Your phone buzzes and it’s a text request from a friend, enemy or random to hang out and grab a drink tonight, or to catch dinner, a show or movie in a few days. How long do you have to get back to them before they have the right to be mad or write you off as rude? Simple. Forever. The burden is on them, and the asker should absorb all of this headache.
Text behavior is highly individual, and when you’re staring down your phone waiting for those three magic bubbles to appear or some kind of acknowledgement that you exist and are worth responding to, it’s confusing and you’re left doing a lot of guesswork. Is this person busy? Do they actually hate me? Why are they taking so long? Are they ghosting? Are they with someone else? Have they driven themselves off a cliff (probably because I asked them to hang out) and I’m the last person to know?
If you read text etiquette online, there’s a lot of tedious parsing about what a non-response means. The site Adult Social Skills lays out a spate of theories about what’s going on here when you hear nothing back. You’ve been socially rejected, they are playing hard to get, and so on. On another site, a post from the point of view of the person who is not responding explains that if they haven’t gotten back to you, it’s because of driving, work or the rest of life.
Some or all of this is likely true, but you can boil this down to something even simpler: When someone doesn’t respond to your text, they don’t care that much, or have died. Everything that involves the non-responder being alive and well but not getting back to you revolves around that first truth, though. If they are too busy, you are not important enough to let know right away, so they don’t care.
If they would say yes but feel guilty because it’s complicated so they are not responding right away because they aren’t sure what to do, they don’t care. If they are into you on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. but not on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. because who the fuck knows why, they don’t care. If they really are busy right now but might not be some other time, they don’t care. It doesn’t mean they don’t care at all (though it might!) or never will care again; it’s just means they don’t care enough right now to solve your social calendar scheduling issue for you. This is what a therapist would call “good information” with regard to your VIP status with them (hint: it’s zero, this time) and you should live by it.
Sure, it’s possible they didn’t get the text, but this is only an excuse used by people who also do not care that much. They care so little their phone also doesn’t care, and therefore rejects your attempt at invading it. And obviously, if the person has died, they really don’t care, just not in a way you can be mad about.
In the absence of good information, most of us will wildly speculate what’s going on in this vacuum. I thought we were friends! The last time we hung out it was pretty chill! He said he loved me! She said I was the coolest friend she’d made in so long omg!
But we should reframe what we call good information, because it’s the action taken that matters. In this case, no action. No care.
That’s why there is only one simple rule needed to address this endlessly frustrating etiquette conundrum: Assume when you ask anyone to attend anything with you that the default is no. When you ask someone to hang out, think to yourself, I’m just giving this a shot, the answer is probably no. Really hope they let me know! I bought this expensive ticket! Keeping Friday night open! But people lead complicated lives and they are probably busy.
Just assume the answer is no. Go about your day. Set a limit in your own mind of when you will cut off a possible response and make other plans. For drinks tonight, if you don’t hear back by 4 p.m., go make other plans. Do not, under any circumstances, leave your night free for this person to respond. For a show later or an event which occurs at a designated time, you may only include in the request a deadline by which you will assume the answer is no and go ask other people. Hey, would you like to go to this show with me? If you can’t, could you let me know by 5 p.m. so I can offer the ticket to someone else/ go alone/ drive myself off a cliff / sniff some arsenic? This is actually you doing them a favor, but if they don’t care, your favors are as good as a pile of dog shit on a sidewalk they will step over while making an unpleasant face.
Quiz: Then, if you hear nothing by 5 p.m. what is their answer? Let’s say it together: The answer is no. No need to follow up. The answer is no. Got it?
Don’t do this. Don’t text, hey are you going to let me know? Why aren’t you responding? I’m doing you a favor! Don’t say, Hey it sure is rude you didn’t respond to my request! You’re right, and it probably IS rude (unless perhaps you’re the dick and you know they weren’t going to respond, but hey), but only if you’re really friends and this person is actually participating in a voluntary relationship of actual equals. But if you had that good a relationship, one, they’d be answering, and two, you wouldn’t be reading this.
Living by the rule Assume the Answer Is No and Live Your Life solves this issue for every single last one of us. Another good thing to remember is by the time you have to turn to the internet to solve a basic question about being treated badly by someone you thought cared, you have definitely been treated badly. This bears out 99 percent of the time.
One caveat: Good friends, actual friends and people with human heads reply quickly to requests to hang out, even when the answer is no. They don’t want to leave a friend hanging. People act like they are honest-to-god away from their phones all the time but in reality are literally holding it while even taking a shit.
Good people in good standing with you don’t want you to twist. Everyone else is not your good friend, and even if they are not that bad to other people, they are this bad to you. While this may or not be your fault, that is a tough pill to swallow, so just save your dignity, time and data plan by assuming that up front. Now go get drinks with someone you know will say yes, or will give you the next best thing: a fast no.