Please help me to tell people I will not always be available to them
December 22, 2010 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Please help me to politely tell people that I am not available 24/7 by phone.

I am beyond fed up with people (mainly family members) getting on my case because I don't answer their calls or texts on my cell phone IMMEDIATELY. The majority of the time this is because I have my phone on silent, I have left it at home or I can't hear it ringing because I'm in a noisy place. I will answer the phone if I hear it and if I miss it I will generally get back to texts or calls fairly promptly if they need some information or whatever but with chatty things, not as much (e.g a text that says "hey, what's up"). Sometimes I will take a few hours to get back to people on non-urgent things (e.g. "When are we getting together this week?").

I am not a phone person to begin with and I can't stand having conversations through text. I have no problem with having brief conversations that serve a purpose, or if I'm speaking to a long lost person and catching up, but I really don't like just chit chatting on the phone and the same goes for texts. However, some of my friends and especially my family get angry that I don't pick up their calls for whatever reason or don't text them back right away. It doesn't matter if I tell them I didn't have my phone with me or I was sleeping or whatever - they've told me that I need to keep a closer eye on it because this is "how people communicate now".

Telling them I'm not a big phone person doesn't help, they just get angry. I've completely had it at this point and am considering permanently keeping my cell phone off and only checking it once a day for messages. This is a bit extreme and I'd rather not do it, but I'm not sure what else to do at this point. I do not have a land line right now, so I do need my cell phone, but I am seriously considering getting one when I move in a few months and ditching my cell phone altogether to get rid of the hassle of my family and friends who think I should be there 24/7. I would rather not do this as I like having my phone for an emergency and so I can easily check my email etc. Please help me come up with a solution that will not further inflame my family members.

If anyone thinks I am being unreasonable, I am completely open to hearing that as well. Thanks for your help.
posted by triggerfinger to Human Relations (61 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I HATE talking on the phone.

I tell people specifically:

- I'll only answer my phone if I am in a place/situation where I can give you my full attention

I also hate voicemail. I switched to getting transcribed Google Voice voicemails and that has made it a lot better.
posted by k8t at 10:24 AM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have no idea but if you figure this out let me know. People don't understand that just because cell phones exist mean that we must answer them at all times. I'm not a phone person either and usually have mine on silent because of work. Luckily people in my life just make fun of me like it's a big joke instead of being angry. Still annoying though. Now I'm self conscious about not answering because I know it just adds to the joke.
posted by modoriculous at 10:25 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In your shoes, I would change my voice mail greeting to be "Hello, you've reached Firstname Lastname's voicemail. I check my messages in the evening and will respond to you within 24 hours. Please leave your name, telephone number, and a brief message. If you leave your e-mail address as well, I may be able to respond to you more quickly. Thanks."

This serves two purposes: (1) it makes your communication habits clear to others, and (2) the greeting is so long that it will dissuade the ME ME ME NOW NOW NOW GIMME set from contacting you except in emergencies.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:29 AM on December 22, 2010 [36 favorites]

Them: "You need to keep a better eye on your phone! It's how people communicate now!"
You: "It's not how I communicate."

If I were you I'd adopt a polite "This is how I am. Deal with it." stance. I think you're being completely reasonable and setting the boundaries that you feel are appropriate. Now you just have to stick to your guns.

Don't get into an argument about it. Just say something to the effect of "I'm sorry you feel that way, but that is how I choose to deal with my phone." Keep repeating as needed.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:30 AM on December 22, 2010 [13 favorites]

My outgoing message says that I rarely answer the phone, and that I return messages only once a day. If it's an emergency, they should text me.
I like to chat well enough, but I'd rather not have to interrupt what I'm doing to talk.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:30 AM on December 22, 2010

Having grown up in a time before mobile phones, I agree with you, I don't want to be available all the time. If I'm out of the house, I'm too busy to talk. Few exceptions, for example, when I've pre-arranged to be available for someone.

First, don't make excuses. It's no one's business what you were doing when you didn't answer - sleeping, music too loud, etc. This just gives them a reason to berate you: "Why are you sleeping so late?" or "Why don't you turn your ringer volume up?"

Just keep telling people that you don't carry your phone all the time. Repeat it as many times as you have to. No excuses. They will get mad, and then they will get used to it.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:32 AM on December 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

I always tell people that the cell phone convenience is for me. The answering machine convenience is for them. As a long time cell user, I long ago got over that Pavlovian response to the phone ringing. if people can't deal with me not picking up, then it is their problem.

You don't have to suffer without a cell phone. Just don't give out the number and make everyone call the land line. Use the cell at your convenience.
posted by lampshade at 10:32 AM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd say you need to upgrade to a better class of family, but that's kind of hard to do :) They'll get over it, or maybe they'll get mad and stop calling and texting. Either way you win. Just don't let them get to you. It's their problem, not yours. When I'm home, my cell phone is in a drawer in the kitchen. If you call or text, I won't see until the next morning. People learn to deal with it.
posted by COD at 10:33 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've completely had it at this point and am considering permanently keeping my cell phone off and only checking it once a day for messages. This is a bit extreme and I'd rather not do it

You don't actually have to turn it off - just tell people that you only check messages once a day. Check them as often as you like, but don't feel obliged to answer them except for once a day.

