Till death of cell phone contract do us part

It may seem like a great idea to share a cell phone plan when you're in love. But things can backfire with a breakup.

Story highlights

  • Sharing contractual obligations can make it more difficult for couples to separate
  • Jessica Ravitz left a man she lived with, but her cell phone provider kept her committed
  • She cautions that if there's doubt about a relationship, avoid mobile-phone matrimony

You're in love. You've found the one. You're ready to take that leap and join in cell phone shared-contract matrimony.

For all your joy and optimism, let me congratulate you. It's an exciting time. I know, I've been there.

I was living with someone when we looked into each other's eyes and, with the power vested in a mobile service, became one. Why wouldn't we share a plan if we were starting to share a life?

But it wasn't long before our lines began to cross. There was static. The connection we'd once had kept dropping.

Can you hear where I'm going now?

We were underpaid new journalists, scrounging to get by, when we disconnected. The problem was that, according to our cell phone carrier's contract, we were as committed as ever.

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    I had moving expenses, a security deposit to pull together, a timing belt in my car to replace. I was neck deep in student loans. Coughing up an additional couple hundred bucks to break up with him on our cell phone company's terms wasn't something I could swing. And he said he couldn't either.

    My pleadings with the account matchmakers to let us out of this relationship early and no less poor fell flat. We could have broken up if we each signed new individual contracts with the same company, but he said he wasn't ready to make that commitment.

    And, on principle, I didn't want to eat the expense alone. I already was the one who volunteered to move out. I'd pulled extra weight when he was out of work. I'd turned to my father, who helped cover the couple's counseling we'd once hoped might save us. My pride kept me from asking for more help and, in my mind, I had given enough.

    What followed, though, should be a warning to others -- others who, like me, might have doubts about a relationship but are quick to run down the cell phone company aisle.

    I can't remember exactly how long we were bound by our cell provider's contract, but I remember a lot. I remember that I got the bills because our plan was in my name. I remember, soon after I left him, perusing a bill -- and how an unfamiliar phone number he called often, the one that kept him on the line for 30 minutes and more, caught my eye.

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    I remember impulsively picking up my phone at work, which blocked caller ID, and dialing that number. I remember the voice of the woman who answered: "Hello? Hello?" before I sheepishly hung up. And I remember how my active imagination took over.

    Thanks to my cell phone company, I now had something new to fret about.

    Why did I call that number, you ask? I don't know. I was bored, procrastinating, temporarily insane? No matter the why; I did what I did, and I regretted it.

    And then there was this: Each month, I had to ask him for money. We lived on opposite sides of the country at this point, so I sent him emails -- one, two, sometimes three, when the check that was "in the mail" clearly wasn't. Groveling for dollars from my ex was nothing short of embarrassing and infuriating.

    If I could have just covered the bills, I would have -- but he started calling Canada, effectively doubling and tripling what was owed. Who knew a call across that friendly border could be so expensive? How could I have guessed we'd need a Canada clause on our plan? What if next month he made friends in Japan?

    I looked forward to the day when we fulfilled our contract, when the cell phone company would finally set me free -- and when interactions with my ex, a man I'd once loved, could be about anything but bills.

    I could taste the relief on that welcomed day as I dialed customer service to ask for a separation, an annulled account.

    The cheery representative told me the company needed to hear from him, too. My heart sank.

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    The thought of reaching out to ask him to do anything else for me made my stomach turn. So instead, when the voice on the other end of the line asked if there was anything else she could do for me, I decided to test the lengths she would go in the interest of customer service. I unloaded on this happy, unsuspecting representative. I told her all about my failed relationship, the unnecessary stress her employer had thrown into my life, and I begged her to call my ex for me.

    Bless her heart, this kind woman did.

    And with that, about a year after I knew my relationship with this man was over, my cell phone company finally agreed.

    Have you ever been tied to an ex by contractual obligations? Share your frustrations in the comments section below.