The phone’s not the place for finding love

Inspired by the relentless advertising on late-night TV, a Journal staffer embarks on a phone dating adventure to see if it’s possible to meet sexy singles through telephone dating

Journal staffer Emily Whalen mimics a phone dating advert.
Journal staffer Emily Whalen mimics a phone dating advert.

I’m not sure what Alexander Graham Bell had in mind when he invented the telephone, but I’m pretty sure telephone dating wasn’t exactly what he envisioned. I’ll warn you right now, this isn’t a love story.

I decided to delve into the world of phone dating because many companies’ ubiquitous advertising implies some people must be using them, despite it seeming like a dated way of meeting people compared to Internet dating sites.

A month ago, I signed up for Lavalife and Quest, two different, well-advertised telephone-dating services. With Lavalife I ended up paying fees that seemed unnecessarily high to me. Most telephone dating services advertise a free membership, but they still charge you to be connected with other “singles” and to record your “telepersonal.” The service could end up costing a lot of money—especially if you’re male. I bought a month-long membership to Lavalife, which was $34.99, which also included online dating as well as telephone dating services.

Men and women are treated distinctly differently by the services, another thing that threw me. Being treated differently because of my gender, even though it saved me money, wasn’t something I felt entirely comfortable with.

Most telephone-dating services are geared towards men. With beautiful women often featured in their commercials that are played late at night on TV, I felt embarrassed calling these dating services. The image made me feel kind of sleazy. For this particular service I also had to choose if I was interested in “dating,” a “relationship” or an “intimate encounter.” Figuring out the various euphemisms was bewildering. I opted not to select “intimate encounter.” Also, doesn’t “dating” often lead to “relationship?” What the difference is, I guess I’ll never know.

I then recorded a telepersonal—a recorded message where I talk about who I am and what I’m looking for. This task was another point of contention I had with the process of telephone dating, because most university students take this time in their life to fulfill the most existential of questions—namely, who am I? This telepersonal forced me jam my entire self into one tiny recorded message, and have a mini- existential crisis while doing so.

My message sounded self-conscious. I said some of my interests (writing, talking, reading) and suddenly realized I sounded quite boring. I then mentioned something about how I was interested in guys who also shared these interests and stopped there, realizing I don’t exactly know what I want and probably should have written something down before I started recording.

I received no response to my awkward plea for love. I was never connected to any other local loners, nor did I chat the night away with a sexy single. The whole process left me feeling pretty terrible about myself, love and the nature of the self. Although standing at the bar can sometimes have this effect, perhaps the draw of this type of service is that you can be rejected in the comfort of your own home.

The second telephone dating service I used, Quest, was—believe it or not—even more perplexing than the first. One of the main problems with telephone dating is that it’s an almost archaic way of meeting people. Perhaps because of this, the industry has turned into an operation with more “intimate encounter” than anything else, if you catch my drift. My naïveté made it hard to decipher which services were actually used for dating and which ones were used for phone sex.

The phone sex industry often uses the same language you might expect from a reputable telephone dating company. “Connecting you with local singles” simply means pay the company some money and you can talk to a female operator who might arouse you and talk to you for a little while with no intention of dating you. This service seems to be geared toward customers who also have no intention of dating someone, but enjoy “chatting” on the phone to complete strangers.

Call me a prude, but I didn’t really want to have phone sex with a complete stranger. My telephone is also on a short cord and currently located in a common area of the apartment I share with the two other people. When I found out what was actually going on I hung up abruptly, too embarrassed to tell the other people in the room that someone had asked me if I was hot and down to have some fun.

I have an open mind, but telephone dating just wasn’t for me. I felt like I was playing a game and I didn’t know the rules. Dating can be pretty awful, but it’s the little wonderful moments that keep us singletons going. Telephone dating forced me to reduce myself to a quick voice-message and awkwardly refuse phone sex. I’d much rather stand at the bar with my hip popped.

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