Imagine this: You're laying in bed on a Saturday afternoon and texting your crush. You're talking about your favorite restaurants in the city and what shows you're currently streaming. They respond to each of your messages in a timely manner. But you wait and respond to each message with a lot less urgency, apologizing for the delays. You're aware that they can see your read receipts, but you wait to respond regardless. So, why do you leave people on read?
I often deal with a similar struggle. I hear my phone vibrate against my dresser when I'm getting ready in the morning, and instantly rush over to see who texted me and why. I carefully look at the memes, the funny videos, or the long paragraphs my bestie has sent, and then put my phone down. Hours, and sometimes even a day, later, I realize I never actually responded and quickly text, "So sorry! Crazy day!"
It's true: It has been a chaotic day. But I still find myself wondering why I can't get myself to text back right away. Why do I always procrastinate such a simple task with someone I actually want to talk to?
I spoke with Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple’s Guide to Lasting Love, to get a better understanding of what's really going on when we leave people on read.
Chlipala says that some people leave their read receipts off for the very purpose of not wanting to respond right away. This allows them the time and space to approach the text and answer it when they are ready or available. They may also have some anxiety over their texting habits and may not want their date, partner, or friend knowing that they saw and read the new text so quickly. Keeping their receipts off ultimately removes any pressure that would be present otherwise.
I also talked to Nicole Richardson, licensed marriage and family therapist, who agrees that people who leave their read receipts off like having the ability to think and mull over their response before answering. They may know their "knee-jerk reaction" isn't always exactly what they want to send, and often enjoy the extra level of privacy.
Deciding not to notify someone else when they've received and read their message may eliminate some of the stress and pressure that Chlipala mentions. This ultimately gives them time to tackle their to-do list at work, take a relaxing bubble bath, or just simply be away from their phone for a bit. (TBH, it can be tough to keep up with your inbox, texts, Instagram, and the real world all at the same time.)
But when approaching the topic of leaving your read receipts on, Chlipala says people who do this may do so because they think "it's considerate." "Every text doesn't have to be responded to," Chlipala says, and receipts can act as a notification to the other person they've opened and read their text. A person with this type of texting approach may feel like that's a response in and of itself.
Richardson says using read receipts as a form of communication reveals this kind of person typically embraces technology and how it can be used to connect with others quickly. It also may reveal that this kind of person is very open, even going so far as to say leaving people on read may "suggest a level of transparency and extroversion" in their relationships and friendships, and in social situations.
I leave my read receipts on simply for better communication.
To understand more about the read-receipt phenomenon and how it plays out IRL, I went straight to the source. I asked my Instagram and Twitter followers to see how they felt about read receipts and whether or not they use them or like them. Alexa LeConche, a blogger at She's Glitter and Gold website, is in total agreement about read receipts being useful. "I leave my read receipts on simply for better communication," she says. "I'm not always able to respond right away, so it's nice to know that the other person can tell that I got their message."
She says that by having your read receipts on, she knows when her bestie is on her way to their coffee date without ever having to type a single word or emoji. Read receipts act as a signal that you've gotten their text and have acknowledged it.
Anne* disagrees. She says it actually bothers her when other people don't have their read receipts on. It doesn't matter whether they've actually read your message right away or just look quickly at it and respond later, because either way, she appreciates knowing if she needs to contact someone via a phone call and get their attention in other ways.
"It gives me peace of mind knowing someone 'read' my texts," she says. "It's so much more calming to know whether they saw it or not." But, not everyone feels this way — including Beth*, who doesn't like read receipts and never uses them.
Beth says that sometimes, she'll read a text and forget to respond and doesn't want people to feel like she's being rude. She's the type of person who enjoys that extra level of privacy and space that Richardson mentions.
We live in a time when it is so easy to be contacted and so difficult to really be alone that taking the small step of leaving read receipts off can offer a small feeling of privacy.
Chlipala acknowledges the pros and cons to leaving your read receipts on. If you're in or pursuing a relationship or new friendship, she says it may "build trust and safety" if the person on the receiving end sees that you've replied minutes after the message was read. It also affirms that this may be your texting style. But not replying in a timely manner after reading the message may also cause some negative side effects, like anxiety in the other person, or cause them to question whether or not you're interested in them.
"It's easy to jump to conclusions," Chlipala says. Especially if the other person is hyperaware and vigilant of how people act toward or feel about them, "you can really create a lot of unnecessary anxiety" by not immediately texting back. They may assume you're no longer interested, are angry at them, or that the message they sent should've been worded differently. In addition, you may wind up hurting their feelings if you post on your Instagram or take a Snap and still don't reply to their message after reading it.
I mean, think about any instance when you've anxiously waited for a response and never see the three blinking dots in a bubble to show up. It's...not a good feeling.
But Chlipala says "freedom is a common value in a relationship," or even a friendship. "If one partner feels like they need to respond right away because their partner is demanding it and want to avoid a fight, they could grow resentful and feel restricted in the relationship." Instant gratification with texting is common, but being at the beck and call of someone else can be very unhealthy.
Richardson agrees. "We live in a time when it is so easy to be contacted and so difficult to really be alone that taking the small step of leaving read receipts off can offer a small feeling of privacy."
People have different needs and expectations.
Creating doubt or resentment in someone else is obviously never the goal for either person in this situation, so Chlipala says it's key to clarify your expectations and to communicate and compromise. Even if your intentions are well and good, your texting habits may be sending their own messages and you want to be aware of how your actions are being perceived.
"People have different needs and expectations," Chlipala says. "You don't have to agree with each other, but it is important to understand where you're both coming from and compromise when necessary." Talk to your partner, your bestie, or your date from Tuesday night about what you want your communication to be and look like. "If staying in touch is an important need for you, your responsibility is to convey this gently to your partner or date," and vice versa.
If you're the type of person who leaves texts on read, explain that you often get distracted or engaged in something else. If you're the type of person who expects quick responses or feels upset or anxious when texts are left on read, start a healthy conversation about it so that you don't continue to feel that way.
But then, move on. Both Chlipala and Richardson say you shouldn't dwell too much on it. Read receipts don't necessarily mean much in the grand scheme of things, and Richardson says overthinking "their use/disuse too much may be counterproductive."
Your texting habits aren't everything, even if they may feel that way when you're sending your favorite emojis and memes to your new crush. Who knows, one day we might not be texting each other at all, thanks to some new technology that's taken over the world.
*Names have been changed.