This is how it usually happens:
I’m sitting at my desk working, or out walking my dogs, or watching Netflix on the couch — what I’m doing doesn’t really matter, because whatever it is, I am sure to receive a text while doing it. My phone will buzz, and I will have the knee-jerk reaction to reach for it right away so I can drop whatever I’m in the middle of and divert my attention to whoever is beckoning me over the airwaves.
I don’t want to look at my phone. To be honest, every time it dings or buzzes or rings, my blood pressure spikes and I think, Oh god, what do I need to do now? Who have I ignored? It’s not that I don’t like talking to people. I especially like talking to my fellow millennial friends who rely on texting in the same way This Is Us fans rely on the show for a good weekly cry, but I hate texting. I truly, sincerely despise it.
But do you know what I hate even more than texting? Feeling bad about not texting, or feeling guilty about not responding right away.
Starting now, though, I’m done apologizing for being “bad” at texting.
Whenever I get a text, I feel like I have to instantly respond. That is what modern etiquette calls for, isn’t it? At least, that’s the impression I get every time I’m talking to a friend and they stop to look at their phone mid-sentence because of a message they’ve received from someone who isn’t even in the room. It’s also the impression that I get when I receive numerous follow-up messages, usually within minutes, sometimes days, because I almost never answer my texts right away.
I know I should just respond to whatever texts I get. How hard is it, really, to say “That sounds cool!” to my friend when she tells me about a new project at work, or “Maybe Saturday would work?” to another when they ask about getting together for drinks?
The physical act of typing a few sentences is simple, but the emotional labor that goes into crafting a text, sending it, and then being expected to continue a conversation from wherever I am, at whatever time, regardless of what I’m doing feels crushing to me.
Every text that comes to my phone is like a shot of anxiety straight to the heart. I panic over what to say, and how to say it. I freak out about responding too quickly, or not fast enough. What if I just wait until tomorrow to respond, when I can devote time to a conversation with the person? That last possibility feels most reasonable to someone like me who feels cornered and vulnerable with every ring of the text tone, but it seems to be out of the question for my peers.
“I’m sorry, no one is too busy to text.”
“I know you have your phone on you, so why don’t you ever answer me?”
“I see you post on [insert social media site here], so obviously you just don’t want to talk to me.”
These are the accusations casually thrown my way by friends who are reasonably annoyed by my poor phone etiquette. I hate to admit it, but that last comment about not wanting to talk is probably closest to the truth — and I don’t mean that to sound harsh. I don’t usually want to talk to anyone over text. To me, nothing is more anxiety-inducing than having to craft the perfect response within the right time frame and sending it out into the world, unable to explain the inflection of my words or the intention of my emoji.
When it comes to communicating with the people we care about, sometimes I think that talking — really talking, a face-to-face exchange of words and ideas wherein one person is almost always talking over the other — is so much simpler than typing out the right words.
That’s a weird thing for a writer to say, I know. I am fully aware of the irony, but sometimes I think that words aren’t enough, especially when they appear on a digital screen. Certain conversations — most important conversations — are longer than a few texts. And those are the kinds of conversations I want to be having more of.
As a writer, as an activist, as a woman, and simply as an American who watches the news every day, the last 18 months have been intellectually exhausting, emotionally demanding, and physically tiring.
Sometimes, the thought of responding to a text, no matter how simple, feels like an impossible feat.
I’m too emotional, too worn out, too worked up, or just too damn tired to talk to anyone — no matter how much I care about them. It doesn’t matter that it’s easy to send a text.
I’m not saying I’m the busiest or most important person. I’m not saying my time is more precious than anyone else’s. I’m not saying that I am more tired or more stressed out than any other woman on the planet right now. All I’m saying is that my attention is already being constantly divided at a rate I can’t seem to combat, no matter how many self-care articles I read.
And I’m done apologizing for wanting time to myself.
To all of my friends and loved ones who I haven’t texted back, or who I texted back a week later: I don’t hate you. I care about you. I want to talk to you. But I am not sorry for not responding to your message. Texts should be an invitation to have a conversation, not a contractual obligation.
I didn’t answer not because I don’t want to talk to you, but because I want to start a conversation with you when I can give it the attention it deserves. I can’t do that if I am out to dinner with someone else, or if I’m trying to finish an article for work, or even if I am just sitting at home trying to relax and take care of myself.
This year, I promised myself I would try and be a better friend, a more supportive friend. I’ve made strides to reconnect with the people in my life I care about but lost touch with. I’ve scheduled phone calls into my week so I can talk to friends I can’t easily see in person. I’ve made plans to meet for drinks, go to comedy shows, and just hang out at home with loved ones — and I’ve followed through with those plans.
I want to be a better friend — a better person, really. But I probably won’t text you back for a while, and I’m not sorry about it.