My phone chimed, it was a message from my partner. I reply instantly because that’s what I do unless I’m doing something really important. With the reply, I added a, “Listen, I love you.” The message gets delivered. She’s online, I see the “double grey” tick not turning blue which means she hasn’t read it. But then she went offline, without replying.
Being the overthinker I am, I have a million thoughts coming to my head.
Does she not love me anymore?
Is she going to break up with me now?
Maybe she’s just busy with some work?
But if she is so busy, she could quickly reply with a “love you too”, wouldn’t have taken a lot of time right?
My chest collapsed a little, my head spun, and my knees crumbled. A typical response if you saw a raging bear. Except, it was merely a tiny icon turning blue on my smartphone.
WhatsApp rolled out their “blue tick” feature in 2014, which let its users know if their message was read by the recipient. Some people love blue ticks.
Some hate them, so much that they have turned them off (yeah, in a few years WhatsApp rolled out another feature that negated the previous blue tick one) because they care for their privacy and don’t want people to know when they have read a message.
Turning off your read receipts helped you in taking control over the app, rather than letting it control you. You could reply to the messages whenever you were free to do so.
Either early in the mornings, or late in the nights, or just whenever you have mustered up the strength or gathered the information to answer them. While it does save you the headache, it stirs things up by quite a lot on the other side of the table, I mean the receiving end.
WhatsApp and all other social messaging platforms may have brought us closer virtually, but it hasn’t replaced the speed and the accurateness of a face to face conversation. In the real world, you could just pass comments and get the response accordingly and instantly from the person or group you’re talking to.
But on WhatsApp, this process takes up hours, and it still isn’t that accurate. You will never get to know how they perceived your message, whether it affected them or not.
Imagine forwarding a controversial message to a friend of yours, to which they reply with a “haha” only after 4 hours. And those 4 hours you’ve spent in wondering about all the possible outcomes. “Was he offended”, “did he take the joke in a wrong way”, “is he now mad at me”, “would we not be friends now?”, while the reply that you got wasn’t damaging, but, you still wouldn’t know the truth. And this has caused a lot of anxiety in you. We gave it a name: ‘The Unread Anxiety.”
How it affects your mental health?
Mental health issues are on the rise and evidence suggests that social media is contributing to its rise. WhatsApp is probably the most popular instant messaging app in the world, with 1.5 billion users from 180 countries and one billion of those users active on the app every day.
With 29 million WhatsApp messages sent every minute – are you happily adding to the noise or struggling to keep up?
Isabella Venour, Mindset & Marketing Coach says, “Social media and digital apps like WhatsApp are a modern phenomenon that has revolutionized the way we interact and communicate with others. With these new social planes come new rules of etiquette.
“Unlike a face-to-face conversation, when communicating digitally, it’s not often clear how one is expected to behave – How often to comment? Are you replying quickly enough? Have you shown enough sympathy with the right emoji? You often don’t hear someone’s tone of voice, see facial expressions or body language and this can give rise to misinterpretation.”
For most of us, there is an unwritten social contract that underlies our online messaging interactions.
There are times, urgent times when the message we sent isn’t replied to instantly. The anxiety that it creates then boils up intro frustration and often leading to us getting mad at the person.
But we can’t just keep on burning our bridges because of that.
For most of us, there is an unwritten social contract that underlies our online messaging interactions. The clearest part of that contract is that certain types of messages demand a timely response.
If you do experience ‘The Unread Anxiety”, fear not, because you aren’t alone. I myself, along with millions of other people have been a victim of this. We have a few solutions that might work out for you.
1. Accept being left on read.
Acceptance is quite often the first step in resolving any problem. Just like this one, you need to accept that being left on “read” or being ignored, is often not that big of a deal as much as we make it up.
Sometimes the other person might just actually be busy. Or they themselves might be going through a lot that they didn’t feel that replying to your question immediately is their topmost priority.
Sometimes the person might not have the appropriate answer to satisfy your question, so they would wait until they get one, and the reply to you.
2. Change your texting policy.
“As you sow, so shall you reap”
Start prioritizing your messages that you want to reply to. Some are not that necessary and can wait till the end of the day, some on the other hand need to be replied instantly.
Once you start bifurcating your messages according to their importance, you’ll start understanding the other side in a much brighter light. You’ll start seeing their point of view, why they did not reply to your message at that instant.
3. Turn Off your read receipts
If the above solutions don’t work for you, just turn off your read receipts. Not knowing when someone reads your message might be unsettling for a while. But it may be quite liberating for you.
In order not to be bothered by others not replying, you will have to give up the need to know if they have read your message.
The app does not control me, I control the app.
What I did was, I started thinking about the time when SMS packs were way cheaper than Internet packs. Those days, you would just SMS someone if you didn’t wanna talk to them. And the thing about SMS was, they’d only be delivered if the person had good network coverage, and it sometimes reached late too. So by doing this, my WhatsApp messages were SMS, and if they weren’t replied to, the person might just be in a plane.
4. Don’t mindread.
“We cannot allow ourselves to worry about what someone may or may not think about our actions. We can only control our own thoughts and behaviors. Equally, we cannot assume we know what’s going on in that person’s life and therefore how they choose to interact online.”
“Be confident that you’re acting with good intentions and if you want to hear more from your friends, ask them, be curious about what’s going on in their lives, pick up the phone if it’s urgent but don’t demand them to respond as quickly as you type.” Isabella Venour, Mindset & Marketing Coach, Mind-Style
5. Switch Off
The last thing you could do is just switch off from your phone from time to time. Hit that snooze button in your system, and mute all the notifications.
Not being on your phone and engaging yourself in some other activity will keep your mind off the message that you must have sent. If you’re not on your phone, you won’t be bothered by not getting a message reply.
A few hours later when you do take your phone, you might have passed your anxiety period and you’re ready to see if you have received the message.
A last bit of advice
Turning off the read receipt is not the final solution, ever. While the above advice might help you keep your anxiety on hold, you need to re-invent yourself in order to get over it completely.
Apps like WhatsApp, Instagram, Telegram clamber for our attention. Thousands of people have spent years working on their UI and functions to ensure that we are hooked on to them emotionally.
Your ‘Unread Anxiety’ should make you think about how you’re gonna handle your relationships in a 24/7 connected era. You’ll just be pushing your insecurities without getting ahead of them.
Also, it’s important to normalise not being replied to.
You don’t need to be a priority on someone’s to-do list. While you will still like to be replied to, you should understand if there are more pertinent things to attend to. You don’t need to be constantly connected to maintain a relationship, you can have a proper conversation when y’all take out time for each other and either meet-up or get on a call.
Technology spoils us with immediate rewards, but like candy, let’s put it off for more health-giving foods. Learning to wait is chicken soup for the soul.
Meanwhile, my partner just replied with “love you too”, followed by a cute apology. Turns out me getting anxious was of no good.