I used to be a phenomenal texter. Phone always in hand, if I felt a little buzz, I’d get to work replying. I’d even spend hours engaged in real-time texting conversations with friends. Can you imagine? Right now, though, I’ve left 20 of my good friends on read – yes, I just counted – some of whom have messaged on multiple platforms over multiple days. Look, I’m not saying I’m proud of this.
Although I mainly blame the pandemic for this shift into feeling so overwhelmed all the time that texting people back has become an impossible task, my boyfriend would say I’ve always been a terrible texter. That’s because when we first started dating, I’d take at least 24 hours to respond. It’s not like I was counting down the hours, but this was, in some ways, a conscious decision – and to be fair, with so many apps at our fingertips these days, it’s only fair to take a break every once in a while.
You’ve done it too, right? It’s the ultimate unwritten rule of early dating. You see a string of messages come in, you read them as previews to maintain your aloof grey ticks, and then you park them until enough time has passed that they won’t know you’ve actually been waiting to hear from them all day.
When you’re getting to know someone, this hot and cold style of texting can be very confusing, particularly if you’re the kind of person who replies straight away. Is this a glaring red flag? Do they like you? Are they about to ghost you? Should you obsessively re-read your messages to make sure you didn’t say anything weird?
Learning how not to freak out about this is an art that can take years to master. First of all, consider the realistic reasons why they might be taking a long time to reply. Maybe they’re at work, an appointment, or hanging out with friends or family; maybe they want to sit with the messages for a while, before taking the time to answer properly; maybe they’re really hungover and simply don’t have the energy to text anyone right now.
It’s also worth remembering that not everyone is going to be glued to their phones. My old housemate used to leave hers in the kitchen when we watched TV at night, so sometimes she wouldn’t look at it for hours. Some people might be particularly good at texting early on in a relationship because they prefer to flirt via the comfort of a screen; others might feel more comfortable flirting in person.
That’s not to say someone being a bad texter can always be brushed off. If they’re taking a long time to reply and when they do, it’s thoughtless, short, or uninspiring, they may not be into you. If they’re doing this and they’re not being proactive about planning dates, that’s probably a bad sign.
In all of these instances, though, the best thing to do is usually just ask them about it (maybe wait until you’ve been on a few dates, though – you can’t expect a total stranger to always text back immediately).
What’s most important is to consider what’s really bothering you about this. For me, texting back slowly was a (very chic) habit I’d developed after a number of years of being ghosted. Whenever it was my turn to reply, I held the power, meaning I could eradicate the gnawing anxiety that, at any moment, the messages would stop coming. The longer I sat with this feeling of contentment, the better – because as soon as I sent my little string of texts back, the worry flooded in again. Usually, the more you get to know and trust someone, the less hung up you get on stuff like that. Now, I don’t even think about replying. Sometimes I do it immediately; sometimes I take all day, and vice versa.
Often, though, people who are bad texters at the beginning of a relationship remain that way throughout. If you’re the polar opposite, then, how can you learn to adapt?
“I’m a very ‘see a message, reply straight away’ vibe,” says 28-year-old Liz from London, who’s been in a relationship for over a year. “My partner is more ‘see a message, read it, forget it’s there, reply in a few days’.” Liz says it took a while for her to learn that if her partner didn’t reply straight away, it wasn’t because she didn’t like her or that she was deliberately ignoring her. Rather, she was just busy or had “mentally replied” instead. “She wasn’t doing anything wrong and didn’t owe me an instant reply; it was [more about] my insecurities and needing validation in a new relationship.”
Liz broached the topic when the pair were newly dating, particularly noting her frustration when a text that needed a response – say, about something they were doing that day – went ignored. “We were open with each other about how different we are in texting styles, and she told me that she can get overwhelmed with replying to people,” Liz explains. “We’ve both adapted gradually and naturally. It no longer bothers me if I don’t get a reply for a while and she doesn’t get worried that I’ll be annoyed if she ignores me.”
Liz adds that dynamic has taught her that she doesn’t owe people instant replies, either. “If I’m busy or with other people, now I prioritise my attention to what’s going on in real life, and can reply to others later on.”
Ultimately, a person’s texting style doesn’t necessarily reflect what they’re going to be like IRL, nor how much they like you. What matters most is how well you get along in person, or how comfortably you’re able to communicate about worries like this.
Sometimes a constant texter is annoying, anyway. Romance is better with a bit of mystery. Just maybe not too much, alright?