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How to deal when your friends don't text back

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

It's become a running joke on social media: The friend who fails to text back, and then makes up some lame excuse for not responding. But while the practice is becoming more common, it can be hard for friends to accept.

friendship expert

It's been four hours since you sent that text to your friend, Christina, and she still hasn't responded. How do you keep from feeling slighted? How are you supposed to respond?

You look at the clock and you realize she's not busy with work, and she also definitely just updated her Instagram stories three minutes ago. So you grow increasingly frustrated, but what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to move forward?

To the friend who's feeling a little neglected because her friends aren't texting back--

There are a couple of things to consider:

1. You’ll have to consider her preferences.

You might be a big texter because it's convenient for you-- it tends to be your go-to mode of communication. But your friend may see it as a hindrance or very laborious and she has to slow down to text … or she's forgetful…. Or maybe it’s simply because of the method of communication.

These are possibilities.

Ask her straight-up if there's a method that works better for her. Or be observant. What method of outreach does she tend to offer up? Does she tend to initiate using voice notes or through Instagram DMs? Watch what works for her and meet her where she is.

2. She may have a different lifestyle.

The second thing that you have to keep in mind is that people's lifestyles are very different. Do you tend to be on your phone more and it's easier for you to text while she has very erratic hours at work? Is she going through some life changes or different stressors that has her not tending to her phone and texts and friendship interactions as heavily? Is she a stay-at-home-mom who's overwhelmed by tending to little ones all day, and can't really find the mental capacity to pause and text you back because every moment is filled with wiping and changing and feeding and entertaining?

These are things to consider because even though we are expecting a response at that particular time, is it possible that it doesn’t mesh with her timeline?

It's hard not to interpret her lack of response as a lack of interest or concern.

Intellectually, we understand the concept, but sometimes it's difficult for us to put in practice because not receiving that text back makes us feel a little neglected. We feel perhaps low on the totem pole of priorities, right? “I'm reaching out to her, but she won't reach out to me.”

And it's hard to disassociate a lack of response with a lack of caring. But we have to operate with a little more open-mindedness at acknowledging that our realities are not the same. Our schedules are not synced and everyone's doing their thing and that sometimes doesn't align the way that we would like it to. So some of us can avoid feeling frustrated and stressed if we acknowledged our differing realities.

3. Your messages may not be clear.

Consider is the content of the text itself. Were you clear that it was something that required a response? You’re likely thinking, "Oh, come on. It was obvious." But sometimes it's not.

What we hail our friendships for is the fact that they just get us and we don't have to explain everything, but that is a lie. And for those of us who believe that our needs should just be unspoken, we will probably experience greater levels of dissatisfaction because our expectations aren't clear.

So, with that being said, did your text end with a question mark? Was it specific? Was it super long so that it required a certain level of mental labor just for her to unpack it before getting back to you and she just feels simply overwhelmed by the task? Do you piece-meal your text conversations?

You: "Hey."

Her: "Hey."

You: "What are you up to?"

Her: “Not much. You?”

If you do this, it’s because you have an expectation that that text conversation will unfold in real time, but not everybody has the capacity to respond that way.

4. She may not prioritize your friendship the same way you do.

The final thing that you need to hear is going to be one that might make your stomach hurt. But ironically, it might be the one that ends up saving you the most frustration. You're ready for it? It's possible that your friends don't like you in the same way you like them. And before you say, "Wow, Danielle that's harsh." There is research to back this up.

There was a study that was done in 2016 by researchers at MIT. And even though they used a small sample size, it’s been confirmed by several other friendship studies: 50% of your perceived friendships are not mutual.

And if it hurts to think about that, then let's step away from the stink of it for a second, by flipping it the other way: think of the people who sometimes reach out to you, initiate hangouts, or want to have conversations all day long, that you are not as fond of, or they tend to require a little more energy from you to respond to. Is it possible that that exists the other way? Is it possible that you are a loyal and supportive and dedicated friend, but that it's just not appreciated by every single person in the world? That is one truth that is really hard for some of us to grapple with. If you find yourself in this situation, and you're realizing that it's the same one or two women who never get back to you then reassess where you stand. And then channel that energy into friendship where things are a bit more balanced.

While delayed responses make us feel overlooked and unappreciated, there’s a lot to consider before we resort to other things (cutting off the friendship, getting passive-aggressive, becoming paranoid). The main lessons here are to extend grace, have conversations when you have questions, and to keep pressing forward.

Listen to more tips on a recent episode of the Friend Forward Podcast.

(Want to multi-task? Just say, "Alexa, play Friend Forward Podcast!")

[Action steps provided by resident certified friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson]

How to deal when your friends don't text back

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