In­stead of tex­ting a love in­ter­est, try a voice memo

They might not be for every­one but hear­ing a laugh or a sigh is much more telling than emoji

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - RACHEL RACZKA

When my part­ner and I first started see­ing each other, we did the post-first-few-dates tex­ting dance — the kind that typ­i­cally war­rants ob­ses­sive re­sponse anal­y­sis that’s both stim­u­lat­ing and mad­den­ing.

One day an alert popped up on my phone, but it wasn’t a text. It was an au­dio file through iMes­sage — a few sec­onds of recorded au­dio in the midst of a con­ver­sa­tion, more con­tex­tual than a voice mail, less ephe­meral than a text. His voice echoed out of the speaker: “Wait, weren’t you sup­posed to be buy­ing me a milk­shake?”

He em­pha­sized “me,” with a bub­ble of a half-sti­fled laugh on the word “milk­shake.” It was in re­sponse to a crafty re­quest that he take me for milk­shakes. There was no hid­den agenda to an­a­lyze, no sen­tence struc­ture and word choice to com­pare. We went for tea (not milk­shakes, sadly) a few hours later and have con­tin­ued to date since.

A few years ago, Gawker writer Sam Bid­dle wrote an ode to a sup­pos­edly fool­proof open­ing line for Tin­der. “There she is,” he’d type to his matches. In a sea of generic “heys,” his line worked.

Like Bid­dle’s Tin­der ex­per­i­ment, I think there’s some­thing to be said for chang­ing up the an­tic­i­pated script of dat­ing in the tex­ting age. Vo­cal recog­ni­tion could be a pow­er­ful and un­der­es­ti­mated tool when court­ing some­one. It de­mands that some­one be both gen­uine and clever, and that’s scary. I asked friends to par­tic­i­pate in an ex­per­i­ment for the sake of this story — tex­ting a mem­ber of the op­po­site sex with voice memos to re­port back on their re­ac­tions — but the re­quest was met with hor­ri­fied re­sponses. “You want me to do what? That’s weird.” Two sin­gle male friends re­fused to par­take (“So weird!” they said). But a col­league sent a memo to her live-in boyfriend who was charmed by the use of tech­nol­ogy. (“How’d you do that?!”) They sent a few back and forth be­fore the nov­elty wore off.

If you want to try, here’s how you do it: hold down the mi­cro­phone icon in the text box of iMes­sage — sadly this is an iPhone-toiPhone-only ex­pe­ri­ence, though An­droid users have a work­around — and speak into your phone as nat­u­rally as pos­si­ble. The first few times you do it, it does feel weird. It’s like the Nex­tel push-to-talk model of yore, with less sat­is­fy­ing in­ter­ac­tive sound ef­fects. The voice memo then ap­pears within your stream as its own con­ver­sa­tion bub­ble, like a .wav file wait­ing to be played. Voice memos not only ap­peal to my early-on­set nos­tal­gia, they im­me­di­ately an­i­mate the oth­er­wise ag­o­niz­ing ca­dence of hundreds of texts that can be sent in that “get­ting to know you” phase.

Stud­ies have long linked our abil­ity to rec­og­nize hon­esty and au­then­tic­ity to speech. So when it comes to flirt­ing via text, which is how most sin­gles set up their first few dates, maybe the text-only ap­proach is part of the rea­son courtship can be so hard to read. Com­ments in­tended as jokes fall flat, or worse — are read as in­sults. Quick re­sponses could come off as brush-offs or des­per­ate. A spelling er­ror? Fugged­aboutit.

“I al­ways say, it’s OK to have a blind date with­out see­ing a per­son, but don’t have a deaf date where you’ve never heard their voice,” says Su­san Hughes, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Al­bright Col­lege. “At least pick up the phone and call them first. Their voice is go­ing to tell you a lot about that per­son.”

Hughes has been do­ing vo­cal re­search for 15 years, with stud­ies that have linked au­di­tory sense to the un­canny abil­ity to guess a speaker’s age and phys­i­cal at­tributes — “down to a woman’s hip-to-waist ra­tio” — with shock­ing ac­cu­racy. In a 2010 study, she and her team mon­i­tored the way peo­ple ma­nip­u­late their voices when they as­sume the re­cip­i­ent is at­trac­tive. Across the board, par­tic­i­pants changed their pitches to sound lower, sex­ier when shown a bet­ter-looking tar­get.

In a fol­lowup, Hughes looked at the con­cept of “loverese,” the kind of baby talk speech pat­tern that ro­man­tic part­ners some­times use with each other.

“If you hear some­one talk­ing, even in an over­heard phone con­ver­sa­tion, you can usu­ally tell if they’re speak­ing to their sig­nif­i­cant other,” she says. “They use a dif­fer­ent type of voice.”

Hughes asked “newly in love” par­tic­i­pants (as in, they’ve ver­bally de­clared their mu­tual af­fec­tions) to call their sig­nif­i­cant other and then to call a friend. They then played the record­ings for other par­tic­i­pants, who, free of con­text, eas­ily iden­ti­fied the lovers from the pals.

“In this sce­nario, we found women were low­er­ing their pitch and men were rais­ing their pitch, sort of mim­ick­ing by match­ing each other’s pitch,” she ex­plains. “Peo­ple are ab­so­lutely chang­ing the sounds of their voices when com­mu­ni­cat­ing based on the dif­fer­ent feel­ings they have. And other peo­ple are adept at pick­ing up when these (changes in pitch) are be­ing spo­ken to them. We’ve very keen, but I don’t know if we’re al­ways aware of it.”

But when the pri­mary means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion ar­rives via text, Hughes wor­ries that we’ve elim­i­nated an es­sen­tial part of the process of find­ing “The One.”

“Our voices com­mu­ni­cate not just the con­tent of what we say, but our in­flec­tions and in­ten­tions,” she con­tin­ues. “We’re los­ing out on a part of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to a world of be­ing on­line and tex­ting. In terms of con­tent, it can be mis­con­strued so eas­ily when you don’t have those vo­cal cues.”

In the case of my own re­la­tion­ship, the voice memos — “How long do you cook a cho­co­late pie?” “What time do you think your laun­dry will be up?” “How is your morn­ing?” and the like — con­tin­ued for a few months be­fore they phased into reg­u­lar phone calls. I never sent my own in re­turn. I didn’t quite rec­og­nize the value in the voice memo, un­til I found my­self lis­ten­ing back on them one week while my part­ner was abroad. I missed the sound of his voice, which in ret­ro­spect had eased into our own state of loverese-lite, melodic and dul­cet, al­ways friendly and at­ten­tive. Hear­ing his voice re­minded me of his kind blue eyes and broad shoul­ders. His voice sug­gested some­thing much more dar­ing and di­rect than a stream of texts.

Voice memos aren’t here to solve all of your tex­tual dat­ing woes, but a laugh or a sigh are much more telling than emoji. It’s scary to think that our ac­cepted method of courtship com­mu­ni­ca­tion has left us feel­ing the per­son on the other side is a lit­tle less hu­man.

If you can’t be both­ered to pick up the phone (and largely, we pre­fer not to), give the voice memo a shot. Re­ply as you might via text, and don’t be shocked if your “that sounds good” sounds a lit­tle disin­gen­u­ous when you say it aloud. The risk and “weird” fac­tor is there, but the re­ward can be very real. Your voice just might get stuck in their head.


I think there’s some­thing to be said for chang­ing up the an­tic­i­pated script of dat­ing in the tex­ting age. Vo­cal recog­ni­tion could be a pow­er­ful tool when court­ing some­one.

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