Upset/uneasy when people don't reply to text/call/email quickly
April 30, 2021 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Is it normal to feel uneasy or be upset when people don't reply to a text/call/email same day?

I often find myself feeling uneasy or upset when people don't reply to a text/call/email reasonably quickly. I'm someone who usually responds to direct messages within a couple hours or less. In fact usually within less then an hour. In this case I'm talking about friends or family not business. I know that it's unrealistic to think people should reply that quickly to me. It's not that I think they should reply that fast, but when they don't I start to feel like the lack of reply is a reflection on how much someone values or respects me. Does this make me needy or having too high of expectations? Or do you think someone's speed of reply or lack there of represents how they feel about you more often then not? Thanks for your input here.
posted by ljs30 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Does this make me needy or having too high of expectations? Or do you think someone's speed of reply or lack there of represents how they feel about you more often then not?

Texting is reply at your leisure. If something's on fire, that's a phonecall. Chill.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 12:59 PM on April 30 [13 favorites]

I think if the behaviour of other people, which is entirely outside your control, causes you this much distress and negative self-talk and unease, you would probably benefit from some time with a qualified therapist. Your expectations of other people don't really seem to be the issue here, exactly.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:01 PM on April 30 [10 favorites]

I think that you do have unrealistic expectations.

Sometimes I don't even see a text for a couple days; I just don't use my phone that much. Others are like that about emails and/or phone calls. I also have a lot of messages to process through sometimes such that I might not get to all of them before I need to take a break to eat or do laundry or something, but other times I just have the one or two messages so I can respond faster. Furthermore, a message that just wants a quick answer can be responded to right away but one that needs a considered response might need reflection time built in as well. And sometimes, I see a message and start to respond and then get distracted and forget about it entirely!

In general, my elapsed response time almost never reflects my valuation of the messenger and is instead about my own level of busy-ness, engagement with the messaging medium, and the level of time investment I need to input to respond. There are a few exceptions, but it's definitely not the rule.
posted by vegartanipla at 1:01 PM on April 30 [6 favorites]

I really don't think a lack of quick reply is a reflection on you, it probably has more to do with what's going on with them. The exception to this might be if someone normally replies quickly, and starts regularly not responding/responding very slowly (so something that is very different from their normal pattern). Even that could be a them thing though. When I'm feeling really overwhelmed, exhausted, or sad, I usually don't text people back quickly/save it til I have more spoons.
posted by DTMFA at 1:02 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]

And I say that as a person who is prone to that kind of distress and negative self-reflection -- the damage we cause ourselves with those kinds of reactions to other people's behaviours is hard to deal with on our own.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:02 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]

The way things are now, if I can reply to a text the same week I'm doing pretty well.
posted by scruss at 1:03 PM on April 30 [21 favorites]

I don't really think this is answerable. It's an individual thing or maybe a social-circle thing to the extent that people with similar social expectations are likely to end up clustering.

But on an individual level: I don't feel uneasy or upset if there is not a quick response. If anything, assuming the topic isn't something time sensitive, I'm made far more uneasy by very fast responses - it feels like it's setting up a dynamic or expectation that I know won't suit me or them well, as someone who makes a conscious choice to be in another room from her phone for hours or days at a time.

I'm much happier knowing my friends are replying to me at their own pace, thinking of me at whatever times suit their schedule, and prioritizing communications however makes sense for them. If that's a few hours or days later, that's fine. I assume that sometimes this means a conversation will fall by the wayside and that's absolutely fine; I know I'll talk to those friends again when something happens to make one of us think of the other. If it were actually time sensitive I'd ping them again in whatever time frame made sense to be sure I had time to buy the concert tickets or pick up the thing at the store or whatever, and perhaps I'd call them or email them or try some other method of communication in that case.

