Why Do We Get So Triggered When Someone Doesn’t Text Us Back?


 I was recently polling readers opinions on the topic of dating red flags and all the usual suspects were there. Co-dependence, an inflated sense of self, an unwillingness to compromise, no top sheet, you had to use a bowl as a water glass because there were no clean cups in the kitchen etc etc. But a decent number of people also cited poor communication– specifically, when the person is bad at replying to texts – as one of their loudest alarm bells. And, had you asked me the same question six months ago, I’d have probably agreed with you.

One of the (many) petty past times I engaged in throughout my teens and (okay fine) early twenties, was measuring how long it took for the boy I liked to text me back and then doubling that time so as to avoid appearing too eager. If he took 12 minutes to reply to my message about Shortland Street then he wasn’t getting NUTHIN for at least 24. God forbid a sixteen-year-old male with an underdeveloped frontal lobe know that I’m interested in going to second base. Thankfully this pettiness dissipated in adulthood, but I still routinely felt a tinge of panic or insecurity when a person didn’t respond to me, and I’ve only recently come to realise how irrational that is. And that’s because, for the first time ever, I’ve become the person who is kind of shit at communicating. I will open your text and immediately close my phone. I will see your call come through and switch the ringtone to silent. And it’s not because I hate you, and it’s not because I’m avoiding you, I’ve just been finding the ol’ communication thing a bit overwhelming.

Six months ago, I genuinely couldn’t understand people who found it difficult to reply to messages. It takes less than 60 seconds and you’re not Oprah – reply to my fucking text! I think the main reason we find someone’s non-reply so triggering is because we convince ourselves it’s a deeply personal and deliberate decision. That all the other texts and calls on that person’s phone have been answered except for ours. We tell ourselves that If! He! Wanted! To! He! Would!

But there are so many reasons other than a desire to communicate that can cause someone to not reply. It doesn’t just take “time” to respond, it takes emotional bandwidth – something that most of us in the current climate don’t have a lot of. My lengthy response times are in no way correlated to how I feel about someone; you’ve either caught me on a good day or a bad one. And it doesn’t matter if you’re my flatmate or father or best friend or the guy I like.

I must note, however, that the exception to this rule is bread crumbing. If the person you are talking to is sending you flirtatious, sporadic, non-committal messages in order to maintain your interest without expending any effort. If they’re doing the absolute bare minimum by replying to every second or third text just to keep themselves on the radar. If they like your Instagram posts or reply with (God help us) fire emojis to your Instagram Story but never actually write proper English. If they routinely say, “We should catch up!” with zero follow-through. If they’re putting out bread crumbs with no intention of offering the loaf, or even a single slice?

I’m sorry to say, my sweet friend, you’ve got yourself a flag. 

Header image via Tumblr