No, They Don’t Have to Text Back After 5 Seconds

Karina Lafayette – March 2022

This is an issue that’s been on my mind for awhile. Even though it seems petty, it really points to something bigger and even more problematic. I’m really amazed by the level entitlement some people have when it comes to dating and dating advice. Apparently, if you aren’t available at your partner’s beck and call, are you even their partner?

I see many posts on social media claiming if the person doesn’t answer a text within minutes or even seconds, it must be because they’re cheating or ignoring you. To my amazement, most in the comments would agree on this.

Well sorry to burst your bubble, but not everyone is in fact looking at their phone 24/7. Even if they are, they could easily be answering an important work email or catching up with family. Not to mention, if the person struggles with depression, they may not be up to chat with anyone.

Think about it, if I’m dating someone and while at work, the two of us are texting constantly, then that means I am not doing any actual work at all. And in that case, the boss doesn’t need me there, because I’m being an unproductive employee who rather flirt with a dudebro I won’t even get to the aisle with, than actually focus on priorities. Yes, it’s cute when we exchange texts, but don’t confuse text frequency with actual communication. Some people only text that much to spin you into a web, so they can lovebomb and trap you into a pattern of abuse, and not because they necessarily like you that much. The hint of excitement you feel from texting is really just hormones being triggered in the brain, not love. In order to actually communicate with someone, you have to speak on the phone or in person, to hear their voice, tone and how they really relate to you. Written words can only be taken so far, and yes I say this as a writer. If your love language happens to be word of affirmation, you may place a lot of weight on texting, but keep in mind, the other person could have a language of their own.

Then again, I write very rarely about things I don’t experience or relate to, so while this article can easily come across as an older millenial giving a “back in my day” perspective, it’s not. I used to be like you, and would get major anxiety if someone didn’t text back asap. At one point I even began to hate texting altogether, at least when it came to dating prospects. I was so busy thinking about how and what to respond, and when, that it didn’t feel natural. If someone didn’t answer within a few hours, I assumed that they didn’t like me. Texting should be fun, it shouldn’t make us miserable. Now I try to keep texting as a way to connect quickly or to keep up with friends, but for my next relationship, the other person will have to like to talk on the phone. For me it’s a way of setting boundaries and also to see if the other person is actually invested in making a connection. No more games of timing and all that shit.

Since I’m more self-aware, it’s better for me to build habits so my attachment issues can slowly heal. Overusing things like texts can and will feed those insecurities. A lot of people who were ignored growing up become adults who think that instant gratification is a sign of love, when really, abusers know how much you need to feel special and they will use that to hook you in. It’s easy to create what feels like a relationship without any real commitment, by writing cute things that ten other people are probably reading from literally the same person. The only way to know if a relationship is legitimate is to look at how a person communicates during a conflict. Someone who does see your worth will insist on sitting down and talking in person to fix things. They won’t ever purposely ignore a message or use it to control you, because you won’t have to always type it out anyway.

A situation entirely built on texting can easily be turned into more than it is. Around 2016, I had a situation where I was texting a guy for months. He moved to Toronto after graduating from the same university I went to, and it just so happened I was moving there. Because of how much we texted, I was under the impression this was going to be a relationship. By the time I landed, he picked me up at the airport to drive around and see apartments, and almost the whole ride, awkward silence. Despite knowing so much about each other, we didn’t know how to connect with each other. And as it turned out, he didn’t see me as a potential girlfriend, he just saw me as someone to hang out with. Luckily I only moved to Toronto for my career and not a boy. With texts, it’s easy to misread and paint expectations, especially when it comes to sarcasm and flirting. In the past, I’ve also had full blown arguments with people via text, yet face-to-face, we hardly knew what to say. When you’re behind a screen, you escape accountability and don’t have to actually worry how words make others feel.

And I’m not completely dismissing texts either, they’re obviously great for emergencies or to check in, but in order to build intimacy, you need to both admit early on what you consider as an ideal way of communicating. If one person needs more frequent texts while the other prefers talking on the phone, it can cause issues. The first person will come across as clingy, while the second will come across as too detached. Either compromise with them, or find a partner who can actually keep up with the way you want to connect. But don’t ever assume a person is being a jerk just because their needs are different from yours.