So, no, I don't think other people's response times say anything about how they value me. Absent other information, I wouldn't venture to guess whether you are somehow needy or having too-high expectations: it may be that you just happen to be someone who will be happier with friends whose conversations flow differently than mine. But it does sound like it's causing you distress, so something isn't working for you as well as it could.
posted by Stacey at 1:05 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]

Does this make me needy or having too high of expectations?
No, wanting a prompt reply doesn't make you "needy", because everyone wants that.
Does it mean your expectations might be off? Perhaps. If someone doesn't respond to your message, you don't have any information about why that has not happened. You don't know if it's because they suddenly hate you, or if you texted or emailed me, that I already responded in my mind and forgot to actually do it after that. You just don't know why someone hasn't responded yet until you find out. But it's more likely that they just haven't gotten around to it for personal reasons that have nothing to do with you. You will find out when you find out, this temporary uncertainty in between messages being received and responded to is a part of every act of communication and it's just something you have to get used to. But you don't have to get used to the feeling that everyone suddenly hates you, because it's unlikely to be true.
posted by bleep at 1:05 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]

I think this topic is tricky because it's neither not about you nor all about you. There was a time where I was like you - pretty quick to respond to texts, regardless of who it was from. That was also a period of time when I was underemployed, with a fair bit of time on my hands. Fast forward to today, now I have a very demanding job and like most people, I'm drained from the last year. So now I prioritize, and pretty much the only person who gets a quick response is my partner. So if you were my friend and I took a couple of days to get back to you, it technically would reflect on our relationship, but only to the extent of you not being my partner.

All that said, for my own mental health, I just assume when people don't get back to me right away it's because they are busy. Are sometimes these delayed responses because I'm not their partner or in their inner-friend circle? Certainly. But it's not worth the mental space of conjecturing.
posted by coffeecat at 1:26 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]

I think it could be both -- your expectations may not match that of your correspondents, and their feelings about you may not correspond to your feelings about them -- but I think trying to parse this as meaningful is a waste of time and energy. Personally, my own speed of response is not only highly dependent on what I'm doing/feeling/thinking but also on what the message was and my sense of urgency around it. And if I saw it.
posted by sm1tten at 1:28 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]

I am not glued to my phone. Sometimes I leave it in the car for a day or 2. Me not responding means my phone is in a couch cushion again or I cant find my charger and it's dead.
posted by ReluctantViking at 1:29 PM on April 30

I'm going to agree with everyone here, but also sympathize with you. Because for years, it would make me nuts when I tried to reach out to people and they took forever to respond. I've always been one of those super-anal let's-figure-out-the-plan types, particularly with my friends - I was the one who was always "okay, we want to see a movie. Here's a chart of what's playing where, can everyone get me their first and second choices by noon so we can agree on the plan in time for everyone to make their own arrangements?"

And it would DRIVE ME CRAZY when no one responded. Especially when I was trying to plan some kind of group outing and asking people something like "does Tuesday or Wednesday work for you" and then no one was saying anything, so I would just say "fine, let's go with Tuesday" and I'd get ten messages back from people all "oh Tuesday doesn't work for me" and I'd say "Okay, fine, Wednesday" and then I'd get ten MORE messages from DIFFERENT people all "Well Wednesday doesn't work for ME" and then I'd be all "okay, so what DO you guys want to do" and by that time it was Monday night and we hadn't settled on a date and so the thing never happened, and all of that could have been avoided if people just responded to me earlier, dammit.....

But if I spoke to people in passing later that's when I learned that they just had a lot of stuff going on or their cell battery had died or they didn't know what their schedule was or some other totally innocuous explanation. And I also realized that no one had appointed me the job of trying to coordinate things, and it was not my responsibility to sort everything out in the first place. They just had other levels of planning and prioritizing than I did. And so I started letting that go - if they got back to me, then great, if not oh well. Some of those friends did do a bit of an unplanned slow fade on me, the way sometimes just happens. With some friends with whom I was especially close, I did tell them that sometimes i was frustrated getting left hanging with messages, and they either explained the circumstances that were preventing them (and I was able to understand better and be more chill) or they stepped it up.