Mostly, though, this is a boundary-setting thing. If someone says "But this is how people communicate now!", you are free to say "It's not how I communicate." If people insist on whining to you about your policy, you can say, "Thank you for your concern."
posted by rtha at 10:33 AM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

(1) Make your voicemail greeting, "This is Triggerfinger. Unfortunately I don't always have my phone on, so I'll check my messages [x] number of times during the day and get back to you when I can."

(2) Get rid of your texting plan. Tell all your friends you got rid of your texting plan and that they should therefore not text you unless it's really, really urgent. Suck up the occasional $0.15 or whatever charge.

(3) Find your own acceptance of that fact that, well, this IS how an increasing number of people communicate now, and you're making a choice to opt out of it, and some people will react negatively to it.
posted by olinerd at 10:34 AM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm totally on your side. Having to constantly monitor my cell phone all day is my own private hell.

The only solution I've come up with is to give people times when I'm generally available on the phone, like 6-10pm or something. If they want to get in touch with me during work hours, they're welcome to give my phone a try, but I can't promise that I won't be busy with something else. So I try to make an extra effort to have my phone nearby during the evenings, but I feel free to ignore it during the day. It's not perfect, but it's the best I've come up with.
posted by auto-correct at 10:34 AM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I, too, hate talking on the phone. To me, a phone is a communication device, not a chatting device.

Yes: "I'll see you at the restaurant at noon."
No: "How was your day?"

The key, I found, is consistent behavior on your part. Don't pick up the phone often at all, and when you do, don't get stuck in chatting.

"Let's talk at XYZ. I'm in the middle of something right now, but I do want to talk with you." Then actually follow up on what you say you'll do, so you're not an unfeeling clod.

Also, what does your outgoing voicemail message say? Consider managing expectations there, too.

"Hi, this is triggerfinger. You can leave a message, but the best way to reach me is XYZ."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:34 AM on December 22, 2010

Yeah, let them get angry. That's fine if that's how they communicate but just stick to the point that that's not how you communicate.

I eventually got a very dear friend to catch on that I don't always call right back or text immediately by responding at my own pace when it wasn't an emergency. But before that it was "OMG ARE YOU OKAY? ARE YOU MAD AT ME? WHERE ARE YOU?" if she didn't get a response instantly.

They will get mad, and then they will get used to it.

Exactly. Do what you need to do.
posted by corey flood at 10:37 AM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

They're pissed because they're not getting an immediate response. They are trying to train you to respond as they would like. Howver, the etiquette of electronic media isn't even wobbly jelly yet. To me, your approach would be entirely reasonable. There are many reasons not to respond immediately; being at work, being on a date, being at an occasion, whatever.

Here's the approach I have used:

They want to be sure that you've received the message or voice mail or whatever: a technical solution like voicemail or an autoreply to email (an away message) can give them the assurance that they've been heard. If you commit to following up within a day or so (either before or in your voicemail message), that may give them assurance that you will follow up.

On the other hand, it's entirely reasonable to say something like "I've got a lot of commitments, but I'll get back to you." While you've heard them, you will reply when time is less pressing. Be firm, but patient with this message.

So, let them know that they've been heard, but that immediate responses are not possible. Stick to your guns and they'll come round. You can communicate on your own terms.
posted by bonehead at 10:37 AM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't ditch your cellphone, it really is "how people communicate now," sadly. But it sounds like your friends and family are making unreasonable demands. Honestly, I'd probably keep doing what you've been doing -- refuse to be pressured into changing your perfectly reasonable habits, politely explain that you were either busy or unavailable, lather, rinse, repeat. Remain calm, don't get defensive, and don't apologize. (I'd also get out of the habit of forgetting your phone and leaving it home, but that's mainly because I'm always afraid I'll miss an emergency call of some sort.)
posted by Gator at 10:38 AM on December 22, 2010

I could have written this myself! Mom, if you're reading, I will call you back...eventually. ;)

I think giving them an alternative way to contact you would be a nice way to compromise. If you don't carry your phone all the time, do you have access to your email at work? Tell them that if they need a quick response, they can email you.
posted by too bad you're not me at 10:40 AM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

You don't say anything about how many are leaving you voicemails versus not. Let me suggest this to you, as it worked a charm for me. If they don't leave you a voicemail, don't call back. When they call at a better time and you do answer, and they ask about why you didn't return the call, explain that since there was no voice mail, there was no expectation of urgency, and you didn't feel the need to call back.

I'm one of those connected people, but even I'm courteous enough to respect the people that operate like you. For friends, explain that it's straining the friendship, and for family, explain that you would need family emergencies to be communicated like emergencies, and non emergencies can be gotten back to later.
posted by deezil at 10:41 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Hi, you've reached the voicemail box of John Smith. I'm not available right now, but I do return my phone calls between the hours of 12 noon and 7 pm. Please leave a message at the tone, and I will return your call as soon as I can. Thanks! "
posted by brownrd at 10:42 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think that stating when you return calls on your outgoing message helps. The Brother works nights, and so his outgoing message states the specific hours when he returns calls, and he finds that that disposes of about half of the "why didn't you return my call?" static.

