My wife is terrible on the cellphone!

She shouts, she claims she can't hear, she asks, Are you there? It's madness! Sheer madness!

Published August 2, 2007 11:05AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My wife can't talk properly on a cellphone and it's killing me. Every time we speak -- whether I call her or she calls me -- it's so annoying. She shouts into the phone as though she does not trust the technology. "HELLO? HELLO? CAN YOU HEAR ME? I CAN'T HEAR YOU? WAIT! IS THAT BETTER? WHAT?" And on and on until eventually we are able to make whatever simple communication was intended somewhat clear and we retreat to our wireless corners. I've tried teaching her, I've bought her all sorts of different phones, but nothing seems to help.

I am of the opinion that cellphones will someday be exposed for the blight that they have become. It's easy to say, "Well, get rid of it, problem solved!" but do you really know many people who do not have cellphones? With my wife, the issue is security. She sometimes works late and she has a bit of a commute, so I just feel safer knowing that if something unexpected happens she will be able to call me or roadside assistance or the cops or someone. A cellphone has become a grudging necessity, I guess.

Still, when I'm dialing her number my blood pressure spikes and soon we find ourselves simultaneously starting a sentence, then both pausing to let the other speak; then thinking that the other person is listening, we both start speaking simultaneously again, then pause again. There should be a phrase to describe this wretched verbal dance. And then she starts shouting as though she were calling from some general store in Appalachia: "HELLO? HELLO? WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"

She does not talk this way in normal conversation or on land phones, by the way, and her hearing is tested annually and is fine. I've tried texting but I suspect we are both too old for that (in our 40s), and anyway, it's dangerous while driving. And it's stupid.

Any suggestions?

Incommunicado and Hating It

Dear Incommunicado,

I have a feeling that you are having trouble with this because you are focused on the phone. Next time you are having a subpar cellphone conversation with your wife, forget about the phone. Ask your wife if she is hungry. If she says, "What?" say, "Are you hungry?" Ask her if she is standing outdoors. Ask her if she would marry you all over again.

If she can't hear you, then shout it out: "Would you marry me all over again?"

If she says no, then maybe there really is something wrong with the phone. It would be worth looking into, anyway, at that point.

But basically you have to shake loose of these expectations that you are ever going to have a grown-up cellphone conversation with your wife. You may never have the kind of cellphone conversation with her that you want to have. Perhaps when you were getting married you pictured certain cellphone conversations you might have one day. It's sad, I know. But you have to face it. You could file for divorce on grounds of cellphone incompatibility. Or you could try to change your approach. Forget about the phone. Focus all your emotion on her.

I can imagine a conversation something like this:

"Can you hear me?"

"No, I can't hear you at all!"

"Then how do you know what I'm saying?"

"Because I'm talking to you."

Then maybe you ask her, "Are you there? Can you prove it?"

"Yes, I'm here."

"Can you prove it?"

That's kind of silly. But it's all about the exchange that two people are having. If you focus on the phone, the exchange will have no grace, no humor, no fun, no emotional connection. So make it about your wife, and see if that doesn't free you up a little.

Oh, and try this: If you get really frustrated, just hang up on her. And then dial her back and say, What happened? We must have gone into a tunnel! Or maybe we had some sunspots!

That's kind of silly, too. I'm a silly person.

Also, if I may, I would like to share in your doubts about the ultimate utility of cellphones and in your frustration with their ubiquity. There was a time when you could use a pay phone. They had pay phones. Now try to find a pay phone. I think it's because of cellphones that pay phones disappeared. I miss the pay phones.

So I join you in your over-40 indignation. I have a feeling about being a citizen that has to do with utilizing the tangible services a citizen is privileged to have at his or her disposal. For most of the post-World War II era in America there have been certain public facilities that one could count on, like newsstands and pay phones, that gave one a sense of belonging in the society. Buying a paper. Buying a pack of cigarettes. Using a pay phone. Stopping for gas. Saying, "Fill it up with regular. And check the oil, please." As services move from the public realm of one-to-one interaction to the realm of private, automated services and automated payment, well, it's a shame, in a way, isn't it? There is just something about using a pay phone, putting that coin in and hearing the clink.

What? You want more?

  • Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory.
  • See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum.
  • Ask for advice or make a comment to Cary Tennis.
  • Send a letter to Salon's editors not for publication.

  • By Cary Tennis

    MORE FROM Cary Tennis

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------

    Coupling Since You Asked Wireless