As for when it comes to ghosting, I don’t favor it, with a few exceptions. If the person is important to me and for whatever reason we can’t talk anymore, I do make sure to let them know. However, sometimes someone might be so relentless that you really don’t have a choice but to simply block them altogether. I had to go no contact with my mom because she was abusive toward me. I had to block my ex everywhere because even though we broke up, he was using money and emotional blackmail to try to get me to still be his work sponsor, despite the fact that we broke up. Abusers and narcissists deserve to be ghosted, forget etiquette. Ace Metaphor recently got some heat online after in his latest podcast, he spoke about how in abuse or situations where someone doesn’t understand “no”, it might be necessary to ghost (see the video response here). He never talked about the type of immature ghosting we see nowadays, where a person might discard you after a serious partnership. He was referring to survivors of domestic abuse who have to leave quietly, or where someone has to ghost their ex who still insists on being “friends” when the relationship is over. When it comes to texting and communication in general, there’s a fine line between being polite and being a doormat. It’s not your fault if the other person couldn’t treat you better.

Now, for this theory on how quick to respond to a text, there is no golden rule. Personally it depends on the connection and how long we know each other. I don’t mind if a friend takes a week to answer sometimes because they’re my friend. The intimacy is different. In general, we do answer back quickly, when we can. A partner would be a different story. If we’re dating and I haven’t heard from you in that many days, it’s safe to say that you’re either in danger, or most likely, that I’m single again. Some people as I said, escape accountability and rather ghost others for no reason, but they would do the same even if texting wasn’t the main form of communication. But in a healthy relationship, I’d assume anywhere from a few minutes to six hours is reasonable response time for me, especially if both of us have you know, a career, job, hobbies, etc.

Regardless, expecting immediate gratification isn’t only unrealistic, it’s actually a sign of attachment issues, and I know because I’ve been there. I’ve been the person waiting by the phone, getting nervous if they took more than five minutes to get back to me. This is where we attract narcissists or abusers who thrive off that insecurity because they can play us to their advantage. My ex literally knew how bothered I was by quietness, so anytime we argued, he used the silent treatment, only to type out ridiculously long rants later.

So don’t assume that someone being quiet means they don’t care. Sometimes the person is thinking of what to say. Sometimes they’re struggling with their mental health. Often, they really are busy. And yeah, worst case scenario is they don’t care, but often other actions will tell you that go beyond texting habits. Are they there when you’re struggling? Do they send mixed signals? Do they ask to see you? Did they even tell you whether they want a relationship? There are better ways to measure someone’s place in your life than a text message. With the way we think of relationships nowadays, it’s a wonder relationships even happened at all before cellphones, considering you had to wait for a phonecall and couldn’t even use the internet if the line was busy.

And yes, sometimes people are busy. If they say they’re always, that’s when they’re leading you on, but when someone cares, they will make time between. However, the point I’m trying to make is that we can’t be the center of someone’s world, no matter how much love there is. Everyone has a life beyond a partner and beyond dating, and we can’t build a healthy relationship if it isn’t based on respecting each other’s goals and ambitions and obligations outside. This calls for balance. In a weird way, I feel like the idea of having to answer a text in five seconds or less basically says, “If you love me, you’ll make your whole world about me.” Honestly, that comes across as having a sense of entitlement. It assumes that somehow others are supposed to drop everything, even important responsibilities, in order to make time for us. If you waited your whole life till now just to meet me, you can wait a few minutes for a message, okay?

And that isn’t something I want anymore. I want someone who has the whole package and makes me a part of their world, not the center of it. Of course, as their partner I’d want to be one of their top priorities, but not the only priority. I still want them to have friends, hobbies, and other things that make them happy. I’d want them to shut off their phone while they work or study because we can always catch up after. From time to time, I may still get insecure but instead of being passive-aggressive or making false accusations, the best thing is to sit down and talk about it, outside the screen.


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This article was originally published on Medium.