The other thing is that they're trying to train you, and you're trying to train them. Your only hope is to stick to your ground and just keep repeating "I've found that returning all my calls once a day works best for me" or whatever formulation works for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:43 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

In response to the suggestion about getting rid of your texting plan, I recommend that you tell people you got rid of it but actually keep it.

I speak from experience.

I got rid of mine, but I continued to get junk texts and texts from acquaintences and colleagues who I could not tell about my no-text plan situation. In the end, it was cheaper and easier to just get the minimal plan and tell people as I go along that I don't do texts. Those 15 or 20 cents here and there do add up quickly.
posted by vincele at 10:43 AM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

The key thing to do here is put a passive aggressive message on your phone, something like this:

"Hello this is x, sorry I missed your call I am either on another call or away from the phone at this time. For a faster response in the future, please send me an email. My email address is, again that's a b c d e f g @ x y z "as is zebra".com. If you still feel you MUST leave a message, please do so after the beep."
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:43 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I see two options.

Tell them please do not call me between the hours or __to__unless it is an emergency. Tell them that your cellphone is not their cell phone and you want to stay in touch for emergences but not for chit chat. Be polite but firm.

Option two: way cooler, buy a Faraday cage for your cellphone, you will not have your cellphone off but "out of service range".

Basically tell them to bug off or hide your resentment; normally I go for the open and honest approach. But how cool is a Faraday cage for a cellphone!!!
posted by Felex at 10:46 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I prefer to give my full attention to whatever I'm doing or whoever I'm with. When I do call you back, I promise you I am all yours." Being available 24/7 to all comers is not how people communicate now. It's how some people communicate now. And evidence is starting to come out that they're not doing such a bangup job of it anyway.
posted by headnsouth at 10:53 AM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I always wonder if these people have no children, jobs that don't require a lot of attention and/or never take them out of cell contact, AND talk on their phones on dinner dates. I mean, seriously, they're never in meetings, or classrooms, or court, or surgery?

Which is to say, I don't think you're unreasonable at all! I put on my syllabus that students should expect a response within 24 hours and something about, "I will get back to you as quickly as my other responsibilities allow." This mostly works to at least set expectations, though family is harder to set expectations like that with; I think others are right that repetition and a firm line is the key. (And a polite lie about only checking voicemail in the evening and returning calls then, and being like, "oh, I just happened to check at lunch today!" if you return an afternoon call is also a good idea.)

Surely eventually the human race will split into two species by cell-phone-answerers-during-dates only mating with other cell-phone-answerers-during dates and non-phone-answerers only mating with non-phone-answerers, and the answerers can all have chips embedded in their brains to allow them to be in constant contact with one another, and the non-answerers will rejoice that other non-answerers turn off their phones when they go to bed so you can leave a message without worrying you'll wake them!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:56 AM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Please help me to politely tell people that I am not available 24/7 by phone.

Hey, this doesn't sound like the actual problem, it sounds like they simply don't understand your point of view on those or worse, don't care.

Please help me come up with a solution that will not further inflame my family members.

I've been in your shoes and came to this solution: It's not my problem, it's theirs.

After a while, when they started expressing their anger to me about this, I would remind them of my previous statements on the matter and that if they continued bugging me about it, the present conversation would stop. And then followed through on that, by either walking away or hanging up the phone. The message was quickly received.

Are they still angry about it? Maybe, I don't know, not my issue. Borders have been established and either they can stick to them and have some contact or ignore them and have zero contact. The choice is theirs.
posted by nomadicink at 10:57 AM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

You don't have to own their feelings of anger and annoyance. You are not responsible for keeping them happy. You are doing what works for you. If they get upset because you don't jump when they say jump, that is their problem, not yours. Stick to your guns, and don't fall for their attempts to control how you live your life.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:59 AM on December 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

You're not being unreasonable. I (and many other MeFites, it seems) are similar to you in the way I treat cell phones.

It sounds like it's possible some of your friends and family members are feeling hurt or ignored. I would try to keep that in mind when you respond to their queries about why you didn't respond to them more quickly via cell phone. I'm not saying it's entirely reasonable for them to feel that way, but feelings matter when it comes to our loved ones, and phrasing your responses a little differently is a small, reasonable way to accommodate them.

I think the big picture here is knowing that your MO for cell phones is perfectly reasonable, and these demands of theirs are unreasonable. Don't let their crazy responses affect your calm or change your mind. Stand firm, but remind them that you love them, that they're important to you.
posted by hootenatty at 10:59 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, do not worry about these people for ONE SECOND.

If a family member beefs at you, staring at them quizzically and saying "I was busy?" works pretty well.

Also I have had an extremely hostile outgoing voicemail message most of the last few years (HI, THIS PHONE DOES NOT ACCEPT MESSAGES AND I DO NOT LISTEN TO VOICEMAILS). (Yes, I know, kind of crazy.) But! When THAT wasn't enough to keep people from leaving messages, I simply let my voicemail box fill up. Ta da! No messages--but a record, in the phone, of missed calls.

