Have you heard yet? The group chat is officially over, dead, buried six feet under in that big tech graveyard next to Twitter. What was once a lighthearted lifeline to social connection—especially in the darkest days of the pandemic—is now such a widespread source of petty drama, anxiety, and annoyance that people are leaving their chats in droves.
I’ll admit I’m part of the exodus: I abandoned some of mine, as I saw other friends doing the same. A few chats merged or slowly faded into oblivion as so many of us reshuffled our priorities and social lives in the great pandemic realignment.
Take, for example, two of my now-defunct group chats. In 2020, my chat with my closest friends in New York City was watching movies on Netflix Party (remember that?) and hosting Zoom reenactments of scenes from Bridesmaids, complete with costumes and props. I left New York that year, and slowly but surely, some of those friendships eroded and ended. So after five years in the chat and months of personal grieving, I quietly left it for good.
Enter a new group chat with my fresh, new girlfriends in Austin, Texas, that we lovingly dubbed “Dick Cage” (google it). Soon enough, however, people started fleeing that chat too. They said it gave them too much anxiety. They wanted to focus on one-on-one interactions. They were buying a flip phone in an attempt to cure their tech addiction and fully revert to the ’90s.
My theory is that although many parts of our everyday lives have returned to “normal,” certain pandemic hangovers remain. Some of us have made NO NEW FRIENDS into a life mantra, prioritizing self and sanity over social niceties. We’ve intentionally shrunk our circles, and group chats have a pesky way of keeping you tethered to people you honestly…just can’t be bothered with AP (After Pandemic).
But the thing is, I still love group chats! I love to hear about the ex my friend ran into (and completely ignored) on the train and discuss the merits of anal botox and laugh at memes of Selena Gomez wrapped in a blanket—all while I’m alone at my desk. I also live for the support I get from my most sincere group chat (sometimes you just need to be cheered on while you gear yourself up to go to the dentist) and the easy way the chat helps me keep in touch with people I may not ever speak to otherwise. I even like to hear my friends complain (“I’ve been on the phone with American Airlines for 48 minutes!?!”) because it takes my mind off of the countless dumpster fires going on in the world at any given moment.
In a time of a million little social deaths, is there any way to keep the endangered group chat alive? The rules are unspoken and ever-changing, and maybe that’s just the problem. So I went to the digital mountaintop, looked into the burning bush (or maybe that was just a TikTok filter…), and asked my friends and internet strangers to define the new commandments of the group chat for 2024. Here’s what we came up with.
I. Thou Shalt Be Mother Freaking Theresa
Above all, the group chat should be an easy-breezy-beautiful way of communicating—and you can be the change you wish to see in the world. Keep the chat fun and lighthearted, and don’t drop into it just to bitch about your bad boss Monday through Friday. When it comes to conflict, remember that texting leaves little room for nuance. If Rachel sends a yawning emoji in response to a picture of your OOTD and you’re about to go off, take a beat to recall that we lose a ton of context over screens and maybe she’s not actually launching a pointed attack on your personal style.
Of course, it’s also a time of intense political disagreement around the country and we’re officially in an election year. When there’s friction, consider: (1) If you don’t have the courage to have hard conversations with your closest friends, who will? and (2) have you ever had a functional, emotionally healthy, fully fleshed out conversation over text? If there’s a dustup, pick up the phone so you can really talk it out—and so the rest of the group doesn’t have to awkwardly watch a fight play out (or even worse, take sides).
II. Thou Shalt Make Your Friends Feel Seen
Every now and then, we all need external validation. If you know a group chat member is going through it, be sure to send a little digital sunshine their way, even if it’s just to share that GIF of Kendall Roy screaming, “I AM THE ELDEST BOY!” because it made you think of them. And if someone admits that something hard is happening in their lives, make an effort to respond like a real human being instead of a ChatGPT script.
In short, don’t be a dick—eventually, it will be you going to the group chat for a pick-me-up.
