How to become a better texter?
June 22, 2022 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm kind of a bad texter / emailer and it's never bothered me too much, but now it's to the point where I feel it's one of the top things holding me back from both fulfilling friendships and professionally in my creative pursuits. How can I overcome this?

I experience a ton of resistance around correspondence-related tasks to the point where I avoid them and miss out on some opportunities and experiences, and my inaction is starting to annoy me.

I'm not depressed (anymore, yay!), I'm not an introvert, but I am a bit shy and a perfectionist when it comes to writing, and it takes me a while to get a message out. I'm fine with broadcast style stuff (twitter & instagram stories & mefi questions are fine) but one on one conversations, especially digitally, are really draining to me. I have a hard time keeping up with friends I'd like to see, or proactively reach out / respond regarding anything in my creative life especially if it requires putting myself out there, or talking to anyone where there's some amount of history / emotional baggage. I'm pretty good with acquaintances and reaching out to completely fresh contacts, but responding to long term friends or even people I've known a while in the creative community feels way too hard and overwhelming, even if I'm not at all displeased with the person! It usually takes multiple ignored texts from them and a small mountain of dedicated effort to get myself to respond.

It's definitely easier when there's some obvious structure / reason / content I am trying to communicate - for example the other day I remembered to follow up with someone who had wanted an introduction to someone in my city for an event, when I saw the event is in fact happening and announced - so that was an easy trigger to go say hey how are you, glad to see that thing is happening!

I know a lot of other people are bad at this too based on the fraction of people who manage to keep up with me in the fashion I'm describing, so it's normal, but at the same time I imagine this is hackable and improvable. If you have gotten better at this particular skill, please share what helped!
posted by internet of pillows to Human Relations (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Just sending a meme, gif, or photo of your pet is a nice little treat.
posted by phunniemee at 12:48 PM on June 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: >talking to anyone where there's some amount of history / emotional baggage

I just want to ask a global question to sniff out if you're gaslighting yourself: are the people you're trying to correspond with ... actually being kind of annoying? Sometimes when I resist writing a reply to a seemingly simple message or convo, it's because the other person(s) are actually kind of being uncool (dramatic, status jockeying, competitive, depressing, problematic, triggering, needy, manipulative, unwelcomely flirtatious, moochy, dismissive, narcissistic, backhanded, demanding, etc etc etc).

When that's the case, I find that admitting it to myself, and naming the dynamic to myself (even if I don't name it to them), can help me overcome the resistance. I personally don't have a problem with hard things but I find I am SUPER resistant to dishonest things, including when I try to lie to myself.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:01 PM on June 22, 2022 [13 favorites]

I tend to zero in on certain topics that I think interests each specific person in my 1-on-1 texting circles (clowns and incel pickup lines for X, icebreaking and crypto takedowns for Z) and then whenever I see something that meets my standards for that person—sometimes its a pretty low bar!—I make sure to share whatever it is immediately. That tends to be links to news items related to said topic, or an image/meme of some kind. I don't think to include a caption or comment about 80% of the time. It gets me out of similar tendencies to yours, and so far nobody has complained! Sometimes people respond and sometimes they don't, but I feel it keeps the connection alive.

It's harder to gauge when people live far away, and/or have kids: responses are fewer and farther between I find, and its easier to drift. Not all connections need constant maintenance either, as I know I have a few friends with whom I can pick up right where I left off, despite a year or more of low or non-interaction. But even with those folks, I try to make that effort.

Lower the stakes on what the communication needs to be, think "hi!" instead of a three page handwritten letter, and see what flourishes.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 1:08 PM on June 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

This last year I've learned that saying, "hey - it's been a long time - let's chat" is unlikely to be received badly by anyone. If it is badly received, that's good to know. Very few people will be unhappy to hear that you're thinking of them, even if there's no obvious excuse for it. Making up an excuse feels weirder to me than just saying things straight.

(There is some danger of over-doing it. I've recently been exchanging a number of text messages with an old friend that would probably justify a restraining order if it weren't enthusiastically answered in kind. I still feel a little stab of concern that I've gone too far nearly every time. I know them well enough, and we're both not neurotypical enough, to explicitly ask about that and believe the answer. If you trust someone, it's not a bad question to ask.)

"Would I be unhappy to receive a random message out of the blue from this person" is a useful framework, at least for me.
posted by eotvos at 1:09 PM on June 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

If the act of physically typing a message is what's holding you back, have you tried just leaving voice notes? It's a very common thing these days, I think, and it could ease you into more interaction in general? I have some friends who never text, they always leave me voice notes. I'm more of a texter, though. It still works!

Otherwise, yes, start with low stakes stuff. GIFs, memes, funny reels/tiktoks.
posted by tinydancer at 1:21 PM on June 22, 2022

Best answer: Simple but maybe not nuanced enough suggestion: just respond right away if you can. I have the problem where I'll say to myself "oh, this deserves a more thoughtful response so I'll respond later when I have the time/am less tired" and then will completely forget, or just keep putting it off. So now I try to respond right away. If it's pretty easy, I'll just do a quick response (if you want to just acknowledge their text without getting into a whole conversation, just send a gif).