So look, you may not need to go that far. But you are in a two-way "expected behavior" training fight. You will win, because you care more about your privacy and time. They will eventually shut up. Stick your ground. Call people when you want to call them. The end.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 11:00 AM on December 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

You do not have a problem. The people getting angry have a problem. Let them get angry, it's not your problem to deal with.
posted by Wet Spot at 11:02 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah I just say "Nothing personal, I'm just not a big texter" and "Nothing personal, I just hate talking on the phone." If they get angry, it's their problem.
posted by callmejay at 11:06 AM on December 22, 2010

Stop feeling badly that you don't consider your cell phone an "Electronic Leash" and continue to handle your communications the way you wish.

Sooner or later, everyone who wishes to continue to communicate with you will get on board and follow your lead.

Anyone who yells at you for not picking up your phone immediately doesn't respect you, and I fear that is the real problem you are describing.

Maybe work on setting boundaries in other areas of your life and this problem will take care of itself as you improve your overall style of interaction??
posted by jbenben at 11:06 AM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Imagine instead that someone is berating you for not watching a television show the moment it is broadcast, because you prefer to record it and watch it at more convenient time. It is equally ridiculous. Technology enables many things, and people will choose to deal with that in different ways.

They are not annoyed because you aren't available for chit-chat at their whim. They are annoyed that you are not behaving the way they want you to behave. You could become super-responsive to text/calls today, and next week it will be something else.

This is not the way everyone communicates. Everyone is not on Facebook. You don't need FaceTime (ok I'm jumping ahead with that one). Etc.

I agree setting expectations via your voicemail is the way to go. This way no one can claim they thought you were just ignoring them for some reason.
posted by mikepop at 11:23 AM on December 22, 2010

It is rude to telephone people. You are interrupting their lives by doing so. You are imposing upon them. They should ask for your indulgence when they phone you. This is the principle that seems to have been forgotten with the advent of cellphones.

This is precisely why I refuse to own a cellphone.

Cellphones have become part of the culture. It is now expected that you should be contactable at any time.

This is sick, offensive and wrong on so many levels I struggle to articulate it, and I am a more-than-usually articulate person.

People like me, who refuse to own a cellphone, are Canutes. We can't win in any significant or lasting way. We know that. But we can win within our own lives.

This is what you need to aim for. You need to win within your own life. I am assuming you cannot or do not want to ditch your cellphone entirely (no... it's easy... join us... joooooin ussss...). Your only option therefore is to explain to the assholes who are making your life unpleasant that they are making your life unpleasant, and you do not appreciate having your life made unpleasant. You need to explain this very assertively and clearly. You need to say that you do not accept that it is their right to interrupt you and demand a swift response to whatever is concerning them, when they so plainly do not wish to consider that other, more pressing things, may be concerning you. Or that you just may not feel like talking to them because they can be a real fucking pain in the arse sometimes.

Tell them that you are not a phone person, and that you are certainly not an "everyone who knows my number has a perfect right to demand my attention instantly whenever it suits them" person. Tell them that this is not going to change, and that they are frequently going to find you unavailable or unwilling to respond immediately. Finally, tell them that if this distresses them they should send you their tears so that you can bathe in them.
posted by Decani at 11:34 AM on December 22, 2010 [9 favorites]

Maybe they think it's a sign you don't care about them. You may be so annoyed that when you call or text back, you're cranky. This is not unreasonable of you, but it wouldn't help. "Hey, Ralph, yeah, got your message from last night. ... Gosh, must have been kind of critical if you needed an immediate callback. ... O, just checking in? Well, you know me, I'm just not a text/phone person. ... Yes, I know you prefer that I answer my phone right away, but I'd rather call you when I have a minute to talk, and when I can give you my full attention." Inject warmth and a smile into your voice. Make sure your family knows you love them, love to hear from them, and that your phone/text preferences are no reflection of your love for them.

When you leave the recording on your phone, t a l k v e r r r r r y s l o w l l l l l y. I used to hate to call my Mom because her message took, like 14.8 minutes(<>), and I used to tear my hair out.

I agree with the above idea that your time is your own and people have no expectation of immediate response, just adding the idea that reassuring people it's not a personal thing could help.

posted by theora55 at 11:46 AM on December 22, 2010

Oh how I relate to this. I cannot stand how instantaneous communication has become these days.

What I do is gently communicate to anyone who harasses me about not being a prompt responder that I think they are a little nuts/out of line. Something along the lines of, "oh was there something urgent? I wasn't aware that the message was time sensitive and I was busy when you called." Pointing out that your time line returning their call was reasonable and their assumptions were unreasonable usually shuts people down if done properly.

