An Ode To The WhatsApp Archive, AKA The Dating “Graveyard”

Photographed by Ramona Jingru Wang.
You might be single, on the apps, off the apps, in a situationship, relationship, polyamorous, monogamous, whatever. Chances are, if you are in the business of fancying people, you enjoy the pastime of texting people you fancy. Apart from when, you know, they’re not replying to you.
We know not everyone needs to be ready to reply at our whim 24/7 (we’d hate that), and if I’m being totally honest, I leave people on read often. But that doesn’t mean it’s not bloody annoying when you’re waiting for a text back. This is where the WhatsApp archive comes in, or as it’s more morbidly known, “the graveyard” (thank you, Iona David, a.k.a Beam Me Up Softboi). 
The Whatsapp archive is a cosy little corner where you can put the chats that you no longer want to engage with. Once someone has been archived, you do not see their chats or get a notification when they text you. They are out of sight and out of mind, unable to disturb you, hanging out with the other archivees. That is, until you get the dreaded (1) next to the archive which means someone in there has messaged you, and your heart skips 10 beats. WhatsApp does not notify you to tell you you’ve been archived.
As someone who dates men, I love archiving them. There, I said it. Putting them on the naughty step, sending them to archive purgatory. Ha, take that! Is this healthy? Probably not. Am I alone? Not at all. One video on TikTok by user @sssorn_chonnasorn reads “putting them in the WhatsApp archive when they annoy me” has, at time of writing, 103.8K likes and 618.8K views. After issuing a callout to R29’s followers, and my own, it seems there is a plethora of reasons people archive others, and most of the time it appears to be the girls and the gays who do it. Some cishet men I know confessed they didn’t even know the archive function exists; three close male friends claimed they use it mainly to house the chats they have with their dealers. 
The main reason I, and many others, like archiving people I date is because it is a form of self-preservation. If I need some space or time away from them before I respond, it’s really handy. When someone is not texting me back, I am my most productive. Catch me doing 10k runs (I usually run 5k), enthusiastically taking the bins out — whatever I can do to distract myself and prove “I don’t care” (fun fact about me: Whenever I say “I don’t care”, it often means I really, really do.). Robyn*, 28 — who preferred not to share her last name — says it’s the distance that the archive gives her, the opportunity to disengage. “If someone is going in and out of the archives it’s a sign that the situation isn’t working,” she explains. “The less invested, more hurt or irritated I am by them, the more they’ll be in the archive. Usually, it’s an act of creating space for myself.”
For some, the archive is a death sentence. Adwoa, 29 — who preferred not to share her last name — says for her “it’s definitely an out of sight, out of mind thing ... Anyone I’m actively exclusively dating wouldn’t end up there unless things were on their very last legs.” Robyn agrees, “the fuckboys can pop in and out, but usually once I’ve determined you’re not good for me, you’re living in there if we still have occasional contact.” Ouch. The one thing everyone agreed on was that their exes have a permanent home in the archive. Naomi*, 28 — who preferred not to share their last name – said “it’s more about not wanting to see their name and even remember their existence than anything else.” Brutal, but genuinely, completely understandable.
Not everyone sees it as game over. Some women I spoke to tended to keep everyone in the archive apart from their close family members. Natasha*, 22 — who preferred not to share her last name — even admitted to putting her partner in the archive regularly. “I put my boyfriend in the archive when he’s annoying me. He hops in and out when he is being well-behaved or not.” It might sound like we’re treating them like digital Neopets or Tamagotchis, but for those of us who have been dating in the current climate, we’re nothing short of exhausted. “I put him in the archive so I’m not constantly checking to see if he’s messaged me,” she explains. 
I’ve previously expressed my love of the Do Not Disturb function and the way it helps me to control what I see and when I see it. Some of us work, socialise, date and exist on our phones, so it makes sense to create some space between ourselves and anything that’s going to have a negative effect on you or make you anxious. But is there a darker side to all of the incessant archiving we’re doing, playing Sims with our chats? 
Iman, 28 — who preferred not to share her last name — fears that it can enable people to cheat or be unfaithful. “I was once seeing someone but speaking to someone else,” she confesses. “I archived that chat so the boy I was seeing didn’t see it.” Iman added that if you’re putting someone in there to remove the temptation of texting them, “the archive puts [the person you’re dating] on a pedestal”, as it creates a separate section for them from everyone else. “They’re secretly your VIPs.” 
These days, we as a society spend a lot of time analysing dating habits, tips and tricks online. We’re the moral crusaders, telling people what is and isn’t okay. Who to “cancel”, who to block, and how to do it. Sometimes this discourse is harmful, sometimes it’s just plain helpful, and sometimes it’s hard to know the difference. 
Anna Bailie is a PhD researcher in politics, mental health and social media at the University of York. She says anxiety has a huge relationship with control. “And so for some people that struggle with anxiety, it’s because we try to seek control of situations. So using the archive function to try and organise or control your relationships might make your anxiety worse ... Which can actually be detrimental to our emotional experience.”
She adds that if the person we are texting isn’t somebody that communicates a lot, that’s unlikely to change, so it’s about taking someone as they are, and making that choice. “Because the worst thing that can happen in a relationship, I personally feel, is that people can lose themselves within it, because they try so hard to manipulate their behaviour, and change and be someone that they think their partner will like. That is very detrimental to our understanding of ourselves and who we are, which I think is the key to mental health.”
Author, psychologist and certified therapist, Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari, agrees. “Maybe in the moment, it feels fixed, but in the long run, I’m not sure it’s the best strategy for relationships.” She suggests looking at other options and stresses that there is no right or wrong way to approach it. It is about developing communication skills for a relationship that you’ll need as you get more serious with a partner romantically. 
My take: As long as you’re not using it to hurt someone, it can be a great way to ease your mind by managing your phone that is constantly being bombarded with people and content. I’m a strong advocate of the archive, where necessary. But if you’re putting them there so you don’t check for them and end up just checking for them all the time anyway, you should probably just pick the phone up and give them a call like in the good old days, before tech giants created apps that made us anxious and we started trusting algorithms for relationship advice (!). If that’s too scary, just text and ask them out (don’t worry, you can always archive them if they reject you).
*Names have been changed to protect identities. 

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