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I could text, but I can’t hear you that way. Call me instead

Listening to the nuances of my friends' voices keeps them close no matter how often I see them.
"When making simple plans with friends, I often call even if texting is their default mode of communication," writes Yona Krum EIchenbaum.

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Lately, in a strange new protocol, my friends text to ask if they can phone, as if an unexpected call is like appearing uninvited at my door – a faux pas best avoided by polite society. Finding a mutually acceptable time adds more complication, more texts. But why bother asking? If I can’t answer, I won’t. What could be simpler?

I’ve never embraced texting. I can’t type quickly or accurately with my thumbs. I envy the speed and precision of avid texters – more proof that opposable thumbs elevate humans in the evolutionary hierarchy. I dread multiple texts for things such as meeting for coffee. By round five I call, finalizing our plan in seconds. If there was a texting hell, group texts with multiple, often unidentified participants would be mine. Sadly, there is no easy escape from those.

The real reason I resist texting with friends is that I need to hear their voice. It’s what keeps them close no matter how often I see them. A voice can signal when something is amiss. And even if all is well, the conversation can gently meander from the original text, a pleasant diversion that is a gift of friendship.

I am lucky one of my oldest friendships was forged in a time before texting. Susan and I were 12 when we met, bunkmates in summer camp. Sharing a limited aptitude for sports and a love of Leonard Cohen, we bonded instantly. We whispered and giggled into the night. It felt like we had known each other forever.

We didn’t live in the same Montreal neighbourhood or attend the same schools. We didn’t see each other between summers. But on Saturday nights, while my father watched Hockey Night in Canada on our only television, we talked on the phone, picking up the threads of our friendship.

We were still friends when we attended McGill University in Montreal, still talking on the phone – a landline tethered to the wall – debriefing on boyfriends or whatever couldn’t wait until after class the next day. Phone calls kept our friendship alive when geography separated us as adults. Even when long-distance calls were a luxury we couldn’t afford, we spoke almost weekly, talking late at night when phone rates were lower.

We phone less often now that we can text. But there’s usually more to our texts than meets the eye. Honed over a lifetime of talking, an emotional autofill fleshes out our hastily typed words. I can hear Susan’s voice in my head. And she can hear mine. Still, it’s not the same. We phone when only talking will do.

My adult children text all the time. I know to text when I wish for an immediate response. But they phone too, usually for no reason – the best reason of all. My son lives in Brooklyn. He likes to call when he’s walking home. We often chat about work projects. Sometimes it’s food or theatre or the intoxicating energy of New York. It’s how I learned he had a girlfriend. I never know what we’ll talk about. But I know it will be the stuff of life texts weren’t made for. When we talk, it’s easy to forget he lives a plane ride away.

When making simple plans with friends, I often call even if texting is their default mode of communication. I figure the stakes are low. The worst that could happen is they won’t pick up. But if they do, their voice can infuse the simplest plan with humour and warmth. Even a brief conversation fosters familiarity that nurtures our connection, helping to speed things along if a friendship is meant to be.

After the Oct. 7 attack in Israel, I couldn’t bring myself to text family and friends there. I couldn’t find words to squeeze into that tiny text bubble. I hoped that if I heard their voices, the words might come. And if words failed, they would hear my heart in my voice. I didn’t expect them to answer. Even those who were safe on that day were in shock. Yet they picked up almost instantly. Their voices were hollow and dark. In their silent pauses, I heard the words they struggled to say.

One of my friends lives in Jerusalem. We met in a Zoom class a few years ago, hers one of 13 faces neatly boxed on my screen. I met her in person for the first time last year. We talk more often now, her voice familiar, her mood easier to read. I’ve learned about her family, her therapeutic work with victims of trauma, the anguish of the situation that surrounds her. It’s hard to know where the conversation will go. But our calls always start the same way – I tell her I’m glad to hear her voice.

Yona Krum EIchenbaum lives in Glencoe, Ill.