The other thing I do is continue to return messages whenever the hell I feel like it. The people who I like and get me have never had a problem with it. The harassers went away or got a clue. Win win!
posted by amycup at 11:53 AM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Get an iPhone with ATT as your service provider. You'll then be able to blame every unanswered call on ATT's lousy coverage and the iPhone's unreliability as a phone.
posted by alms at 11:53 AM on December 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

I don't see how someone phoning you can understand the difference between what you consider to be "chit chatting" and "conversations that serve a purpose". I can understand how someone would consider you to be rude if you don't reply to a "what's up" text. Perhaps your family aren't as demanding as they come across as: they want to talk to you about something, send you a text (where they don't articulate what they wanted to talk about/organize), and then you don't reply. And then they get angry.

You've put them in a position where you sometimes respond to their messages and sometimes not; the unpredictability would frustrate me, too. If they could be certain that you'd get back sooner-or-later to each attempted contact, maybe it would calm them down.

Personally, I find texting useful in having efficient conversations w/out chit chat. Is there any way you could see it has a chore that has to be done? With people that contact too-much too-often with "how're you?" I'd respond, maybe at the end of the day, with "good, you?" -- that way you'll find out whether they had something else to talk about. Likewise, instead of returning mis-calls you could respond at the end of the day with a "what's up?" of your own.

(I just wanted to try to provide a different take on your family; the majority of your question actually suggests they are more like the majority of answers have suggested they are, i.e. making unreasonable demands)
posted by squishles at 12:24 PM on December 22, 2010

You don't need to do anything. No need for explanatory outgoing messages or apologies; just go on dealing with the phone in the way you see fit. Ignore the anger; let them think what they want. If you feel like putting an apology or explanation on your outgoing message, do it, but don't feel obliged to. People will catch on, that's what grown-ups do.

For me, it took a couple of years, but now everyone knows that they should just call and leave a message, and maybe I'll return their call. They don't hate me any more. (At least, if they do hate me, it's not for my phone manner.)
posted by phliar at 12:25 PM on December 22, 2010

But how cool is a Faraday cage for a cellphone!!!

At the risk of a derail, you can also construct a Faraday cage for your cell phone by wrapping it completely and tightly in aluminum foil. This costs ~$7.91 less than the $7.99 cage that Felex links. (Try it! Wrap your phone in foil then try to call it from another line.)

More seriously, the message which someone trying to call you gets should be the same whether your cell phone is off, on "airplane mode," or in a Faraday cage.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:26 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I always say "it's not about my relationship with *you* it's about my relationship with *phones*"
posted by dipolemoment at 12:27 PM on December 22, 2010

Sometimes people are kind of weird about cell phones (see also: this thread). Sometimes they're weird and on the pro side and sometimes they are weird and on the con side. Sometimes they have habits regarding cell phones which kind of clash with the same habits of other people they want to talk to.

For some people, cell phones are a way to remain connected with people who are far away, as though they were in the same room, and that is very heartening and cool, especially for parents who wish they could see their kids more often (that's not your fault, anything short of moving back in will result in your parents wishing they could see you more often, if you're all relatively normal) and who also are still getting the hang of a new technology which has revolutionized communication in such a short span of time. For other people - and in the interest of disclosure I will say that I am one of them - cell phones are a way to make phone calls, when you have a phone call to make.

So you need to have a quick chat with your family about this. Explain that you don't always hear the phone, or don't have it with you, or whatever reasons - but more to the point, explain that you just don't have the view that all communications on it should be treated as urgent. Also, explain that you understand that it's a more immediate medium of communication for them, and you respect that, and that it kind of hurts when they get angry at you for not picking up because it doesn't seem like something to get angry over. That's really the most important thing here: the anger. Figure out where that's coming from. In terms of what's making your parents react that way, I really couldn't say, so just talk to them, I guess.

Then discuss compromise. FAMOUS MOTHER used to be kind of irritated at me for not picking up and generally being unreachable as well. Eventually we hit on a solution, and it worked for us and maybe it will work for you: If there is something she needs to discuss on the phone - or just generally has a question or whatever - she will send a text saying, "Please call when you get a moment." Something like that. That way she doesn't have to listen to a ringing phone or leave an irate voicemail and she knows I'll call as soon as I'm able. And everyone gets something a little closer to what they want.

Works for us, anyway.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:28 PM on December 22, 2010

In response to the suggestion about getting rid of your texting plan, I recommend that you tell people you got rid of it but actually keep it.

I have texting blocked on my plan. I hate it and am not about to pay for junk texts or for people to send me stuff I didn't want anyway. If texting must happen, they can send it to my google voice number and it'll get checked when I check email. GV voicemail transcriptions are nice, too.

I really hate talking on the phone. Most of the time if someone calls I excuse myself and explain that I was doing something (or had a headache) when the phone rang, and if there's nothing urgent, I'll get back to them. "Sorry, I've got my hands full, I need to go." Often I email back instead. (In our life, enough of the time it is something urgent that we do have a good reason to answer the phone any time it rings.) People generally don't get angry with me over this; maybe it would work better for you.

