I’m Not Responding to Your Text Message Right Away, and Here’s Why

Thursday, February 13, 2014

[Note: At the end of 2013, an article from xoJane.com had me up in arms about text messaging response time. Because the good folks at xoJane rejected my counterpost by way of radio silence, I've decided to share it on my own blog... two months later. How's THAT for response time?]

I’m a notoriously fast text messager (messenger?!). Maybe I’ll regret saying this, but for the most part, I usually respond within five minutes. Like most twentysomethings, my cell phone is all but glued to my hand, a condition exacerbated by a job in social media. At nearly all times, I am technologically “on.”

I was surprised, then, to find myself so peeved by Shani Silver’s recent post on xoJane titled “15 Things I'm Thinking When You Don't Text Back.” Subtitle? “Buy some backup cell phone power already.”

Yeah, I hate this line of thinking already, too.

In her post, Silver responds to 15 excuses for not responding to text messages, originally presented in a Thought Catalog piece by Phoenix Aksani. Aksani’s excuses for temporary text avoidance run the gamut from common (“My phone is dead”) to absurd (“I am helping my friend look for her pet rat that escaped”). Silver shares her feelings on each of these individual excuses and, 86.7% of the time, finds them wholly unacceptable.

The only two excuses she gives a pass to? Dancing and smoking pot. Because priorities.

In every other instance, though, her response can be summed up thusly: “Not good enough. Respond immediately!” Even if you are asleep or grooming yourself or masturbating or having actual sex, you should respond to text messages as soon as possible – and if you cannot (you know, because you’re having actual sex), you should apologize as soon as possible for your delayed response time.

This is neither healthy nor realistic, even if it may be socially accepted and expected. Why? Because, with the exception perhaps of doctors and the president, none of us has committed to a life of being on-call at all times for all people. The idea that we should be is totally dismissive of the vital but increasingly disrespected concepts of individual space & sanity.

Should you leave a text message lingering in the abyss forever? Probably not, unless it comes from someone who has no business texting you (like the time my friend was being sexually harassed in the form of unwanted dick pics from a guy she met at a movie theater). In almost all cases (except that one), I’m a proponent of exhibiting the basic human characteristic known as compassion, which means treating other the way you’d like to be treated. Would you want your text to be totally ignored, forever and ever? Of course not. But is it sometimes/often/always appropriate for the person you’re texting to respond at his or her leisure, rather than immediately upon receipt of your message? Unequivocally yes.

Remember the good old days, when the only way to reach someone was to call them on their landline and leave a voicemail on an answering machine? Often, those messages weren’t received for hours. Days, even! Today, of course, that’s unimaginable. Technology has made it easy to reach people, so naturally, we expect everyone to be reachable at all times. The proliferation of technology has raised our expectations: If I text you now, I expect you to respond now, or at least soon, even if you’re busy or your phone is dead or you just don’t feel like talking.

For the most part, though, many of us are available – perhaps too available. Studies show that 27% of adults admit to texting while driving and 75% text from the toilet; I’m guilty of face-planting into a few curbs because I often do it while walking. But that’s not enough for Silver, who writes,
“Why is ignoring the default behavior? Do you like being ignored? Do you? It's the Bog Of Eternal Stench Of Feelings. You can't wash them away, and they can negatively affect your self-esteem.” 
To this I say: Your self-esteem issues are not anyone else’s problem. It’s not my responsibility or a man’s responsibility or any other person’s responsibility to uplift or uphold another individual’s self-worth, particularly at the expense of time, energy, and safety. We’ve all been there, wondering, “Why doesn’t he like me enough to respond?” and “Is everyone hanging out without me?” But it’s unreasonable to expect friends and crushes to prioritize us in the exact same moment and with the exact same magnitude with which we have prioritized them.

I love a good, instantaneous text conversation as much as the next girl, but I recognize that sometimes, my text message is not the most important thing in someone else’s world – period. 

Sometimes, when you’re sitting in your bedroom eagerly awaiting a response, the person on the receiving end of your text message is doing something that prohibits them from getting back to you posthaste – like sleeping or working or walking across a street or driving a car or pooping or otherwise living life. We’re all entitled to that level of technology-free enjoyment of our lives, to taking a break from perpetual multi-tasking and focus on one important thing that – gasp! – may not leave room for immediate responsiveness.

And sometimes? Sometimes, the person on the receiving end of your text message just doesn’t feel obligated to cater to your every conversational whim at that very moment. And we’re all entitled to that feeling, too.

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