“Can We Ft tonight I miss U”
You would think these six words would be comforting, but that’s not always the case—at least not for me.
Taming the beast that is my social anxiety means creating spaces where I can be alone and safe. This means I work on being comfortable by myself in order to be more comfortable when I’m with others, instead of overthinking everything. When I’m out, that’s when I’m on, ready to interact with my friends and have the best experiences I can. When I’m in, I’m off, taking time to relax instead of fill myself with newfound dread.
Enter FaceTime. On the surface, it’s a great way to stay in touch. You can talk to anyone you want, “face to face,” for as long as you want. Still, the second I hear that ringtone (you know the one), I take on the performativity which I have been wanting to work toward eliminating from my conversations. I want to be myself when I talk to others, not some hyper-intense variation of me that I think will please people. But FaceTime bridges that gap between being by yourself and spending time socializing; on the calls, being “on” is an inescapable constant. This has become exacerbated in quarantine, as the upsides and downsides of our digital age are now more obvious than ever. This is exactly why I feel so compelled to pick up every FaceTime call. Someone is reaching out to me because they have something to say—how could I not hear them out?
Regardless of whether FaceTime is as uncomfortable for you as it is for me, you probably subconsciously gear up for FaceTime too; you, too, curate your image. Some take a shower beforehand, and others wait so they’ll have an excuse to get off the phone. My friends and I have planned itineraries for our FaceTimes as though we’re actually going to see one another in person. We ask each other what time, what day, and plan accordingly. And unlike Zoom’s feature where you can choose any photo as a background, FaceTime forces you to consider your location. Do you want your friends to know about the posters in your room? Do you want them to see the photos on your fridge?
Let me break down the other parts of FaceTime that put me so on edge. Say you’re alone and someone’s trying to FaceTime you out of the blue. You panic. You have no time to prepare! A fear of saying the wrong thing or having nothing to say at all strikes. Embarrassment starts setting in before you’ve even picked up the phone. Whenever these impromptu calls show up on my phone, I always spend so much time panicking that I miss the call by a mere second.
Then there’s the FaceTime interface itself. Instead of looking at the person on the call, most people find themselves staring at their tiny face trapped in a rectangular corner (come on, you know you do this too). It’s frustrating when your WiFi is bad, or their WiFi is bad. What happens when you’re mid-sentence and everything freezes? An awkward repetition, a reiteration of a conversation. How many times do you utter “Sorry, you’re frozen” or “Sorry, I can’t hear you”? How long are you willing to tolerate the technical difficulties that throw off the normal flow of human conversation? It’s uncomfortable to sit on the phone with someone and anticipate the call immediately stopping or something going wrong.
Plus, how do you hang up on FaceTime? If you did in fact shower before the call, that excuse goes out the window. This is what I’ve struggled with most. You run out of conversation and then you’re just staring at each other. You can’t even say you’re going to go home, because you’re already there. There’s nothing to hide behind.
To be fair, though, there are people who don’t overthink the process so much. Picking a location for the sake of a phone call isn’t even on their minds. They might even argue that FaceTime makes their lives easier. That’s what I find so paradoxical about FaceTime, though: it’s always there. This can be comforting, sure—but the subtle pressure to be constantly available is always looming. If you comply and make yourself available, you get to talk to the friends you miss so dearly from miles away. If you don’t, you experience virtual FOMO.
For those unbothered, this ability to communicate with people on a near-ongoing basis isn’t debilitating but rewarding. To an extent, even I can understand this. Although FaceTime makes me uncomfortable, I’ve had wonderful conversations with my friends through our screens as we’ve attempted to connect with one another during quarantine. Even though I may tell my friends I’d prefer not to FaceTime, this has started to become an issue—because FaceTime might be a part of our new normal. I want to overcome the anxiety of this virtual extension of hanging out, because I know my friendships will be stronger for it.
I recognize how important keeping in touch is—especially during such a strange time. A laugh with my friends, even if virtual and glitchy, is a laugh nonetheless. I just have to take a deep breath, relax, and remind myself it’s okay to be uncomfortable. After all, I shouldn’t stop communicating with people, and I don’t want to. I value my relationships and they value me. Now, when the question of “can we” appears on my phone screen, I say “yes” and I try, harder than I ever have before, to put all my fears aside. Owning the FaceTime anxiety might be my greatest feat yet.
By Cassandra Bristow
Illustration by Julia Tabor