Here’s Why Waiting For Your Crush To Text Back Is So Miserable

Photographed by Michael Beckert.
We do weird things when we're waiting for a text message back from a crush: obsessively unlock and lock our phones, become hyper-aware of the passage of time, and question every single interaction we've had with the recipient. It can be pure psychological torture, and cause even the calmest people to lose all semblance of chill.
Texting is imbued with uncertainty, which is why it's such a complicated form of communication, says Bree McEwan, PhD, assistant professor at DePaul University, who studies the way we manage and maintain social relationships through technology. "Waiting for a text return can make us nervous," she says, because texting etiquette isn't universal. In other words, everyone has a different texting style, including how long they wait to reply to something.
But, ultimately, the world isn't going to end if you don't get a text message back — and hanging everything on that quick reply isn't great for you or your partner. "Couples that feel the need to be in contact with each other all the time via text may have less satisfying relationships," Dr. McEwan says. In fact, sending texts that imply the recipient needs to answer immediately (or at all) can be viewed as controlling or even abusive.
The good news is, experts say that the nerves and anxiety aren't necessarily irrational. There are a few very good reasons why waiting for a quick reply from your crush makes you feel as antsy as you do scrolling and re-scrolling through Instagram, waiting for photos of Beyoncé's twins to surface. These insights won't necessarily solve the fact that waiting for texts sucks, but knowing a little bit about why you're feeling the way you are might help you ride out your time in purgatory before your phone buzzes again. Here's why waiting for a text back from a potential romantic partner is the worst.
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You assume the worst — and run with it.

Humans tend to think of "negative consequences first and then positive ones," says Larry Rosen, PhD, a research psychologist who explores our relationship with technology. That's definitely true for waiting for text messages: We tend to jump to the worst possible conclusion, even though logically it might not be accurate or even likely.

For instance, you might think the person you texted hates you, hates what you sent, or hates that you sent them anything at all, when in reality they may just not have looked at their phone in a while. "In face-to-face and phone calls, we get feedback immediately," Dr. McEwan says, but texts force you to wait without any clues.

If you send a flirty text — which could be totally ambiguous or meaningless in content — you don't know whether the person you sent it to thought your message was funny or just weird, Dr. McEwan says. "Until you receive a message back, all you have is your own thoughts about [it]," she says. Waiting for a reply can make you feel extra vulnerable, because you're just left to second-guess whether they understood your obscure Real Housewives of Orange County reference.
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You care more when you like someone.

When you're talking to a new dating partner or crush, you're always going to feel a twinge of anxiety, whether you're texting or talking IRL, Dr. Rosen says. And whether you're falling in love or just crushing on someone, having intrusive thoughts (such as, Why haven't they texted me back?) is normal.

All the waiting just puts you on alert, Dr. Rosen says. And when you can actually see the bubbles that indicate someone is typing on Facebook or iMessage without giving you a clue about what they're writing, it only makes it worse, he says. "[Someone] will get more and more anxious and even angry at [that] perceived slight," he says. But remember: Just because they're taking a long time to respond, doesn't mean they're doing it to mess with you.
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Your crush's emotions can be contagious.

Say you draft an incredibly witty text making an observation about a TV show that you both watch, and then all you get in response back is, "Hah, yeah." That's going to make you pretty annoyed. Or maybe you'll feel like being a bit cold back to the person you're texting just to prove a point. What's going on here? "The emotional valence of [a person's] updates may be contagious," Dr. Rosen says. As a result, we'll try to "make our messages match their emotion."

Text messages can also "spawn social comparison," he says. So if the person you're texting doesn't reply with the same enthusiasm or takes a long time to text back, it can make you feel like your life is not as exciting as theirs, he says.
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You just can't quit your phone.

Your phone isn't the devil some scary news reports make it out to be, but taking a break from it every now and then might make you feel more relaxed. Instead of refreshing your phone or clasping it in hopes that it will vibrate, do something to distract yourself, Dr. McEwan says. "Go out with friends, read a book, do whatever you think is fun and interesting."

Dr. Rosen suggests a more hands-on approach: If you find yourself getting anxious about texts frequently, he recommends an official tech break. First, check all your message apps, and then close the apps (don't just minimize them or leave them on in the background). "Turn your phone to silent or 'do not disturb,' and set an alarm for 15 minutes," he says. Turn your phone over, and don't do anything until the alarm dings. Then you can give yourself one minute to check in and start the process over again. "When you get good at going 15 minutes without checking in, then change the alarm to 20, 25, and 30 minutes," he says.

This might be enough to help ease your text anxiety, but if you feel like you get overwhelmed every time you wait for a text back, it's worth considering seeking professional assistance, Dr. McEwan says. There might be something bigger happening, such as some underlying social anxiety, that's worth paying attention to.
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