We all do it. We open a message, read it, and decide not to reply.
Sometimes it’s because we can’t think of anything else to say or we’re not interested in the conversation anymore; sometimes, we glance at the message and forget to reply as we do other things; and sometimes, we choose not to respond as a power move.
Picture this: you just sent the funniest message of your life to a friend, but no response is forthcoming. So you check the message, just to make sure it sent, and you see that little, neat “Read” under the message. Now imagine that person is your crush. Sucks, doesn’t it?
A friend of mine recently started online dating after a long-term relationship, and we were talking about how long to wait to reply, or whether to even reply to certain messages — ye know, all the erroneously manipulative garbage we all hate to receive but still do. She was wondering how to reply to a snap message from a few hours previously, and I couldn’t help but think, why do we do this?
It would seem that leaving someone on read or waiting to reply is the new playing hard-to-get; it tells the other person that we’re either too busy to respond or that we don’t care to. And dating experts say this can work to make us seem more desirable, but it also can lead to complications later down the road. If we start a relationship from a manipulative place, it’ll impact the type of communication and trust we have with our partner.
So leaving someone on read can seduce a romantic partner, though it’s not recommended for the long-term, but what does it mean to leave our friends on read? Why has it become the norm to not respond when we don’t have anything else to say?
Jane Hu from Slate Magazine suggests that the constant presence of the media landscape means we are never unavailable, and therefore never have to say goodbye. The conversations become a mess of tangents, but there is never an actual end to them. When we’re busy, we don’t say “BRB” anymore, we just don’t reply until we have the time, if at all. It’s normal to ignore a message or not reply for hours and even days, and by that point, our responses have changed, either because we have had time to mull over what to say or we want to talk about something else.
We tend to forget that conversations rely upon reciprocity. Text etiquette, regardless of the platform, doesn’t require our focus. Interactions with people are just a part of the million things we’re doing at once; we rarely give it our full attention. This is usually not a big deal for everyday things, but it really sucks when we’re in full crisis mode and our friends take two hours to respond.
My solution? I don’t open messages until I have the time to give them my attention. I’ll peak at the notification bar to read the first line, and if it can wait, I’ll reply when I can. If I can’t see a message preview, then I don’t open it until I can give it my focus. That doesn’t answer the problem of how fast we reply, but it’s my way to consciously engage in the conversations I’m having. And if I don’t know what to say back? Well, that’s what gifs are for.