But...yeah, some of this is you just treating communication differently than some of your friends do, and no one is right or wrong here and it's not a reflection on you as such. I hear you on how frustrating it is, though (it still makes me nuts sometimes).

These days I just let the non-immediate responses thing go unless it's a really serious issue; if it's serious I may follow up closer to the deadline, depending on when the deadline is. But for "so anyone wanna go see a movie this Friday" kind of stuff? Eh.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:48 PM on April 30 [8 favorites]

Totally unrealistic expectation if there is not mutual agreement for quick response. Everyone handles their email, texting, phone calls differently.
posted by hworth at 1:50 PM on April 30

Is it normal to feel uneasy or be upset when people don't reply to a text/call/email same day?

This sounds to me like a high-level of anxiety around communication. You may be reading too much into a non-answer. What is causing the unease? Are you worried that your friend is hurt? Are you worried that they don't like you anymore? Are you worried that you've upset them?

My guess is that you're internalizing their lack of quick response as being 'against you', when most likely is is 100% on them. Gently, I suggest that you give others the benefit of the doubt that they've got other things going on and didn't write for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

To answer your question another way, I try to send emails and texts with little expectation. But I also have some friends who I know will reply within an hour, and I have some who I hope will respond in the next day or two. Most of the time, I may forget that I wrote to either until I get a reply. If someone is normally a quick responder, and it takes a while, then I'll try to check in again later.
posted by hydra77 at 1:50 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]

I also get anxious when it seems like someone is not responding - and I am SUPER inconsistent with my own time to reply for reasons that have nothing to do with how much I value the other person. So I definitely can understand your feelings here, and also know I am one of those people who would probably unintentionally cause you more anxiety. I can see this being more stressful if you've been fairly isolated in the last year and change and texts/calls/emails are one of the main ways you get to keep in touch with people.

For me the main drivers for time to reply are: how busy I am that day at work, how overwhelmed I am in general, and if I am being social/engaged in a real world activity. I often do not have time during work days to look at my phone for many hours in a row, and sometimes I do not check email or my phone for the whole weekend because I need a break. I also don't really check my phone (if you call me seven times in a row and I have service I will assume EMERGENCY and get back to you ASAP) if I'm hanging out with someone/out in nature, and while that hasn't really been relevant recently, I hope I keep that habit up in the future. None of this has anything to do with my relationship to the sender, it's simply stuff on my side. Also sometimes I forget to reply to a text etc.

Even my friends who tend to respond almost immediately will take a random nap all day Saturday or let their phone die and not notice, etc. I try to keep all this in mind when my brain starts telling me "oh no, you have offended so and so you should panic about this".
posted by love2potato at 2:08 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]

I'm getting a little older now, and when I was young, email/texts/instant messaging were still ideas for a fantastic future. The only immediate way of contacting people was by phone, and even then folks had no problem with screening their calls or taking their phone off the hook if they just didn't want to have to interact with anyone at the time. While emails, texts, and IMs are wonderful advances in connectivity, I admit that I sometimes resent the feeling that I should be in a constant state of "availability" whenever someone contacts me. Possibly I am just curmudgeonly. :)

All that to say: consider that it's possible that your recipients feel the same way. Delays in response needn't be a reflection on your relationship or how much they value you - as others have said, it may simply be how they manage the resources they can commit to social interaction at any given time.
posted by jackrational at 3:29 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]

There are two parts to your question. One part is about what is the common expectation about people replying to texts. Lots of answers about that above.

The second question is about your emotional response when they don't reply. You said, when they don't I start to feel like the lack of reply is a reflection on how much someone values or respects me. Let's challenge this. You are talking about people who are your friends and family. Look at the big picture - aside from the texting thing, are these people who seem to generally think positively of you? Do you have a good time when you are together? Are they usually respectful, supportive and otherwise good friends? Or do they regularly do things that feel belittling and disrespectful? Or do you just vacillate about this all of the time with everyone?

