Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Marriage: More Responsibility, but Less Cell Phone Use

On the list of things I’m going to enjoy about married life, I place “fewer cell phone conversations with my significant other” not far from the top.

I can hear your groans of indignation from here, so let me explain: If forced to talk to someone by phone over punishment of dismemberment or a marathon viewing of Dr. Phil, my wife to be would definitely top the list of those I’d choose to talk to. It’s just that I consider the telephone my least favorite of all communication technologies.

Sometimes I long for the days when it seemed that cell phones were only used by people who people living in large metropolitan American cities who carried briefcases and lived such fast-paced lifestyles that they survived on a diet of espressos. Now, thanks to the miracle of advanced telecommunications technologies, my discomfort is wholly affordable.

She and I minimized our use of cell phones when we lived near one another in Chuncheon, but when I moved to Seoul in pursuit of greater employment opportunities (and anything not requiring me to instruct Korean children to stop hitting each other with various writing utensils long enough to learn English pronunciation can be considered “greater”) it became a nightly ritual.

Every evening around 9:30 p.m. I’d feel the buzz of my cell phone in my pocket or hear its vibrations reverberate off of whatever piece of furniture I’d placed it on top off. At that moment I’d know that my activities, be they studying Korean, watching a movie or trying to keep my dirty dishes from overflowing out of the sink would have to end, as these activities required concentration I could no longer commit.

No one had required this of me earlier in life. Living in Tennessee, even phone calls to my best (male) friends were models of efficiency and directness. Had I been gone on vacation for more than a week, I would call simply to notify them that I’d returned and to find out if they had an interest in going to the gym together the next day. The beauty of (or the pity of) the Man’s Phone Conversation Streamlining Sense is that I actually needed to express very few of these sentiments.

“Hello?” my friend would answer.

“Hey it’s me,” I’d say. “I just got back.”

“How was your trip?” he’d inquire.

“All right,” I’d answer. In truth, the vacation was probably a great deal better than “all right,” and I’d probably acquired a number of anecdotes/souvenirs from my journey. However, I judged that my friend would find seeing the souvenirs more enjoyable than being merely being told of them, and the anecdotes, if lacking the appropriate accompanying gestures and non-verbal cues, would lose their power over the phone.

“So, see you tomorrow?” I’d ask.

“Yeah, see you,” he’d answer.

“All right,” I’d conclude, and we’d both move on to other duties, leaving any and all female witnesses to our conversation utterly mystified.

My wife to be, not equipped with (or hindered by) the Man’s Natural Phone Conversation Streamlining Sense, feels dissatisfied with conversations of this length. Usually, she considers a dialogue of at least one hour (or 30 minutes, if I can convince her that one or both of us has a lot to do on that night) minimal. In such circumstances, I have only two plausible options available to me: 1) focus intently on what she says and respond thoughtfully, or 2) browse the Internet to help pass the time.

Anyone who possesses (or is burdened by) the Man’s Natural Phone Conversation Streamlining Sense probably knows which option I usually take. Usually I do okay, until she asks me a question at the exact same time I see something interesting online. The question may be simple, and its answer may require no more than the eight hours worth of memory and a vocabulary of less than 10 words. However, if my mind is engaged by two topics at once then it becomes my mouth’s responsibility to choose which to thoughts to express.

Oftentimes it is not up to the task.

“What did you eat for lunch today?” she might ask.

“Radiohead’s new album,” I might answer.

“What did you do at work today?” she might also ask, right as I click on a news site.

“The Republic of Georgia,” I might say.

Somehow or another, despite my overwhelming male sensibilities, we have stuck together now for two years. In less than a week’s time we will be married, at which point we will have a home together and most of our dialogue can be performed in person. From then on, my cell phone and the distance it represents can be saved for others I do not share my life with so fully.

Then I will be able to devote my full attention to her. After a year and a half of having to conduct cell phone conversations with me, she’s earned it.

I remember the days when our phone conversations lasted five sentences, six at most. It's easier for us men to talk face to face because you feel less inclined to fill silences in person. I feel you man. I feel you.
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