Despite society’s texting, tweeting and Facebook obsessions, nothing has really replaced the old-fashioned telephone call as a way to explore how well you connect with someone you’re interested in romantically. Little has improved how nerve-wracking these initial conversations can be, either. With that in mind, check out the advice below from relationship experts and real daters alike — then, get busy dialing up that person who makes your heart beat a little bit faster.
1. Put your nerves on hold by practicing your introduction a few times first. “Nothing is wrong with a few dry runs in front of the bathroom mirror,” says Miami-based life coach Joshua Estrin, author of Shut Up! And Listen to Yourself. “You don’t want to sound rehearsed, but knowing what you’ll say when the other person answers and having a few topics ready to go can help the conversation get off to a friendly, interesting start.”
2. Be kind and remind your date who you are when he/she picks up. “In our age of telemarketers and wrong numbers, be sure to identify yourself right away,” says April Masini, author of Date Out of Your League. Not that you’d say, “Hey — it’s me” at this stage of the game, but early on, offer more than just your name, like mentioning where and how you met. He or she may know more than one person that shares your name, after all.
3. State your purpose for calling upfront. Let the person know why you’re calling (even if your ultimate aim is to set up a date, hopefully that won’t be the first thing to pop out of your mouth). “I’m just calling to chat if you have a few minutes free” is a good way to start. If you need an excuse, tell the other person about something you read online or saw on the news that prompted your call.
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4. Time it right to avoid going straight to voicemail. “Weekends during the daytime is good; Saturday night is not. Lunchtime is good; near dinner time is not,” says Masini. “Don’t call at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning or after 10 any night of the week.” Whenever you plan to call, make sure the person is free to talk by asking immediately, “Is this a good time for you? If not, when do you have a few minutes free to chat?”
5. Inquire with genuine interest, but don’t interrogate your date. “Ask general questions,” suggests communications expert Suzanne Bates, author of Speak Like a CEO: Secrets For Commanding Attention and Getting Results. “Not serious questions, but questions that are easy to answer, such as: ‘What did you do today?’ You can get a sense of the other person’s tone and enthusiasm, and just from details about someone’s day, you can also get a good picture of who the person is and what he or she enjoys.” Adds Estrin: “Remember, you just met each other — so please, no highly personal questions. Keep it light. Reserve topics like politics, religion and world peace for later on.”
6. Maintain a volley of topics to lob back and forth with your date. “To keep things flowing, pace the conversation like a tennis match,” says Bates. “Listen carefully to the other person for something that intrigues you, then offer something interesting about yourself that might relate to his or her answer.” For instance, if your date says he or she has got to get some new skis before this weekend, ask where your date likes to hit the slopes, whether he or she prefers downhill or cross-country skiing, or — if you’re not into skiing yourself — ask what sports your date enjoys during summertime (and perhaps hint at your own volleyball or golfing skills in the process).
7. Stay focused on the task at hand until you hang up. Even without Skype or FaceTime, the other party can usually tell when you’re distracted and not paying attention. “Don’t make a romantic call while you’re cooking, driving, shaving or checking your emails,” warns Masini. “Try not to multitask, for once!” And try this tip from Denise Dorman, 42, from Geneva, IL: “Smile! The listener can’t see it, but he or she can definitely hear a smile in the tone of your voice.”
8. Take a stand by pacing off your jitters. “If the person on the other end of the line makes you nervous, simply stand up while you’re talking,” advises Dorman. “It’s amazing what a psychological lift it will give you to be above the stress and moving around.” Just remember: feeling jitters early on is understandable, but if the person you’re talking to continues to intimidate you after another conversation or two, he or she may not be the best dating material for you to pursue.
9. Understand that occasional silences are OK and part of the natural flow of conversation. Not every second must be chock-full of mindless chatter, so try to resist that temptation when it arises. “We often feel interrogated when questions come at us in a rapid-fire way,” says Estrin. “Give the other person enough time to think about an appropriate answer.” If an awkward silence occurs, simply acknowledge it after a second or two with humor or change the subject. “Sometimes I’ll start talking about what I was watching on TV before the person called; it sounds silly, but I usually record Teen Mom or The Bachelor or something similar, and everyone my age loves these shows,” says Emily Hendricks, 24, from Astoria, New York. “That usually leads to talking about other shows we like or silly cartoons from our childhood, and the conversation just seems to flow from there.”
10. Keep a list of conversation topics handy. Since conversational lulls can be unnerving, jot down a couple of current topics on a Post-It or type them into your smartphone’s notes section as a reminder before you make the call. “‘So tell me, where did you grow up?’ and ‘How long have you lived here?’ are great icebreakers,” says Bates. “Most people like to talk about their own history.” And unless you already know that the other is in the midst of a career crisis, work questions are also a good idea — especially since they are neither too personal nor threatening for most of us to answer honestly.
11. Avoid turning your call into a monologue by periodically pausing to let the other person speak. Some people tend to blab uncontrollably when they’re nervous. “It’s not necessarily bad to run off at the mouth,” says Estrin, “but you obviously can’t talk and listen at the same time.” To ensure it’s a dialogue and not a monologue, listen to yourself and monitor how much time you spend talking. “If you haven’t heard the other person speak in five minutes, you’re talking too much,” says Masini. Can’t quit blathering? At least avoid unleashing a verbal torrent about yourself on the other person, please! If you do begin dominating the conversation, throw in some self-deprecating humor, if that feels comfortable to you — “Hey, I guess I should pause, take a breath and let you get a word in, right? Sorry, I tend to talk too much when I’m excited and getting to know someone new.”
12. Encourage the other person to open up by asking open-ended questions. Other people, when nervous, tend to clam up. If the person who’s on the line is answering you with one-syllable replies, try deploying some open-ended questions — the ones that start with what, when, why, where or how. Examples like: “How did you get interested in becoming a physical therapist?” or “So why did you move from Florida to a landlocked state like this one?” should help get the other person speaking more freely. “These require more elaboration than if you asked a yes-or-no question; try to ask questions that begin with phrases like ‘have you...’ or ‘would you...’ and then go from there,” explains Bates. But the real key is to simply develop an inquisitive nature regarding the people you meet. If you’re genuinely curious, you’ll be more apt to ask the right types of questions in such a way that it will make others want to respond to you enthusiastically.
13. Be brief to leave your date eager for your next call. We sometimes hear coupled-up friends brag, “We talked for three hours!” when describing their early conversations, but Bates believes that’s far too long: “Save something for the face-to-face meeting. You want to hang up and have the other person think, ‘Wow, I really want to get together and chat more!’” So, make sure to wrap things up before you run out of stuff to say and wind up sitting in dead-air land; if you need a hard target to shoot for, aim for 45 minutes (or less).
14. Always try to end things on a high note. Close the conversation in a sincere, warm, and polite way — ideally by telling the person how much you enjoyed chatting. Then, if you want to set up a date, you have a perfect segue into asking him or her out. “I’d like to continue this conversation — are you free for coffee some time this coming week?” should work just fine.
15. Remember at least one thing from your phone call to bring up later on. Get a head start on your next chat — it’ll make it that much easier to work your way into the other person’s heart. “Every time you talk, remember one thing about the last conversation — something the person was going to do, for instance; then, ask how it went,” says Sally Murdoch, 37, from Portland, OR. “This creates an ongoing conversational pattern and shows that you’re considerate. Pretty soon, you’ll be on this person’s mind more and more.”