Why Long Phone Conversations Are Necessary to My Happiness

A phone call is a remarkably contained experience between two people in a world that otherwise demands we share everything.

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Dec 24 2018, 6:14pm

Photo via Marjon Carlos.

This Is Fine. is Broadly's weekly newsletter about the previously private and highly personal tactics people use to make the world less harrowing. In yesterday's newsletter, Marjon Carlos wrote about how marathon calls soothe her anxiety. Sign up here to receive a newsletter with a new dealing-with-life strategy each Sunday evening.

I talk on the phone a lot; have so for as long as I can remember.

It is either indicative of my age, my profession, and/or my inability to self-edit, but I often ignore the constraints of my data plan to make way for phone calls that can last upwards of five hours. During these calls, I talk about successes, mistakes, dilemmas, conundrums, politics, the banal, the serious, the vapid, the deep—everything.

I shriek through the phone; I cry, laugh, murmur in agreement, shout in disagreement, and howl for joy. I clutch the thin frame of my mobile device until my hands sweat; pop my headphones in to multi-task as I putter around my apartment or charge through the city.

I add people to calls for second opinions, and I text pictures as visual aids to help illuminate my points. I take some phone calls in privacy; on others, I air my dirty laundry in public. I talk to my friends and family who, like me, find that texting and even the most underrated/peculiar invention of Voice Notes, can’t possibly do conversation justice. The exchange of ideas—uninterrupted, unabridged—is still very much necessary to my happiness.

In a culture consumed with texting, when emojis are steadily supplanting language sometimes almost entirely, it’s odd to keep talking: to not truncate, but multiply our words.

I picked up my affinity for marathon calls from my mother, a brilliant little magpie who unconsciously taught me their power by very frequently and audibly appreciating her own as I was growing up. I eavesdropped on her lively dispatches with her girlfriends and sisters, who were indefatigable storytellers. It’s not like I had much of a choice in the matter—her cackling and gasping filled up the whole house: “No, girl...are you kidding me?!” She’d let me say hello to my aunties—or shoo me out of my parents’ bedroom when the gossip was too fresh for my ears. I even heard her cry when the news on the other end of the line took a turn for the worse. For hours at a time, she had the time of her life on the phone, almost exhausted by the revelations made as she did. In this way, she taught me that phone calls were subsequently always long, and most certainly opportunities for breakthroughs.

I had plenty of extensive, revelatory calls of my own when I was leaving my last job about two years ago. It was a bleak period in my life that brought about severe cases of PTSD and anxiety, which I still battle today. At the time, I had worked in fashion media for several years, and I wrestled with the idea of leaving a cushy title and a toxic work environment for the uncertainty of freelance life, but the improvement of my mental health.

I’d become a wreck as things at work deteriorated: depressed, skittish, withdrawn, deeply insecure, physically frail. I felt failure was certain if I left and if I stayed. All of it rocked my normally steady and self-assured center and made me feel alienated from my writing. I was convinced I was no longer good at it, or maybe that I never was; that this life was not for me. It was a type of trauma I had never quite dealt with before. I was astonished by how needy I was. I depended on having someone to hear me out.

Almost daily, I found myself huddled into empty conference rooms, frantically reaching out to my best friends—my lifelines—over the phone. Through hushed tones and plenty of tears, these confidantes talked me off ledges. One evening in particular, I was practically inconsolable: Another showdown at work had sent me reeling, feeling trapped and isolated in a continual cycle of painful derision that I felt both responsible for and a victim of. Through hot tears, I called up my best friend to unleash it all, but barely any words could come out. I was hysterical.

“Marjon, Marjon,” my best friend softly cooed. “I have a job for you as soon as you leave.” It felt like a parachute, so I leapt and gave notice the next day.

Phone calls with female friends within the industry kept me abreast of the ebbs and flows of media and fashion. They were also willing to be vulnerable with me about their place within it. With publications closing what felt like daily, one friend feared for her job security and contemplated who she was outside of her title. Another was fiercely triggered by the insular, clannish, insider-y culture that often left her feeling like an outsider, even though she was an industry vet. Why, in an industry that was constantly touting “inclusivity”, did it feel that opportunities still feel slim? another fiercely competitive friend wondered. There was a gnawing dread felt between us all that we would never be successful—or successful enough.

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In New York, no matter the field, there’s no escaping this feeling, but rarely is it discussed. That would suggest a weakness, a crack in one’s armor—better to posture, speak broadly of your plans, and trust only a few with the intimate details. I felt like I had to look like I had it all together, but these phone calls were a reprieve from that unrelenting pressure. Tears were shed, tempers rose; there was so much laughter, so much encouragement. We shed our cool and revealed ourselves to one another. We learned to trust one another, and our friendships were deepened.

This is why I find the phone so therapeutic: It’s so intimate that there’s no need to pretend to be anyone but yourself. It’s not a public discourse, like an Instagram post or a Twitter thread, and it’s not as performative as FaceTime can be. A phone call is a remarkably contained experience between two people in a world that otherwise demands we share everything. It’s funny how, for all the advancement I’ve seen in technology, the phone still feels novel. It still feels like there is always something new to say and share and solve, simply by dialing the right number.