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How To Make That First Phone Call


You met online, and now it’s time to dial up that special someone. What to say? How long to yak? Make a great impression by following this advice.

By Bob Strauss

he way technology is going, 50 years from now folks will be able to flirt, marry, and have kids on the Internet—all without having to once meet face-to-face. Until that day comes, though, odds are you’re going to have to at least speak to your email crush on the telephone (that’s that shiny hand-held thing with the alphanumeric buttons, in case you’ve been parked in front of your computer too long). Sadly, poor phone etiquette has led to the untimely demise of many a promising e-relationship. Here are some mistakes that are best avoided:

Phone hang-up #1: Not having anything to say
The garrulous, uninhibited nature of some folks’ email is inversely proportional to their dull, monosyllabic phone technique—which
Scribble yourself a little cheat sheet about the person and refer to this when dialing.
puts an unfair burden on the caller (or callee). After exchanging a few emails with a guy she’d met online, Nathalie Steyn, 30, of New York, rang him up, only to be confronted with the telephonic version of a root canal: “The conversation was so halting, and it was so difficult to get him to talk, that I hung up as soon as I could.”

Tip to try:
If you’re the shy type who finds it difficult to speak (but easy to write), try typing out a few nuggets beforehand to consult during slow spots in the conversation.

Phone hang-up #2: Starting a deliberate game of phone tag
I’ve been guilty of this one myself. Here’s how it works: After exchanging a few emails with a gal you’re kinda, sorta (but not totally, crazily) interested in, she zaps you her home phone number and says she’s usually around in the early evenings. Being a complete wuss, you call on a weekday, when you know she’ll be at work, and leave a message along the lines of “Gosh, I know you said you’re around in the evenings, but I’m kinda busy this week so I thought I’d just leave a quick message. Here’s my phone number.” Then she does the exact same thing to you. Repeat two or three times until you both lose interest.

Tip to try:
Oh, come now—maybe this person is the as-yet-unmet love of your life. Suck it up and call when you ought to, and see where it goes.

Phone hang-up #3: Not being prepared
If you’re the type who likes to sow your virtual oats, odds are you’re dealing with two or three Internet prospects at any given time—which (depending on your internal spreadsheet capabilities) can be a lot to juggle. In fact, it can easily lead to very unfunny mix-ups. “It’s important to keep straight whom you’re talking to,” says Sam Albert, 41, of Washington, D.C. “It’s not enough just to have the person’s information up on the screen, especially if their
Scribble yourself a little cheat sheet about the person.
username is different from their real name and you happen to be looking at the wrong profile.” The instant you say “so, being a professional pearl diver must be very exciting” and she reminds you that she’s an assistant insurance adjuster, you can pretty much cross her off your “hot date” list.

Tip to try:
This is where your note-taking skills from your school days come in handy. Scribble yourself a little cheat sheet about the person, with real name and username highlighted in the fluorescent color of your choice, and refer to this when dialing.

Phone hang-up #4: Not calling when you say you will
Believe it or not, there are people who take their phone calls seriously, and will actually schedule their time to receive or initiate one (these folks are what is called “polite”). “There was one guy who specifically told me to call on Wednesday at 8:30, and when I did, his answering machine picked up. I hung up without leaving a message, and half an hour later he still wasn’t home,” says Andrea Christopher, 35, of Boston. By the same token, it’s bad form to say you’ll call at a certain time, then send a lame email the next day apologizing for the mix-up. If your date is smart, she’ll forego the rescheduled phone call for a more attentive prospect.

Tip to try:
If you set up a phone date, make sure you turn up for it, just as you would for a real-world date. Use Post-its, program your PC’s calendar to remind you, or whatever tactic will make things happen for you.

Now, let me leave you with 3 last guidelines for a great phone call:
1) Give her your full attention. Nothing turns a prospect off like hearing an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants blaring away in the background.

2) Ask lots of questions. This applies in real life, too, but on the phone, especially, a love interest appreciates being able to get a word in edgewise (unless he or she is actually ignoring you and watching SpongeBob SquarePants).

3) Know when to hang up. If the conversation begins to drift, it’s better to wrap things up with a perky “Gotta go now! Let’s talk again soon!” than to ask your date what she thinks about the Senate filibuster bill.


Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on About.com, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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