The case of the un-responded-to text message
February 1, 2014 5:58 PM   Subscribe

A former colleague got in touch to hang out. I didn't respond, but I actually wanted to. How can I fix this?

So, let's call my former colleague Sarah. We're both 20-something women who worked together in a small office for about a year before she left the company. We got along really well, sometimes hanging out outside of work, just us or with our other colleagues.

A few weeks ago, I ran into Sarah. She texted me suggesting we get together some time soon, but...I never got around to texting back. Which is crazy, because I'd actually want to spend time with her, but...

I've been in a bad place socially for the past little while. I've been avoiding getting together with close friends and especially not wanting to deepen connections with acquaintances because I feel like I'm a tedious bore with nothing to offer anyone. Basically, I'm hesitant to let anyone new get close enough to know that I'm just not really worth their time. I panic when people reach out to me because I feel like I don't really have the energy to detach myself from the unpleasant things in my life and put on a good, fun, extroverted face for social events. These are some pretty serious and pervasive issues that I'm well aware I should see a therapist about, but enough about me for a moment.

Sarah's still friendly with our other colleagues, and some of them are looking towards getting together next. But I still haven't responded to that text, and every day that passes makes it more difficult. And it certainly makes things look awkward for everyone involved (and could seriously hurt morale with my current colleagues) if it looks like I've given Sarah the cold shoulder for no apparent reason.

Sarah, having worked with me for a while, definitely has at least an inkling that I've got some social anxiety issues, but I feel pretty shitty for just letting things drop, because she's a nice person and she doesn't deserve my being shitty to protect my special snowflake self-esteem. My question is, what can I do at this point? I really don't think that permanently ignoring her is the solution here.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"Hey, sorry I dropped the ball with this! Would love to reconnect, maybe next week?"
posted by samthemander at 6:01 PM on February 1, 2014 [22 favorites]

You reply now:

"Hey Sarah, just realised I never replied to your text. So sorry! Things have been crazy. But I'd love to hang out. How about coffee on Tuesday?"

Or whenever you can next see her.
posted by lollusc at 6:01 PM on February 1, 2014 [50 favorites]

I feel pretty shitty for just letting things drop, because she's a nice person and she doesn't deserve my being shitty to protect my special snowflake self-esteem.

Think of it this way... if you feel like she deserves consideration that you haven't given her, then indulging in feeling "shitty" about this is only perpetuating that more, not making anything better. Because it's still focusing on you and your feelings. Not that I am saying your feelings are bad or not important. But if you concentrate on taking the focus off of yourself and how you feel, it might help.
posted by cairdeas at 6:04 PM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you are making this too complicated. Just text her back and say, "So sorry I didn't respond earlier, time got away from me. I would love to get together soon, when is good for you?"
posted by amro at 6:09 PM on February 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

Honestly, I think you're overthinking this a little; I'm pretty sure she isn't upset about this. Text her back with some sort of small apology (Hey, sorry it took me so long to get back to you!), and go from there. This happens to me a lot, and it doesn't really bug me at all.
posted by Fig at 6:10 PM on February 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't over think it.
Just send her a response, and see what happens.
posted by Flood at 6:15 PM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Everyone knows that Dec and Jan are super crazy with social events, family and then reconnecting with work, responsibilities and whatnot.

I wouldn't think badly of someone who got back to me in Feb after a crazy Jan (even if your january wasn't crazy)

I like the "Hi Sarah, sorry, been crazy busy with the new year, would love to catch up. How about dinner on Friday"

Reconnect, then suggest a concrete activity. Then you guys can reconnect and figure out what to do.

No need to explain too much, even once your text is done, no one really cares if your month _was_ crazy or not. It's the social glue everyone uses to reconnect, etc..

Have fun!
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:34 PM on February 1, 2014

Your anxiety/depression is telling you that this is complicated. It's not complicated. No one is mad at you; no one will be mad at you if you send a "Sorry for the radio silence; how about X date" or "... I'd love to meet up with you at X previously scheduled activity." Just type it, send it, and ignore whatever your anxiety is telling you about how it will be received.
posted by jaguar at 7:09 PM on February 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yup, overthinking.

This has happened to me and to people I know a lot. Sometimes you mean to respond and you get distracted or busy. You don't need to explain about being in a bad place, just use one of the scripts above.

If you're still feeling anxious about connecting, suggest an activity that doesn't seem too intimidating to you. Something like going to a museum allows some talking and catching up and some quietly looking at nice art.
posted by bunderful at 7:12 PM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, poor anon! I do this too! It is a totally sucky and yet understandable and yet sucky thing, which should be fought against as hard as possible. Don't let you be your own worst enemy, when you should be your own best advocate.