I have to say, though, if I just never answered the phone when it rang and only checked messages occasionally, I'd probably absolutely hate changing to answering the phone when it rings, even to tell people to go away. So it's a suggestion, but a very hesitant one.
posted by galadriel at 12:42 PM on December 22, 2010

You seem to be fine with accepting the downsides that come from not being tethered to your phone. Therefore other people's attempts to try to hassle you into doing something different, attempts that sort of ignore your own personal reality, should be unsuccessful. People will learn, but you need to help make them learn. I have a few suggestions, as someone who has been through this myself.

1. Figure out what the real issue is. It's possible the people in your life really feel that it's appropriate to exhibit normal behavior and they are literally hassling you about not being what they see as normal, but more likely it's something else: they want to see you more, they are anxious and don't see themselves as anxious so they blame you for their worries, they are lonely, whatever. If you can get at the root of the real issue that may help somewhat. I have a deal like FAMOUS MONSTER. If my mom wants to talk and it's important [and I let her define important unless it gets out of hand] then she should email me and we can set up a time to talk, otherwise I get back to people when I can.
2. Do not engage. More importantly, disengage. When they start hassling you, just repeat in flat tones "this is the way my life works. I'd like to have you in my life, but I'm not changing this. Let's talk about something else" and then either talk about something else, or walk away/hang up. You have to be comfortable and confident that your own system works for you, as Decani says, and not really be open to badgering to be different.
3. Be realistic. You can't change people's reactions but you can decide how much to let them into your life. I used to fight with my mom about this. She wanted to talk more than I wanted to talk [and the talks were often her complaining about stuff and me feeling trapped on the phone] and at one point I had to flat out tell her that I spoke to her on the phone more than any other living human in my life including my own boyfriend and she was the only person who complained about it. Accordingly, this was her issue not mine and I could not make her deal with it but I was refusing to engage with her about it, period.

All this said, know when to compromise. If you have a partner or spouse who would like to change communication patterns with you, that is a different thing than some member of your family who is not your significant other. Understand that there are downsides to choosing a my way or the highway" approach [as it seems that you do] and make sure you have flexibility in your life when you need it. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 12:48 PM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you ever available to talk?

You mention you're not a phone person or a text person. For people you don't see face to face on a regular basis, is there any way they can actually speak to you and hear your voice, or at least talk to you in real time?

I understand your frustration that people expect you to be around all the time and respond immediately. I agree that's unreasonable. But if they can never, or rarely, talk to you because they're not close by and you don't like to chit-chat, maybe that's the source of the problem and you could make them happier by calling them once a week, or every few weeks.

(I'm totally projecting here -- I'm sad that I've been losing touch with a close friend who moved away and who doesn't like to talk on the phone. We're in regular email contact, but when I don't see her or hear her voice or have a real-time conversation, it doesn't feel at all the same and I don't feel as close to her.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:48 PM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

If someone demands to know why you didn't pick up or immediately reply to a message, say "Because I was busy masturbating." Answer like this once, face to face in public, and they will never ask again. ("Because I was having sex with my husband/wife" works almost as well, and you can actually use this with your parents.)
posted by K.P. at 12:52 PM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I listen to vm and respond to texts when I feel like it, typically hours later or the next day. I also have everything turned down really low, so I generally miss ringing and texting when it happens. Just a vote that it's not weird, and it's not rude.
posted by zeek321 at 12:54 PM on December 22, 2010

I'm pretty lucky that my family is pretty much on the same page as me regarding viewing cell phones as a convenience, not a "electronic leash" (as amusingly stated above). My friends, on the other hand, used to get pissed sometimes, but over the years I've perfected my stance: I am bad at the phone. I don't like it. Email me if you want, text me, call me, whatever. I will get back to you if and when I feel like it. (Of course, urgent requests are exempt from this policy) My only suggestion to you is to be very clear that you do not feel that just because you have a cell phone means you need to be available constantly, it is not about them, it is about you. Repeat as necessary. They may still be annoyed, but the anger should die down after a while.
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:54 PM on December 22, 2010

I endeavour to become the family member who "just is like that". Like "Oh, great Aunt Mildred. She just is like that. She never remembers names/looks at you when you talk/eats anything green. You can't change her.".

My dad, I feel, is getting a head start on me. For a while he even unplugged his landline when he didn't feel like talking and when I got mad at him for not being available, he'd wave his hand airily and say "oh, you know, it kept ringing and I wanted some quiet." And all my anger would just wash off him like he was teflon. He never seemed to notice or care when people protested.

Eventually I just got used to it!

So I guess you need to tough it out the first year or so and remain airy and friendly. "Oh, you know, I can never seem to sort out my phone calls. It's better if you write me an email."
posted by Omnomnom at 1:03 PM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I heard once that 'the phone is there for your convenience, not the caller's'. That's what I say when I'm in class and the phone on the wall rings and my students lose their minds saying "oh my god, the phone is ringing!!". People get used to it. You're not going to answer, they will stop calling. But like someone else said, you have to have a way that you do respond to quickly. I always answer emails, and rarely answer the phone! (I like to read what's happening first). (Although at work, I obv do answer the phone, I just don't RUN across the room, dropping everything I'm doing!).
posted by bquarters at 1:33 PM on December 22, 2010

Everything has been said already but I just want to point out that I am just like you. I rarely answer my phone when it rings unless I am expecting to hear from someone or I am trying to coordinate meeting with someone shortly.

