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For Whom The Cell Tolls

I broke up with a woman I really liked, after two months, because she always answered her cell phone while we were together. The last straw was a 10-minute chat with her friend while I stood by waiting for her to finish. On dates, I’ve taken a brief call maybe twice, while women have taken over a hundred! Still, there’s no way I’m going to say, “It makes me feel unimportant (or hurt, or bothered) when you do that.” Men don’t talk that way. Women do. My instinct is to drop a few bills on the table for dinner, call a taxi for the woman, leave, and never ask her out again. Why do so many women think interrupting a date to take a non-urgent call is acceptable behavior?

--On Hold Again

Let’s say, after years of therapy, you’re finally ready to reveal the defining moment of your childhood: how your parents left you at a highway rest stop when you were 5, and didn’t realize you were gone until they got home -- two days later. You’re midway through the painful details when your date’s cell screeches, and she dives into her bag for it. She mouths “just a sec” (give or take 20 minutes) -- and she and some girlfriend proceed to review the history of shoe sales in western civilization. Lacking the ability to evaporate, you stare hard at the busboy, pretending to explore the existential ramifications of the way he stacks dirty dishes in his gray plastic bin. Forget any therapeutic advances you’ve made: No matter how steel-belted your self-worth, this sort of thing is sure to leave multiple puncture wounds in the ego department.

Of course, certain calls must go through -- when the liver’s on ice, the patient’s on the table, and your date’s the doctor who’s supposed to install the thing. And, surely, you’d forgive a lady for interrupting a tender moment in case it’s her office calling to inform her “there’s a bit of an overheating issue with the reactor.” But, generally speaking, an answered cell phone on a date is a sign, not of important business, but of self-important business. Think of it as a kind of boor alarm; as in, a warning you should be alarmed that you’re out with one. Don’t be swayed into submission because the interruption comes in a form of technological excess -- her ringer that shrieks Hava Nagila or barks like an annoying little dog, or the fact that she can shoot blurry phone-cam pictures of her life instead of experiencing it. Answering a call on a date is no different from jumping up from the table of the one you’re with to go sit in the lap of some other guy in the restaurant. No wonder it makes you hot to pay and run.

Wait until the woman’s between callers, then try to wedge in a question: “Just wondering, do you usually take cell-phone calls on dates?” It’s not only a way of complaining without complaining; if you’re lucky, you’ll learn that she was just checking in with the baby sitter to make sure her little darlings weren’t trying to garrote each other. Even if she’s simply flat-out rude, you should still consider yourself lucky. Remember, like those tiny paper cups of sausage handed out by little old ladies in hair nets at the supermarket, a date is the relationship in sample size. Multiply the minutes of in-your-face rudeness by a lifetime, and what do you get? The realization that you were just saved by the...well, the digitized 1812 Overture, performed on a vintage 2002 Nokia.

Copyright ©2003, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.