If it's more complicated, or it's someone I know will do a whole back and forth, I might say "hey, I'm not great with texting these days, can we do a FaceTime/phone call?" Or if you don't want to talk to them, you could say some sort of pleasantry and then say "I can't give you a full response right now but I wanted to make sure you knew I saw this and I'll write more later."

Where there's emotional baggage: oof, I feel you. I've noticed sometimes I'll avoid really simple tasks because they are associated in my mind with emotional baggage or anxieties, even if I don't expect there to be any emotionally challenging aspect of the task. With those tasks, I've gradually learned that if I just go through the motions of starting it (ie, picking up the phone, bringing up their text thread), that's usually enough for me to get it done.

In terms of people you want to/should reach out to proactively, definitely go with the lighthearted content. If you see something that makes you think of them (joke, gif, meme, etc.) just send it to them right away. Low-effort, and people like to be thought of.
posted by lunasol at 1:59 PM on June 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Short and to the point.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:50 PM on June 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm bad at this too, so I'll be watching this thread! Here's some rules of thumb I've cobbled together that make things easier for me.

For reaching out:
  • I don't randomly reach out to people anymore. Instead, I only reach out when something in my life reminds me of that person -- which gives me an automatic conversation starter! I've started really trying to tune in to the part of my brain that thinks about my friends, and notice when something makes me think of them and send a text right away.
  • Related to the above -- generic "how are you??" type questions just don't work well over text; they tend to lead to pretty empty, exhausting conversations in my experience. I don't like receiving them and I don't send them anymore. Instead, if I DO feel the need to reach out randomly I'll either send a photo/meme/sticker, say something like "thinking of you, hope you're well!" which doesn't require a response, or propose specific plans for getting together.
  • Related to nouvelle-personne's point, I give myself permission to NOT reach out to people who exhaust me -- I try to be honest with myself about whether I'm reaching out to someone because I genuinely miss them, or because I feel like I "should" check in because they're someone in my circles. This makes it easier to be enthusiastic about reaching out to the people I *genuinely* want to talk to.
  • I try to settle into the best "style" of communication for each person. With one friend, our text thread consists mainly of FB Marketplace links and Spotify albums. Another friend and I mainly communicate through Instagram story comments. And I have another friend who I send pictures of my cool DIY projects. Texting doesn't have to be a super formal convo structured like an in-person conversation, it can just be random things off the top of your head, directed towards the person in your life who will appreciate it most.
For responding: This one is harder because you have less control over who & what to message, but I have some thoughts.
  • I rarely apologize for late replies anymore, and honestly I feel like it's taken a burden off me. The thought of starting off a message with an apology is kind of a drag, and ironically it was one of the things that made me hesitate in replying, therefore making my reply even later! So, I just don't apologize, and I accept that will put some people off, but it's made more room in my life for people that are as bad at texting as I am and don't care too much if it takes me 2 days to reply.
  • I try to give myself permission to send generic or uninformative replies. One of the reasons I hate receiving "How are you?" texts is because it's impossible to sum up the last 2-3 months of my life in a single text, so I end up overthinking it and never replying. Lately I give myself permission to reply "pretty good, how are you?" and accept that I'll have to wait for an in-person meeting for a more meaningful catch-up. Likewise, if someone sends me a life update I try to just reply "that's great!" or whatever is appropriate, and not overthink it. Better a generic text than no text at all. And in response to a request, "Not sure, I'll have to think about it" is still better than no response.

posted by mekily at 3:44 PM on June 22, 2022 [14 favorites]

It sounds like the perfectionism is part of the issue — treating texts as the really informal conversational transcripts that they are, and not a "real" written communiqué, might help. It's okay to be casual, it's okay to be only partially informative, it's okay to lack nuance and say "more complicated than that — i'll explain later" and see if the other person wants to know more.

I basically just try to reply to everyone, as quickly as I can, even if it's just to acknowledge the message. It may be zero-content, but sometimes that quick "oh hey, just at work right now" is all you need to get the conversational ball going back and forth. Sometimes it gives the other person the opportunity to get to the point, also.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:13 PM on June 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

I am very neurodivergent and also an extrovert who texts a ton but also takes days to get back and understands when others take a while to get back, if it is non urgent.

For your particular instance, just say "hi! I got your text - what's up?" And ask very quickly if you would want to talk over video chat or phone. People usually reach out bc they wanna know that the relationship still exists - the actual action sometimes doesn't matter as much, so try to find ways that reinforce the relationship in your favor. Also everyone takes time to reply anyway -- I could not handle the amount of texts I receive if everyone replies back immediately!
posted by yueliang at 8:06 AM on June 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

I try to keep texting to very simple and straightforward things that are meant to convey information, rather than try to converse - such as asking about availability or giving someone a heads up about an event, sending an address so that it's not lost in translation, etc... but occasionally I will send a closer friend a text to check on their wellbeing, but keep it brief - and then ask if a phone call might be acceptable if they would like to chat. If they don't want to talk via phone, then I ask if they'd like to get together for some in person time. I don't find texting even remotely adequate for emotional discussions.
posted by itsflyable at 1:24 PM on June 23, 2022

I also find that most people, even family, tend to take their time responding to texts (as in days to even weeks!). So, don't worry about how you are being received with your lack of texting. The fact that you are continuing to receive any texts at all shows that they are still thinking of you!
posted by itsflyable at 1:26 PM on June 23, 2022

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