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

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.” So you might be surprised to learn that I am a staunch advocate of easing up on the societal pressure to respond to text messages right away.

These days, all sorts of so-called “rules” have evolved about how – and how much – we should text. You’ve seen them before: Respond to flirty advances to reciprocate interest, but not right away or you’ll look desperate. Even if you’re too busy to respond, send a text saying you’re too busy to respond so your friends know you’re not blowing them off. Get back to your mom’s “Where are you text?” within five minutes so she knows you’re not lying dead in a ditch someplace. Don’t text when you’re driving, put your phone down when you’re enjoying the company of people you love. Turn off all electronics an hour before going to bed for a good night’s sleep – but still be expected to be available 24/7 lest the world accuse you of going off the radar.

Such expectations are neither healthy nor realistic, even if they may be socially accepted and, well, 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 and 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 d**k pics from a guy she met at a movie theater). In almost all cases (except the above), 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.

In the good old days, 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 so easy to reach people that 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, 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 certainly guilty of face-planting into a few curbs because I often do it while walking. And still, when I don’t respond to a text message because I’m running or grocery shopping or working on a freelance project or just hiding out from the world, I feel pressure to stay off the Internet entirely. Surely I shouldn’t tweet or check in someplace on Foursquare if I haven’t yet responded to a languishing text message, right? I don’t want my friends to feel snubbed, but sometimes I just don’t want to – or truly can’t – respond right away, either.

It seems the most common argument in favor of responding to text message right away, which is that holding off incites bubbling self-esteem issues on the part of the texter, who feels snubbed. “I know you have your phone on you all the time,” friends and significant others have told me, “so when you don’t respond right away, I know you’re ignoring me!”

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?” (à la the fabulously self-deprecating Mindy Kaling). 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 using the restroom 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.