My mom is one of those people that will call 5-6 times in a row with no message. The first few times I freaked out thinking it was some sort of medical emergency (was not). Now I don't bother returning her call in situations like that and just call her once a week. It takes time to condition people out of it.

Even though I am super tech savvy I am still a bit old fashioned about phone etiquette. I leave my phone in my car when I out to dinner (also the time when mom calls). People who check their email during dinner are just as obnoxious as people that answer phones in my opinion.

I did however switch my voicemail over to a service very similar to google voice (youmail). I get a notification on my laptop (I'm on it all day) and I can quickly scan a message and see if it needs to be returned right away. If not, I just respond to it by email sometime before the end of the day. 95% of my calls are not important. Very occasionally my boss will call and say something needs to be done in the next few hours (which is why the notifications work great for me).

Just give it time. You are not responsible for other people's impatience.
posted by special-k at 1:40 PM on December 22, 2010

Talking to crazy people tends to not do much good. They're just going to have to deal with your actions. In my case, I don't get cell reception at my work so I have my phone off during daylight hours, and after work I'm frequently in a class or something so I'm not going to talk either. This pretty much limits phone call availability time to a reasonable amount for me. As for texting, I wouldn't be opposed to it except I have an ancient ghetto phone that I can't text on. So I tell people that I'm busy AND I CANNOT TEXT YOU BACK (I don't even read texts 98% of the time because I can't respond to 'em). If they don't like it, too bad.

Though I will point out that (a) if someone is calling you with a genuine emergency, which does happen once in a while, it is a pain when you weren't available immediately, and (b) some folks, like my mother, are incredibly insistent on phone chat time and it ain't worth the drama to NOT do some phone time with her.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:21 PM on December 22, 2010

Get a pay-as-you-go plan. Establish a budget. Tell everyone that it costs 50 cents a minute (or whatever the rate is). That helps you avoid calls, and gives you an excuse to get off the phone quickly.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:44 PM on December 22, 2010

There is a lovely invention, and it's one of my favorites: it's called voice mail. When I get tired and start turning into a pumpkin -- sometimes like right about now -- I don't answer the phone unless I'm expecting a call about something relatively important or have a rare urge to yak on the phone. I check messages in a timely fashion, but unless it's important, I return the call when it's convenient to do so.

With respect to the cell phone, mine is almost never on. If whoever it is really needs to reach me, they can leave a message. I've had a cell phone for, what, ten years maybe, and I've only actually had it on and answered a call on it maybe three times. (Cell phones have their place, but as means for reliable, clear and secure communication they aren't so hot -- which is another issue for another day.)

If people really need to speak with you, they will leave you a message. Otherwise, whatever they have to say cannot be that important.

And once you establish a more productive pattern for yourself, they will adapt to it. On some level, this issue has to do with what psychologists call "boundaries," and you just have to establish and maintain yours.
posted by cool breeze at 3:22 PM on December 22, 2010

There will be a Cell Phones Anonymous (or Texters Anonymous or Facebook Anonymous) soon, if there isn't already one. Join it, or found one. Then it will be easy for you to explain to people in recovery language why you don't make yourself available constantly.

I know this is a bit dishonest (since you weren't addicted to begin with) but people who are not themselves alcoholics go to Al-Anon because their family members are addicts.

I also think we should revive the Victorian and Edwardian calling card.
posted by bad grammar at 4:59 PM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: I'm glad you want to be polite about it, but I feel no need to be polite in the face of abuse. If someone persisted in haranguing me about my telephone habits after I explained my position, I would just hang up and ignore their calls for a day. Then add another day to the timeout every time it happened.

I have also fantasized about getting a 900 number as my only phone.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:26 PM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: I have told everyone that I DO NOT answer the phone while driving, as I will die in a fiery crash. Period. My stock reason for why I didn't answer the phone is pretty simple -- "I was driving."

You can also appeal to courtesy - "I was at the register at the grocery store." or "I was reading my kid a book."

Also, I don't have call waiting. I hate it, and will always inadvertently hang up on someone while trying to negotiate between two calls, so I turned it off. Tell everyone you don't have call waiting and it gives you yet another reasonable answer -- "I was already on the line."

If people don't leave a message, I don't call back. I have told everyone "If it's important enough that you need me to call you back, it's important enough for you to leave a message."

It's totally acceptable to tell people that there are some activities that preclude the answering of a cell phone. I think they will lay off the anger at some point if you remain steadfast, and unavailable. I also try to be reasonable and answer the damn thing when it's convenient for me to do so.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:48 PM on December 22, 2010

I simply let my voicemail box fill up. Ta da! No messages--but a record, in the phone, of missed calls.

I so agree with RJ Reynolds here. And the problem isn't just with cell phones; I used to have this problem when I had a landline. Got grief from parents and friends, but in the end, who cares? They learned, eventually, that I wasn't always there, or that I didn't always want to answer the phone, or even that sometimes I wouldn't return a call.