III. Thou Shalt Mute Every Group Chat
Fight me on this one: The key to maintaining our thin hold on sanity is to mute every single group chat. We are all addicted to our phones and barely touch grass as it is. You cannot let that steady flow of notifications blow up your day.
Don’t foster a group chat culture where everyone feels pressured to respond early and often. Let people take a few hours (or days) away from the group chat so they’re more likely to stick around rather than ghost or, even worse, dramatically announce their exit with a paragraphs-long message that looks a lot like that breakup text you sent to your ex who never bothered to read it (sigh).
IV. Thou Shalt Chill With the Message Reactions
Here it is, my number one pet peeve of group chats: the never-ending stream of not just new messages but also the hahas and hearts and thumbs-up (and passive-aggressive thumbs-down) too. Must we all be notified that you’re “emphasizing” a picture of a pug in a hat? (Here’s a free tip for Apple: Why don’t you just alert the one person of the reaction on their message rather than every single one of us?! My god.)
V. Thou Shalt Ask the Chat for Permission to Bring Others Into the Fold
Sure, you had three great happy hours with Brenda after work, but that doesn’t mean she can be dropped into the group chat with your sorority sisters where you’ve all been doing an investigative report on an ex-boyfriend’s wedding photos. (The depths of the sleuthing must never leave the hallowed halls of chat.) Have the decency to ask the chat before you add someone new. And that new person should probably know everyone IRL (or be part of the same online group you are)—the chat is way less fun if you’re biting your tongue for a near-stranger’s sake.
VI. Thou Shalt Have a Blue Dot or Thou Aren’t Welcome
Sorry, but until Apple finally gives Android users equal message status, those green dots are ugly. They constantly break up the thread and are just too annoying to have around. (There is apparently an app to help Android users disguise themselves as blue dots, but I remain skeptical.) And if you’re a green bubble whose saintly group chat keeps you around (my family switched our entire chat to WhatsApp because we’re held hostage by my green-dot sister), don’t you dare react to any messages.
VII. Thou Shalt Blow Up the Chat Immediately After a Breakup
When my friend gets dumped or does the dumping, there’s one thing I know how to do: swoop in and create a new group chat without their ex in it. I’m nothing if not loyal! It was nice knowing you, Brad. You’ve got to go.
VIII. Thou Shalt Take Your Side Conversations Elsewhere
Here’s some group-chat math: if two out of eight of you in the group are obsessing over the Love Is Blind finale and the rest don’t care, you’re being annoying. It doesn’t matter if you think the other six friends have bad taste. It’s time to take it to your own personal DM. No one wants to scroll through your Rachel Maddow–esque analysis about a show they haven’t watched.
IX. Thou Shalt Let Sleeping Group Chats Lie
Group chats, just like most relationships, have expiration dates. If a group chat that once sent hundreds of messages a day has been silent for weeks, it may be time to let it go. Kourtney Kardashian didn’t allow her feathers to get ruffled by the “Not Kourtney” group chat—she goes where she is wanted and knows it’s none of her business what other people have to say about her. Be like Kourtney (in this one instance, at least—I would never ask you to live sugar-free).
X. Thou Shalt Respect the Group’s Purpose (and Use Your Inside Voice)
“Read the room and know the vibe,” a wise friend told me. If you’re in a fantasy football chat, don’t randomly steer the conversation toward your kid’s dance recital. This is not the time or the place.
And always be aware of your talking-to-listening ratio, the same way you would be at a dinner party. If you’re often the only one piping up in the chat, pay attention to whether or not you’re…mostly just talking to yourself.
There you have it. These are the unspoken guidelines that will help keep our group chats together in perpetuity (until they die of natural causes—that’s life!). It’s a delicate balance to stay connected to our friends and share the highs and lows of life over screens. Follow these vaunted commandments and you will live in peace and prosper (probably).
And if you disagree with my rules, remember (Tamra Judge style), that’s my opinion!!! See you in the group chat.
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