Option A: Reality is that they are decent to good friends, it is just your anxious brain over-reacting. If you can't talk to yourself and get it to calm down, get professional help - this is a very common problem.
Option B: You are in relationships that feel very dysfunctional to you - you know that they aren't balanced, respectful and healthy and this is just one more bit of evidence. In this case, you need to figure out why you aren't trusting your gut and making some changes.
Option C: You have no idea whether you are in option A or option B. That is definitely anxiety territory - try some self-help books or get professional help and then you will be in a better position to figure out what to do.

My hope that you really are in Option A and that if you can figure that out and believe it, then the slow responses will no longer send you into a downward spiral of doubt.
posted by metahawk at 4:28 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]

“Someone high in rejection sensitivity will often interpret benign or mildly negative social cues—such as a partner not answering a text message immediately—as signs of outright rejection.” — Rejection Sensitivity
posted by The Toad at 4:30 PM on April 30 [7 favorites]

it depends.

in general, a text can wait for a couple hours to a couple days until I have the bandwidth to deal with it. that's well within the realm of normal. my close friends are busy people too; I know that they'll respond when they have the bandwidth, and that's fine. if something is time sensitive I call (knowing that they can't necessarily answer the phone right away, either.)

but in situations like dating, if someone goes from immediately responding to letting days pass before responding... that's a reliable sign of waning interest, in my experience.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:10 PM on April 30

I'm with you on this: I technically know it's not me, it's them, or whatever, but it FEELS like it's me, rejection sensitivity, etc. Right now I am stewing because I left the weekend open to go see a friend and yesterday I texted her asking if she wanted to get together and so far, no response. And this is a friend who's warned me that sometimes she's having issues and can't, but I'm still all "grumble grumble, I WANTED TO SEE SOMEBODY AND YOU'RE ACTUALLY IN THE CLEAR I CAN'T GO SEE ANYONE ELSE WAAAAAAH" right now. I found something to go to (wine tasting) but it's definitely not a solo activity, and I'm having flashbacks to the last time I got to do wine tasting with friends and now I can't see any of them and waaaaaaah....I have to accept that either I go alone and be the weirdo at wine tasting alone, or find something else to do, because she probably won't get back to me because life sucks or whatever.

So yeah, I am on that mental trip with you! A lot! I've had to just accept that people are gonna blow you off or whatever. If I invite people to stuff a few times and they ignore it, I don't invite them no more. I have to move on with my life and just feel hurt. Yes, I AM needy and have too high of expectations, I know that. I respond to people very quickly unless I'm asleep or in a meeting, I think it's obnoxious not to do same. But you can't dictate what others are gonna do and every time there's a thread along these lines it's clear that I am in the minority and just gotta understand that people just can't deal, especially these days.

What really bugs me is not being able to tell the difference between "take the hint, bitch" ghosting and someone just brooding or whatever. I really, really don't have a way to know the difference unless someone TELLS ME, and not getting responded to triggers that uncertainty in me like mad. I would care less if I trusted some people more, as it were. I truly don't know if it's me or them and I can never know unless I try them a few more times and they just keep ignoring me multiple times.

But bottom line, it's my problem to manage because you can't do shit about other people.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:16 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]

As far as feeling uneasy or upset about it and managing that feeling with things that you have (some level of) control over, I notice that I feel that way more when my life is less full of other things and people. When I have more going on, when I’m busier, when I have more regular spurts of neutral-to-positive social interaction in my life (even, like, working at a retail job with mostly OK customers), I’m less stressed out about slow responses because I’m not hanging so much on them.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:05 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]

I also struggle with these feelings, but that was after an abusive relationship where the person would love bomb/retract affection regularly. I know therapy might seem like a huge suggestion, but it's totally normal to need help sometimes, and the state of global mental health is completely shot right now, you are not alone. You're not needy or whatever else negative self-talk you've been doing.