I'm one of those people who (despite introversion and social anxiety and all kinds of other things) really enjoys being friendly and really enjoys people being friendly to me; to me, putting forth effort to utilize the trappings of friendliness means something. I'm also one of those people who puts off replies I really, really care about if I want it to be really good, and then gets guilty about not replying, and then the reply has to be even more good and then I get even more guilty, and then arrrgh flaming ball of flames. This was...a bad approach to assignments in college.

Despite it being a problem of mine, I do feel anywhere from moderately-disappointed to rather hurt if someone appears to have just blown me off for no apparent reason, especially if they seemed to like me before, and acted (pretended, says the abandonment-shoulder-devil) as if they wanted to get together. There is no way for the non-recipient of the non-message to know whether you're guiltily wishing you'd responded because you want to be friends, or purposefully blowing them off because you don't like them, so it really helps to do your best to respond, if you really want to convey the former.

Obviously you have a good handle that therapy will help give you tools for dealing with this (and re-framing your own problems/sense of self: I am certain you are not "a tedious bore with nothing to offer anyone," and definitely not "just not really worth their time"), but until then I'd recommend just doing it before you let yourself think about it too much. You will feel guilt and anxiety, and just let yourself hold those thoughts to the side while you complete the reply text or e-mail. You only need to feel that (distant, because you're concentrating on composing a reply) discomfort for 30-60 seconds until it's sent, and then you can feel bad again. But you probably won't feel as bad as you think, because, hey, you accomplished something! And when you're depressed, something like responding to a text you've been putting off for a few weeks, letting it get bigger and bigger all the time, is a big deal. It is, and you can feel good about that. After you've done it, which you should do right now, because instant reward!

People have even given you scripts. Pick one, type it out, send. Like a boss.
posted by spelunkingplato at 7:28 PM on February 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

I would just add that the best way to apologize is to suggest a specific date and time. If you say, "Sorry I didn't respond, when is good?" it feels like you're just doing it because you feel you have to. If you say, "Sorry I didn't respond, things got away from me -- how about Tuesday?" it makes clear that you really do want to get together.
posted by musofire at 7:48 PM on February 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Got a phone? Call her, apologize, and set up an activity while you are talking to her.
posted by Carol Anne at 7:32 AM on February 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're worried she's offended. I get it because it's such a anxiety reaction to worry that she hates you because you didn't reply to her.

With that in mind, if you're up to feeling a little vulnerable, I'd text her back and say 'hey, I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I've been going through some stuff that made it tough to keep up contact. But I didn't forget your message, and I'd still love to hang out with you! Are you free on ____?"

When you get together, you can elaborate on what the stuff you were going through was, if you feel like you're brave enough and if you want to let her in on it. I told one of my friends once, "Sometimes, I get overwhelmed and I can't keep up contact and go into hermit-mode. If I do this, it's not because I don't wanna hang out with you or don't like you, I just have difficulty mustering any kind of enthusiasm for anything." It made things easier all around and she understands me a lot more. When we get together, its like no time has passed at all. And when I told another friend the same thing, they said-- "I totally understand, I get the exact same thing, too!'

It doesn't always work. For another of my friends, I let her know my deal and that wasn't good enough for her and she took it personally every time I withdrew, and we're not friends any more. You can't win em all. But by not telling her, it was a guaranteed lose. By letting her know, I had nothing to lose, and a deeper friendship to gain.

So yeah, don't be afraid of reaching out a little.
posted by Dimes at 8:01 AM on February 2, 2014

Two things to remember:

1) You've been obsessing about this; she's almost assuredly moved on to think obsess about the eight million things in her life that aren't going the way she wishes. At worst, she's wondered what's up a few times -- did OP get my text? is OP OK? But she's almost assuredly not taken offense to a lack of response to one text.

2) The gremlins of your situation are lying to you, telling you that you're unworthy or unable to be good company. But Sarah knows you and sometimes all it takes to be good company is to NOT be a person's ex or mother-in-law or annoying neighbor. Just being you -- any version of you -- is good enough.

You don't have to go into the whole thing; if you want to be really honest, just say you hadn't been feeling great lately (mental health counts!) and have been caught up in things, but you didn't mean to make her wait, and yes, you'd like to get together. And yes, suggest an option. But know that this has been a much bigger thing in your head than hers.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:25 AM on February 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I understand how you feel, but feeling shitty about this is not helping her at all - in fact it's stopping you from doing something that would make her feel better - contacting her!

It's never worth worrying about these things too much. Just drop her a quick line asking her to meet up, without over-apologising, and I bet she'll be delighted to hear back from you and not offended at all. If the boot was on the other foot would you be pissed off, or would you just be happy to hear back from her?
posted by tinkletown at 11:46 AM on February 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

People over complicate things. Start with "I'm sorry..." Be honest.
posted by flexiverse at 6:54 PM on February 2, 2014

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