In the old days, the phone would just ring and ring and ring and there wouldn't even be a record of who had called. I don't see why advances in technology should create an obligation to respond. OP, I think your main problem is your own guilt. Stop that! You have nothing to feel guilty about. Use the phone the way you want to use it, even if that means pretending it's an old rotary-style phone, and you don't have any idea who called or when.
posted by torticat at 9:56 PM on December 22, 2010

If you don't want them to go away in a huff, you need to convince the phone addicts that you have a reason not to answer the phone immediately, you need to change their expectations (which are that people everywhere answer their phones immediately for everyone around the clock), and you need to assure them that you aren't ignoring the caller. So:

"Hello. I'm not ignoring you. I don't even know that you're calling. I keep my phone turned off during the day so I can get things done, and I check my messages every evening after 6:00. If you want me to call you back, please leave a message."
posted by pracowity at 11:16 PM on December 22, 2010

I really suggest Google Voice as a partial solution to your problem... there's Do Not Disturb mode where your phone won't ring until you let it. (Sadly, it does not yet work with texts.) Also, this seems like your friends'/family's problem, not yours. I once had a friend get angry because I didn't answer her text right away. I was driving at the time. I texted her back once I got parked and saw the message, and told her that I'd been driving and wasn't going to risk my life or someone else's just to answer a text. People are starting to know now that they might not get an immediate response from me.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:04 AM on December 23, 2010

Wow. IMO your friends/family are being real jerks if they actually get angry that you're not constantly at their beck and call. I am not a phone person either, and I'm also quite forgetful. A lot of the time, my phone is at home, dead, or on silent. My voicemail has not been set up in the five years that I've had it. Nobody has ever gotten upset with me about it, and it'd never really occurred to me that someone would. Not really sure why I've never gotten any serious hassling, but here are some thoughts:
- I make it VERY clear when giving out my cell number that I'm NOT a phone person, and that I check my email regularly. If you want a quick and reliable method of contact, you email me. If you just want to hear the sound of my beautiful voice, email me and we'll go for coffee sometime.
- I'm really not kidding about my phone being in an unphoneable state a lot of the time. Anyone who doesn't believe me at first believes me when they attempt to phone me once or twice and get no response for a week or so. This is not me being intentionally nasty or rude, I just sort of forget it exists.
- I don't make situational excuses for not answering the phone, but I make it clear it's not a personal thing either. I am not a phone person, I say, and I rarely remember to charge it and bring it with me. You can try to call but email usually works much better, I say.
- I don't give out my number to anyone who really isn't a close friend or family member. Nobody from work, no acquaintances, no entitled distant relatives ("distant" referring to relationship, not necessarily blood). Nobody who doesn't know me well enough to understand how unlikely I am to pick up, and nobody in a position to order me to answer my phone (eg a boss or client). Close family and friends are supposed to be understanding of your little quirks (like THEY don't have any? please :)) and they aren't the boss of you.
- I have no particular reaction when people joke about it being hard to call me. Yup, it is indeed. I don't make excuses, because that would imply that I'm doing something wrong, and I'm not. I don't get riled up, which is good because that would make the joke fun for the jokers, and probably lead to it being brought up more and therefore seeming less like a funny observation than a thinly-veiled nag.

This allows me to keep the phone on me when I anticipate actually wanting to make outgoing calls, check email, or be contacted by phone or text (in which case I can let the anticipated phoners/texters know that I'll be carrying my phone).

Being "plugged in" 24/7 is known to be bad for your mental health. Putting everyone else's needs and priorities ahead of your own 100% of the time, which is what you're doing if you allow yourself to be constantly interrupted regardless of what you're doing, leads only to stress and misery. They're also being pretty darn arrogant and insulting in presuming that nothing in your life is more interesting or important than they are.
posted by purplecrackers at 1:11 PM on December 23, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, lots of great answers here, thank you. I'm glad to see that I'm not alone in this.

I think a lot of it comes down to people thinking it's personal when it's not and I probably need to do a better job of communicating that.

I do have Google phone and I love the transcribed voice mails because. like k8t, I also hate checking voicemails. I am quite happy to call people back just on the basis that I see I have a missed call from them but being able to read the transcribed voicemail or listen to it through my gmail is second best and preferable to dialing into vm and having to go through all the options.

I'm still thinking about it, but I may just end of putting a short little status update on my facebook saying something like - "I'm bad at the phone, nothing personal, feel free to call me anytime and if it's urgent or time-sensitive say so and I'll get back to you right away, otherwise I'll get back to you when I'm not working/running errands/shopping/driving and I can properly sit down and speak to you". Or something like that. In the meantime, I may just always leave my phone on silent - that way it won't bother me with constant rings and beeps and I can still quickly check it when I want to. I, too, also hope to be one of the "she's just like that" people and I think I am well on my way. I overheard my sister call my mom the other day to complain I had not picked up on her two calls within an hour ( I was in another room and didn't hear my phone) and my mom mumbled - "oh, she never has her phone with her, you know how she is". SUCCESS!

Anyway, thank you so much for the responses, you've given me a lot to think about.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:21 PM on December 23, 2010

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