To Our Friends Who Are Always On Their Phones But Never Text Us Back

photographed by Lauren Maccabee.
A few months ago, there was a tweet floating around. It kept popping up and, though the wording was slightly different every time, the sentiment stayed the same. Clearly, its subject had struck a chord. "Ever noticed that the person making excuses for not texting back is the one who never puts their phone down when you’re around them?” it said.
We all have that friend. That person who has a million and one excuses for leaving you on read (or unread, if they’re crafty) with no reply. “My phone ran out of battery” is a favourite defence. “Work's been crazy!” is another.
And do you know what? Nine times out of 10, we don't care. We're all terrible at texting back. Being available on every social media channel all the time is exhausting. Most smartphone batteries are crap. And yes, we’re all busy. Work is hard; maintaining a social life even harder, particularly as we navigate the rollercoaster of emotions that the pandemic has brought on.

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Some people take it too far, though. And what bugs most everyone about their friend like this is that when you actually hang out, they never put their phone down.
Smartphones are addictive. We know this. Several people instrumental in inventing social media have told us this. Social media apps tease us with notifications, likes and follows that get our dopamine flowing and the feelgoods going. People we’ve never met taking an interest in our life is flattering; having a tangible, digital record of our popularity is seductive. But while our friend is building their online profile, we’re right here. Literally. Sitting next to them. Looking awkwardly out the window while they scroll through pictures from fashion week, from beauty influencers, of memes about dogs they’ll never meet.

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The main problem is that if this is the kind of relationship someone has with their phone — glued to their hand — then they must have seen the photo we sent them last week asking whether this lipstick suited us. Same with the one we sent them last night, asking if they wanted to go for dinner. The hard truth of the matter is that we weren’t as important as whatever was happening on their phone.
And that hurts. Of course it does. It makes us feel like we are boring. It makes us feel like we are worthless. It makes us feel like we're holding onto our shared relationship by a thread.
When they do eventually text us, we don’t open their messages. Instead, we decide pettily to give them a taste of their own medicine, to let them sweat and see how it feels to be kept waiting. We know full well that, unlike us, they are not dwelling on our non-replies, feeling smaller and more insignificant with every passing minute. We also know that when we eventually break and send them curt, cold texts in return, we will come across like them: time-poor and struggling to keep up with messages. "We are both in the same boat" they will think, not getting our attempt to subtly imply annoyance rather than (wo)manning up and telling them how we really feel.

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Because we don't want to call them out on it. We really don't. If it's this hard to get a response from them now, what will it be like if we start a fight with them? What will it be like if we sound needy?
So here's what we tell ourselves: People have always been rubbish at replying. It's just that now we know when we're being screened. Caller ID gave us the choice to pick up the landline or not and the screenee lived happily in denial about the fact that the screener had something better to do than chat to them at that moment.
Because there's no chance, especially with our phone-addicted friends, that they've missed our messages. And so we must accept that they're not ready to talk at the same times we are. Not replying immediately doesn't mean "I hate you", it means "I'm not ready to talk to anyone right now."
And we sort of believe it. Well, we would. If only they replied just a little bit more.

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