The Voicemail Mystery

My courage is at it's peak
You know what I mean
How do say you're O.K. to
An answering machine?

Voicemail games always bring that song to my mind. Technology has changed the dating games we play, both email and fancy phone features have really muddied things. I remember the days before caller ID, way back when I was an undergrad in the mid-90s. I could call my dating target 20 times a day without him ever knowing it, as long as I hung up before the answering machine caught me. (But I only did this to one person when I was a first-year and 18 years old, honest!) The risk came from mis-calculating the number of rings before the machine recorded a hang-up, and the possibility that the person was actually home screening calls. Either way, he equally busted you for your psycho-obsessive lameness.

Those days are long gone. Thanks to caller-ID, no one can get away with the blitzkrieg calling tactic, not without sacrificing one's dignity. My best friend's ex-boyfriend actually denied calling her when his number showed up on her caller-id. She asked him how his number got there if he hadn't called and he said, "I don't know." Genius. She regrets letting that one get away. He also broke up with her after three years via email.

Obviously, breaking up by email after three years is more than insulting. But other things aren't as clear. Many single folk struggle with the phone message question. One of my friends says he never, ever leaves a message when he pursues a woman. Because you never know if she got your message and then you wonder if you should call back but if you do and she got your message then you look like a loser. He has a good point. But if you never leave a message, you may never reach the person. So, what do you say if you do leave a message? And how long is too long to wait before returning a call or getting offended at not having a call returned?

I think I waited too long and offended someone. While in Philadelphia for the holiday, I got a phone call from HT. I forgot to take my cell phone charger and my phone died when I got to Philly. I didn't mind. A few days without a cell phone is a nice break. So nice that when I got home on Tuesday I decided to continue the silence and not answer my phone all day. Nor did I check my messages. On Wednesday I mentally returned from the trip to go to my office and finish grading. Then I finally checked my messages.

HT called on Monday. He left a voicemail saying he was in the garden and didn't know if I was in town or not. But if I was, then I should call him. He was thinking of going to a movie or something later that night. He'll talk to me later.

Oops. He probably felt snubbed that I didn't return his call until Wednesday. I left him a message apologizing and explaining that I was away and being anti-social. I told him I finished all my work for the semester so he can call me back if he wants to. It's now Friday morning and he has not called. I don't mind, I've got too much to do anyway. But I can't help wondering. He's used to my anti-social stints and that I sometimes take a few days to return his calls. Maybe my unenthusiastic message scared him away? Except he's not good with hints, so maybe he is just returning the discourtesy? I couldn't tell from his message if he wanted the movie to be a date or not. He made it sound casual and we've gone to the movies before. But...

Standard practice for phone messages is to play it down as casually as possible. That way you can pretend you didn't mean for the person to think you wanted a date. Most people leave messages saying something like: 'Hey, it's so and so. Just calling to say hi and to see what you were up to tonight/today/this weekend. I was thinking of doing x. If you want to come too give me a call." That way you can still keep your dignity if no one calls back. Hmm. That's exactly the message HT left me. OK, fine. He was probably asking me out via voicemail. Now I may or may not have offended him and/or sent him the 'no' signal. There's no way to know.

Try to breathe some life into a letter
Losing hope, never gonna be together ...
How do you say I miss you
To an answering machine?
How do you say I'm lonely
To an answering machine?
The message is very plain
Oh, I hate your answering machine.

--the Replacements,"I hate your answering machine"

Come back for more TRUE stories of the strange, sad and pathetic exploits of me not having sex in the city.