One of the many horrors of dating in our current era (Ghosting! Endless talking stages that lead nowhere! Life-altering three-month situationships! It’s brutal out here, friends!) is the dreaded phenomenon of getting left on read. (*Cue ominous music.*) Even if it’s never happened to you before—in which case, wow, please tell me your secrets—you likely already know what being left on read is because, well, it’s pretty much what it sounds like.
“Getting ‘left on read’ refers to one person sending a text communication to someone else without getting a response back, though the sender can see that the other person received the message,” says Moe Ari Brown, Love and Connection Expert at Hinge. While I’d hazard that most of us don’t have read receipts on these days unless you’re a sociopath or, like, someone’s middle-aged uncle, you don’t have to literally see that harrowing little “read” label under your unacknowledged text to know that you’ve fallen victim to this tragic fate. If you’ve sent a message that you anticipated a response to and haven’t heard anything back in a significant amount of time (although what constitutes “significant” can vary somewhat depending on the context—more on that later!), congrats, you can consider yourself left on read. (Sorry!)
While anyone can technically leave you on read, we tend to talk about it most often when it happens with someone you’re romantically (or potentially romantically) involved with, whether it’s a new match you’ve just started chatting with on a dating app, your crush, or even a long-term partner. Why? Because that tends to be the most stressful context for it to happen in, one that “can trigger feelings of rejection, anxiety, and confusion,” says Rachel DeAlto, relationship and communication expert at The League.
But! Before you allow yourself to slip into that full-on “do they hate me?” spiral, there are a few things the experts would like you to know about what it really means to be left on read and how to deal if it happens to you. Because, no, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re “just not that into you.” Take a deep breath and prepare to embrace some wisdom.
1. Generally, it means you may not a priority at this time.
Simply put, this is the crux of what being left on read means, as Chivonne Henry, MS, licensed marriage and family therapist explains. Okay, this seems harsh, but think about it—“this time” could mean “within this minute, hour,” etc. or, if it’s been a few days, within this period in their life.
We’ve all done the thing where we freak out over someone not responding, only to feel foolish when they eventually do respond, and it’s clear they were just tied up in something at the moment and not purposefully trying to be rude. Being left on read for an hour or even a day in the appropriate circumstances shouldn’t be cause for you to totally give up on a person, but if it’s been a few days with nothing on their end, you’ll probably feel better yourself if you start to move on.
2. Understand that different people have different texting habits.
This is an especially important thing to keep in mind if you’ve only recently started dating or talking to this person. We’re not all on the same screen time schedule, nor do we all have the same remote communication style, and it can take a bit to find your texting groove with a new partner.
“Not everyone is on your timeline or shares your speed of communication,” says DeAlto. “Some are naturally more connected to their phones and quicker to reply.” Maybe they’re busy, maybe they just don’t alway reply right away, or maybe they’re someone who prefers phone calls or face-to-face communication. Which brings us to…
3. Have a conversation about your preferred communication styles.
If this is someone you’ve been chatting with for a minute now and it seems like your desired text cadence just isn’t lining up, it may be worth having a little chat about it to see if you can get on the same page—or at least reassure yourself that this communication gap is more about personal preference than it is reflective of their interest in you.
“If you are bothered by being left on read and still dating this person, let them know that it doesn’t feel great,” says DeAlto. “We often end up in a natural cycle of communication patterns based on precedent, but people are capable of adapting if you approach it correctly.”
As for how to do that, Brown suggests simply being as transparent as possible without shaming or blaming the other person for falling short of your expectations: “The communication could go something like this: ‘Hey, I have enjoyed getting to know more about you, and I’d love to keep connecting with you if you’re also interested. I typically like to communicate consistently over messaging (within 24 hours) and I’m flexible to another form of communication that better suits our schedules. I would love to know your thoughts.’”
4. Reexamine the text to see if your last message even needed a response.
Henry suggests looking at your last message again and seeing if your last text even needed a response. Sometimes there’s no response because the convo just kinda died or because your last message was a bit vague. No stress! If they’re interested, they’ll find a reason to text you again with a fresh conversation thread.
In the future, if you wanna nix any concern about vagueness in your messages, go with a more direct approach when texting. Instead of saying, “Let’s hang out soon,” try being more clear with “I’m interested in you and I want to spend time with you and get to know you,” as Tennesha Wood, matchmaker and dating expert explains. Ask for what you want directly with “I want to see you— can we meet up tonight?” instead of an open-ended “WYD.”
5. Be patient.
“Many times we can simply be overthinking it and can assume the person may be purposely ignoring us when they just may be busy,” Henry adds. Because there’s the chance that this is simply a temporary delay, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Don’t triple- or quadruple-text them like, “did you get my message???” as this is...not super respectful of their life and boundaries and kinda clingy. Think about how annoyed you get when someone does this to you.
6. Stop texting.
Yes, getting left on read can be confusing and even hurtful at times, Henry says, but resist the urge to keep texting. “All communication is communicating,” she adds. Sometimes, the other person is leaving you on read as a stone-cold power play—in which case, you don’t want to make it worse for yourself by continuing to barrage them with messages.
7. Do you.
“Go about your life, because you are important, so treat yourself as such,” dating coach Julie Pham suggests. As tempting as it is to let a read receipt bring you down, try to live your life and ignore it. “When you constantly wait around for someone else, you’re communicating to yourself and others that you are secondary,” Pham says.
8. Send a follow-up text…
BUT! Only if it’s been a while, and only if you can trust yourself to stick to one message and keep it light-hearted.
“If you haven't heard back in two days, send a casual message that doesn't require a specific response like, ‘No worries if you’re busy, just wanted to check in to see how you’re doing,’” says Brown. “This gives the other person the opportunity to authentically express their feelings because you’ve opened up the conversation.”
But that’s it, stresses matchmaker Susan Trombetti, CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking. “Don't bombard them in the moment with more text messages,” she says. “And, whatever you do, do not send an angry or snarky text if you don't get a response back.”
9. Ask yourself if this is a pattern.
If you are always being left on read or feeling like you are with this person, check in with yourself about your relationship patterns and expectations you have, Sasha Jackson, LCSW, explains. It’s possible you’re going after people who are not available (emotionally or otherwise) or that you’re not clear on your expectations.
10. Don’t take it personally.
Our crush-addled brains can jump to a lot of, frankly, kind of unhinged conclusions when we find ourselves left on read—most of which are often unfounded! Sometimes, though, those thoughts are, well, founded. As Trombetti notes, there are times when being left on read does, unfortch, indicate that someone is just not that into you. In that case, take it in stride and remember that one person’s lack of interest is in no way a reflection of your value, hotness, or the viability of your future romantic prospects, kk?
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