Growing up, manners were a big deal in my household. You said “please” and “thank you” to anyone and everyone, from the cashier at the grocery store to the driver as you got off the school bus, or you would be subjected to a slap upside the head. You stood and held the door for the next person at the department store, even if they were fifteen feet away, you definitely called anyone over the age of thirty “ma’am” or “sir” and you never, ever called an adult by their first name unless they were related to you.
In today’s technology age, there is no bigger challenge to the manners-infused than text messaging. Something that was meant to improve the way we communicate has only complicated it, manners-wise. Is it ok to double text? How long should I wait to respond to a guy so I seem interested, but not too interested? How do I politely tell my mom to stop texting me in ALL CAPS? Why do I keep seeing the “…” but no message from that guy I blew after a night at the bar last Thursday? The anxiety that comes with texting isn’t limited to one specific thing or relationship; instead, it comes from all sides. And there is no greater source of angst – or affront to manners – than the read receipt.
Upon the advice of a friend , I turned the read receipts on for my iMessages a while back. I had been riding the mystery wave of no-read-receipts for a while and was content to let my friends (all of whom have iPhones because I don’t associate with poors) assume that I wasn’t lying when I told them I hadn’t gotten a chance to read that giant paragraph about their horrible Bumble date last night or seen the 4000th picture of their “adorable” kid/dog that they sent via iMessage. While I was happy to keep up this pretense of being “too busy to read your message,” I decided to accept the challenge of turning on my read receipts in the interest of being a little more authentic in my communications.
And to be honest, it was great. There was something freeing about knowing that people could see that I read their message, and maybe choose not to respond because A.) what they said didn’t necessitate a response, B.) what they said sucked and I don’t deal with sucky people or C.) what they said required more than a “Haha” or a “Yeah” and I legitimately didn’t have time to respond in that moment (and then likely forget to respond in later moments.) I felt good about this move toward more honesty in my communications. That little “read” line was helping me be a little less passive aggressive and a little more honest. Turning on my read receipts was pretty badass, and for a girl who is decidedly the opposite of badass in almost all ways, it was thrilling. Yeah, I don’t get out much.
But with this newfound power came a problem: my unfailing politeness got in the way of my aforementioned badassery. Because as much as I tried, I couldn’t simply read a message and not respond, even if options A. or B. above are true. So unless that last white bubble is a conversation-ender along the lines of “Talk To You Later!” I answered. Every. Single. Time. My manners simply wouldn’t allow otherwise.
So how did I solve this dilemma? How did I find the balance between rebellious and respectful? Well, I simply started “ending” my text messages first.
If you think about it, a text message is a conversation, right? And who the hell simply walks away from an in-person dialogue or hangs up the phone without some kind of an end point, an “Ok, I’ll talk to you later” or a “Hey, got to run, chat soon!”? A rude person, that’s who. So, following that logic, a text message should end the same way, right? With some kind of exit language that indicates I am done with that conversation?
Of course, the logic can’t be applied to all types of texts. My friend Danielle and I text all day every day to alleviate the abject boredom of our jobs/lives, and I don’t feel the need to say to her every night, “Ok, time for bed, talk to you in the morning!” Partially because we are at a place in our friendship where you can be rude and it’s not actually considered rude, partially because saying that to one of my friends would be creepy and weird, and partially because there’s no balance of power in our relationship. Indeed, much like how “who texted first” and “who texted last” are indicators of who is holding all of the cards in relationships, where the control of the conversation matters, so to is “who ended the text conversation.” And while you could perceive the “read” notification as the ending of the convo, that could also lead to your being perceived as an asshole. Hence why ending the conversation first instead of just leaving the “read” out there is the better way to go.
Sure, maybe responding to a message with “Hey, I’m swamped, I’ll talk to you later” (even if it isn’t true) isn’t as badass as leaving that “read” line dangling out there, but I think I’m ok with that. As Uncle Ben famously told Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And while turning your read receipts and leaving the conversation first are power moves, they do come with the responsibility not to be a rude asshole..
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