I do not think that the amount of time a person takes to text back indicated their interest level. I know this from personal experience! I can sometimes take hours or even a whole day to respond, and all the while that text could be the only thing i'm thinking about. I just can't get to it for one reason or another.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:40 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]

It's not that I think they should reply that fast, but when they don't I start to feel like the lack of reply is a reflection on how much someone values or respects me.

Do your friends and family members show that they value and respect you in other ways that matter to you? Because your relationships are surely composed of more than texting-reply speed. That is important to remember; it is easy for brains to interpret irrelevant data in unhelpful ways.

In Al-Anon, there's a slogan for this: Feelings are not facts. Feelings are important and can help us decide things. But they can also be not-helpful noise. I tend to respond to texts quickly, usually, which makes me a bad match for a romantic partner, for example, who waits more than 48 hours to get back to me. On the other hand, I have friends and family members who may never respond to a text or forget it for days. That actually isn't about me, that is about them. When that happens, I try to figure out if a call or an email is a better fit for communicating with that person because they will just never be me.

Your feelings make total sense. I have also felt that way. It is completely human to judge how much we are loved by things like text-response speed. But that is nearly guaranteed to make one feel shitty, sad, and unloved by doing so and making assumptions about our loved ones that are usually false. This stuff is a challenge for many of us. You are not alone. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 7:42 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]

Or do you think someone's speed of reply or lack there of represents how they feel about you more often then not?
I don't think it represents how they feel about you. I think it just represents their way of navigating through the world. Some people might feel that texting back, for example, 24 hours later is a quick response. Some people might not very be tied to their phones. Etc. Instant gratification is ... well ... gratifying, but not everyone rolls in a way that provides it, and that's okay. From "Expecting instantaneous responses will make you crazy any time one is not forthcoming. Breathe. Your phone will most likely buzz again soon enough."
posted by SageTrail at 10:34 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]

While I tend to think of texts as being something to respond to faster than email, it still depends on a lot. Like, my noticing a text at all, and, to some extent, the likelihood of it turning into a longer conversation (which I'll probably save until it's a good time for me to do that). For comparison, I tend to check my email late afternoon on weekdays. That's it. I'll try to respond to things that need it right away, but if it needs anyone else's input, I may or may not put all the pieces together to email back in time.
If you actually needed a quick response to something, and a text saying that didn't work, then I suppose a phone call would be okay. It would have to be pretty urgent though. (I'm not much of a phone person.)
Which is just to say that people are all over the place in how they actually use this stuff. You could probably ask some of your closer friends how this works for them. It might help knowing how often or when email normally gets checked or when they can or can't text with friends. Or if they somehow love phone calls, even surprise calls that somehow last an hour. Maybe it'll help to remind yourself that they can't get to stuff until after work/the weekend or whatever their limitations are. (I have one friend I've emailed a few times in the last year. It was clear that she didn't have the bandwidth to keep emailing during the pandemic, so I'll reach out again when kids are back in school full time and I know she has slightly more time again. I know she's my friend, but we'll pick up again later. And it's not like my days aren't packed as well.)
posted by blueberry monster at 4:15 PM on May 1

I don't usually respond to AskMes like this because I am terrible about getting back to people generally, which is one reason I avoid texting whenever possible, but I did want to chime in with one thought that may surprise you:

I am often SLOWEST to respond to the people I care about most, precisely because I DO care about them, and I feel like I want to give them a thoughtful and meaningful answer.

Most of the time, if people don't get back to you quickly, it's because they have a million emergencies in their lives. But do take a moment to consider that one aspect may be that they actually care a lot about you, and it takes longer (or FEELS LIKE it takes a lot longer) to write something thoughtful.
posted by kristi at 6:42 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]

I feel this way sometimes too even though I know intellectually that a slow response doesn't mean people don't like me. Honestly, the thing that's helped most is trying to respond to other people's texts less quickly than I used to.
posted by ferret branca at 4:24 PM on May 5

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