How to Tame the Timing Anxiety Around Texting

The fear of being too busy for your significant other can propel you to send a text message even when it’s not the right time. It is important to be able to control this anxiety and use good timing with texts, especially in relationships

Anxiety is a habit that can be developed over time. It’s important to recognize the triggers and take steps to avoid them. Read more in detail here: anxiety is a habit.


The problem with communication technologies is that they usually become widely used and omnipresent before society informally codifies a set of agreed-upon rules for their usage.

Texting is one example of this. Despite the fact that texting has been around for a few decades, people still have differing views on what constitutes suitable and courteous texting conduct. People’s opinions on how long it should take someone to react to a text message are notably divided.

People often fall into one of two groups in this situation: the first answers to SMS quickly and expects others to do the same. The second may not react to a text for a day or many days, and is unconcerned whether others respond to their messages in a similarly sluggish manner.

Conflict might arise when a member of the first camp corresponds with a member of the second camp on a frequent basis. When the former does not receive a response from the latter in a timely manner, they may be concerned that they’ve said something incorrectly, frustrated that they can’t move forward with a decision pending an answer to a question, and even resentful or slighted, mistaking the lack of response to their message as a signal from the recipient that they are unimportant. Meanwhile, the delayed responder is usually fully ignorant that they’ve caused the other person to get agitated.

Remember, neither camp is “bad”; there are no agreed-upon rules that the second camp is breaking and that the first camp should be enforcing. People are just doing what their minds tell them to do.

To prevent the stress and misunderstandings — what digital communications expert Erica Dhawan refers to as “timing anxiety” — that may occur when members of these opposing factions text asynchronously past one another, it is in their best interests for both to attempt to meet halfway. 

Here’s how to do it.

If responding to people’s texts takes you a long time:

Make a concerted effort to reply more quickly. According to Dhawan’s book Digital Body Language, text messages are often expected to be responded to within an hour. According to the statistics, the typical text message is answered to just 90 seconds, and waiting more than 20 minutes to react is deemed disrespectful, according to one survey that interviewed people aged 18 to 65. 

Of course, they are only averages. However, if you spend hours to days to respond to people’s SMS, be aware that you’re certainly ruffling at least some people’s feathers.

You definitely don’t want your friends and loved ones to feel annoyed or slighted, so do your best to alleviate their timing anxiety by replying to SMS more quickly. “If you can answer in 60 seconds or less, reply promptly,” Dhawan says as a rule of thumb. (In reality, this attitude applies to almost everything; if there’s an action item on anything that can be completed in less than a minute, Do It Now!)


Even if you can’t react to someone’s message in 60 seconds, if it’s an urgent query or involves a sensitive revelation, do your best to respond as soon as possible; no one likes to be left hanging.  

Disable the automatic read receipt feature. Messages transmitted between Apple phones have a “read receipt” feature, which tells recipients when you read the text they sent. However, this might lead to unrealistic expectations, exacerbating someone’s pain or dissatisfaction. Because the sender is aware that you have read their communication, spending a long time to react may aggravate them even more. You could have seen their message fast at a red light and won’t be able to react until you finish the remainder of the lengthy travel home. Or you caught a glimpse of it during a meeting and can’t respond till it’s over. But, of course, the other person is completely oblivious of the situation and may be thinking to themselves, “I know you saw my message!” “Why aren’t you responding to me!”

Make sure your phone’s “read receipt” feature is switched off to properly control response time expectations. You may believe yours is, but it occasionally magically comes back on, and people are unaware it is on until a buddy informs them.

However, offer each person their own read receipt. If circumstances or the need to think about their comment/look deeper into their question prevent you from responding within a reasonable time frame (within the day for general messages; within several hours for more urgent messages), Dhawan recommends sending them an initial short reply — a sort of personal “read receipt” that acknowledges you received their message. “Wow, that’s a fascinating question. I’ll give it some more thought and get back to you tomorrow.” “I’ll take care of it!” I’ll show you something on Friday.” What may have been a source of frustration (“Why haven’t they answered to me?!”) becomes a charming gesture (“How great that they thought about my question.”) Put a reminder on your calendar if you need to that you need to return to so-and-SMS. so’s iPhones also allow you to pin a certain discussion to the top of your Messages app, preventing it from being moved down and lost in your text inbox.

If you want your texts to be answered quickly, you should:

Assume the best of intentions. If you’re one of those individuals who expects a rapid response to their messages and gets irritated when they don’t, try to be more patient, assume good intentions, and provide grace to others. Take no offense if you get an answer that is late or missing.


First and foremost, accept that individuals may be/become busy. Someone may just have a lot on their plate, be overwhelmed, and find it difficult to keep up with their communications. Their slow texting could also be a philosophical choice: perhaps they’re resisting the expectation of constant connectivity and don’t like how constantly responding to texts throughout the day fragments their attention; some people prefer to respond to texts in batches at times they’ve set aside specifically for that purpose. 

Second, individuals are prone to forgetting to respond. Other people’s brains aren’t always wired the same way yours is; although the “open loop” of your unanswered message continues cropping up in your head, the idea that they haven’t replied has entirely slipped their mind for others (just as other details of their life escape their minds in equal measure). Make no judgments about why they haven’t answered (“They’re a nasty person”) or make up tales (“They’re furious with me”). It’s doubtful that they’re ignoring you on purpose; they may not even aware they’ve neglected to respond. In reality, they may have forgotten not because they don’t believe your message is vital, but because it is. “Sometimes I don’t respond because I don’t have time to offer the reaction I believe is warranted,” one of Dhawan’s clients said. Then I forget, and [the other person] believes I didn’t care enough to answer when, in reality, I did.”

Recognize that the difference in how well you and someone else remember to respond to SMS is due to personality differences, not morals. While you may believe that your sharp memory is a sign of superiority, it’s likely that it’s accompanied by increased general neuroticism, whereas your forgetful friend is more buoyant (and that easy-goingness is probably a big reason you like them in the first place); remember that there are always two sides to every personality.

Only follow up when absolutely necessary. Following up on the previous tip, only send a follow-up to an unanswered query if you need a response right away. People may not have answered because they are busy, as previously said. Even if you admire someone, sending a second SMS — “Could you please let me know?!!” — will come off as nagging. Allow plenty of time for someone to react, and only follow up when you’re in desperate need of an answer. “Excuse me for bothering you again again, but have you decided which room you want to conduct the meeting in?” I need to make a reservation by noon today.”

If the individual does not answer to your follow-up, it’s possible that they are ghosting you on purpose. Unless you have good cause to mistrust it, don’t bother attempting to contact them. Now the ball is in their court.


Consider using a more traditional media, such as a phone call. Many people in the Millennial and subsequent generations have a near-phobia of utilizing a phone for its intended purpose. If you have a friend or spouse who isn’t excellent at responding to messages, call them instead of messaging them, at least if you have an urgent inquiry. They may even welcome the shift in medium, and your time anxiety will decrease as your healthy communication improves.

There’s a high probability that a lovely compromise in this contentious terrain may be found if the world’s slow and fast text responders strive to meet each other halfway in their respective approaches to digital communication. Which is essentially how all common rules wind up being codified into etiquette’s annals. 

Listen to our chat with Erica Dhawan for additional advice on how to enhance your “digital body language”: 



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