimes it backfires, imbuing the waiting lover with the confidence to go off the deep end in her response. A healthier approach might be to take a long ride on the NYC subway where cell service is unavailable or a swim, which releases endorphins while separating our ears from our phones. And if you're really bold, party like it's 1999 and leave the phone at home.