How To Not Answer Text Messages Like A Very Angry Person

It’s harder than it seems, apparently?

I sometimes get told that I seem “angry” in texts when I’m not. What do I say or avoid saying in texting to avoid accidentally coming off harsh?

Someday there is going to be a texting manual that comes with cell phones and we will be all the better for it, but in the meantime, with the space I have here, here is a list of the things you DON’T TEXT if you don’t want to sound like the biggest asshole who ever texted:

1.The words yes or no with a period after. (The period makes you seem mad. Are you mad?) Actually, any single word sentence with a period after. 2.“K” (What, you don’t care enough about me to use TWO letters anymore?) 3. Any non-word, verbal form of hesitation or disinterest – nah, eh, umm, uhh. This is way too rude without the accompanying pitch/tone/mood cues that make saying them in person only barely tolerable. 4. An unclear joke without a clarifying, easing “haha” after. (Is this supposed to be FUNNY? Are you being serious right now?) 5.“Screw you, you piece of shit.” (Seriously, ARE YOU MAD?)

I have this supremely sucky quality where I forget to get back to people’s emails. What’s the time limit on responding? Does it vary if it’s work or personal? What’s the appropriate way of saying, “Sorry I’m a jerk and thought I remembered to email you back, but didn’t…”

OK, so we all know that the first step is admitting you have a problem, right? And admitting it’s there is good and right, but I also think that a lot of people get the idea that it’s fine to just kind of stop … there? If I said, “I can’t stop terrorizing children, my bad, haha,” but then just kept sneaking onto school buses and screaming incoherently at little kids, you would not think that was acceptable or charming. (Here is how you know to turn off a movie: a horribly behaved beautiful person says, “I’m so fucked up.” Nope! Nooo. Stop.) You know this is a sucky quality, so now it’s time to work.

So what I’m going to do is pretend that you asked me a different question. (Fine, I’ll answer yours quickly, because I’m polite: 1) One week for personal, 24 hours MAX for work, barring extenuating circumstances. 2) “Thanks for your patience — I’m so sorry it took me this long to respond. Next time I will be much more prompt!”) I’m going to pretend that you asked, “How can I be better about responding to people’s emails in a timely fashion?” This, I think, is the question you SHOULD be asking me.

This is going to sound … New Age-y in a way that makes me uncomfortable, but I really think the first thing you need to do is remind yourself that other people’s time is valuable. How you do this is up to you; think about it, sing it, write it in chocolate syrup and then eat it, I don’t care. Inboxes look impersonal, but there are real people waiting on them (and it is agony!), and if they care enough about you to write to you, you should care enough to respond as soon as possible. The main way you don’t forget to do something is to do it NOW. To help you prioritize, label things with the pretty colored stars and exclamation points that Gmail settings give you. Exclamation points mean respond today, stars mean soon (one week tops). Get to your email twenty minutes earlier than you’ve been getting to it each day, and use this time to catch up and remind yourself of what in your inbox needs a reply. Use Stickies AND real Post-its. Write on your hand. Tell yourself over and over: forgetting to reply isn’t acceptable. And then stop.

Let’s say I’ve had this long back-and-forth with a guy on a dating site (more than the requisite 10 messages). A few weeks ago, I accidentally messaged him back … drunk and out with my friends (I know). I apologized the next day, but haven’t heard from him since. Do I just chalk it up to future-husband-FAIL, and move on? Or is there a completely non-sketchy, non-desperate way of being like, hey why don’t you like me anymore?

Here is an app idea: it’s called Beer Breath, and you download it on both your phone and your laptop. Before you go out for a night of moderate-to-heavy drinking, you enable Beer Breath on both devices. This locks them (preventing you from sending texts, emails, calls, dating messages, etc.) until enough time has passed that you are able to blow on your phone screen and your laptop screen without surpassing a 0.02 blood alcohol level. Yes!!! OK, I’m off to Oslo for my prize.

Another thing to try is self-control w/r/t mixing alcohol and electronics, but that doesn’t seem to be working out very well for a lot of you.

No, listen: it’s going to be fine. What I like about you is that, up front, you’re copping to having violated two of my rules — the 10 messages, plus the no drunk messages of any kind mandate —as though we are in a confessional. You know you made a mistake. But here’s the thing: I don’t mean that drunk message sending is a mistake in the sense of some complex dating success logarithm. Weirder things have happened and relationships have still started after! Drunk messages are just an embarrassing manners mistake, period. But you apologized for it, and that was all you could have done. You put the ball in his court (as we professional advice-giving sports metaphor enthusiasts say), but unfortunately I think he might have left the stadium. There are a few things to work on here (another one: try not to think of an internet persona stranger as a future husband), but don’t let yourself think that any one of them “ruined” this romantic prospect. To err is human, and so on. Chin up.

FWD: Halp! is a weekly advice column on how to behave like a person when using technology. Would you like said advice? Email your questions to Katie.

Katie Heaney is a writer and volunteer text message analyst living in Minneapolis. She thinks you should have good manners, even on the internet.

Illustration by Cara Vandermey

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