Monday, March 20, 2017

Online Friends: the complexity of messaging

NOTE: When I say 'online friends', I mean friends you met and converse with primarily online opposed to in person.

And once again, I've created another long ass essay on a first world problem! 😊👍

I've had only a handful of online friends over the past decade. (I feel so old when I say that.. lol). I exchanged emails with one of them for maybe 10 years now.. One of the things that I really struggled with and still struggle with today is message response time. How long should it take this person to respond to you? How long should it take you to respond to them? Should you respond to them in the same amount of time it took them to respond to you? My brain hurts... 😱

I honestly believe that the 'rules' of texting-and-email-etiquette for dating and friends you see on a daily basis doesn't quite transfer well into the realm of penpals and online friends. This is because you've never met this online friend in person, or maybe you did meet them but only a few times and you don't see them frequently. It's a reflection of the saying, "out of sight, out of mind."

In my experience, when I emailed with a friend I met online (the one I've corresponded with the longest), we would send long, essay-like emails to each other. It would take 1-3 months for a response. You could say we were penpals. I think we somehow came to a mutual understanding of the response time. We would generally apologize for taking so long to respond and would never pry for answers as to why the response took so long. The principle I formed at the time was that however long it took her to respond to me would be the minimum amount of time I would take to respond to her. We still responded at our own pace though and it was never quite exact. This principle worked well with her because:

1. She's the type of person who takes a while to respond. And..
2. Our emails were very long and we both liked to create thoughtful responses

We lost contact for a while because of the site's updates, but eventually found a way to talk with each other again. Along with emailing directly, we decided to use a texting app because it allowed us to keep our anonymity (we had not met in person before). With the new texting ability came new concerns. Since the messages are so much shorter, how long should we take to respond? These are thoughts I still have. But I use the principle I stated above: however long it takes them to respond to me, is the general amount of time I have to respond to them. We all have our egos. I think most people wouldn't want to appear desperate by being the only person responding promptly.

The principle of equal responding time doesn't work in some cases though. I've had an online friend on the other end of the spectrum who responded too quickly. Yes, responding too fast is a thing. And it's unnerving (at least in the case of online friends, especially ones you don't know too well). I mean, besides someone like your best friend/s, SO, or family, would you feel creeped out if someone texted you almost everyday? I would.

This friend was on my texting app and they would respond quite fast, within an hour or two or a day. You would think that I would be super happy about this but it just made me feel uncomfortable. I felt especially uncomfortable when I wouldn't respond right away and then they would continuously send messages asking if I was okay or to have a nice day. I'm sorry if this sounds terrible but I felt like I was being suffocated. Maybe it's because I didn't know this person too well, or maybe it's because I'm conditioned to expect even a short message to take 1-2 weeks from an online friend.

The moral of this story is that there are all kinds of online friends. How you handle it is going to depend on what kind of online friend you have. There will be some who take forever to respond but have really good responses. There will be some that just seem needy (I think these kinds of online friends are best kept off your smartphone). And there will be everything in between.

I think the best way to deal with it is to not take things too personally, especially with online friends who take a while to respond. Of course, this will also depend on the quality of their responses to you.

My reasoning for this is because of some things I learned about friendships:

  • No friendship is perfect. If you expect too much from your friend and cut them off because they don't fit an ideal you have of the perfect friend, you might end up with no friends at all.
  • People are busy in life. Yeah, realistically a person will make time to respond to you if they really want to. But everyone has different priorities. Plus, this is an online friend you don't see in person. Out of sight, out of mind. 
  • We can only control our own actions. We can't control how quickly someone responds to a message let alone what they do in their life. Lets not take things personally and just focus on our own actions.

The only valid tip I have is for the online friend who has good responses to messages but a long response time (a week or more for texts and 1-3 months for emails). This will also depend on how long you're personally willing to wait for responses.

My solution is pretty much an eye for an eye.

However long it takes them to respond to you is the minimum amount of time you will take to respond to them. 

This is only if you're still willing to correspond with them and you don't want to seem desperate or needy.

I've seen some common questions about 'instant messaging etiquette'. Here are my personal answers to these questions for specifically, online friends:

1. Why are they taking so long to respond to me? Am I unimportant to them? 

(Possibly the most popular question of all in the world of texting and messaging.)

The short answer to this question is yes, they don't care about you enough to respond in a time frame you deem appropriate. They're 'busy' and have so many more important things to do in their life. If they really cared, they would make time to respond to you. Most people always have their phone with them and are texting anyway! No excuses!!! 😡💢

Here's my answer based on my experience with an online friend who takes a long time to respond.

I wouldn't say you're unimportant or that they don't care about you at all. You're just not at the top of their priority list. Online friends are not people you see on a day to day basis. People have their families, friends offline, coworkers, acquaintances, and many other people they may be talking with on various social medias. Besides f*cking Facebook, can you imagine how many other social media sites they're on? There are a lot. I'm not proud to say it but I've joined social media sites, made friends, and then just stopped using the site after finding a new social media that I liked more or just forgetting about the site altogether. After my experience with that, I realized how easy it could be for an online friend to cease contact.

Now, going back to my online friend. We've been chatting for about 10 years, despite taking a long time to respond to one another. I think this fact alone states that we do care and we have a mutual understanding that each of us have our own lives offline. We can't be the center of the universe to one another. 

I also believe that some people want to have a certain amount of control over their life. They don't want to feel as if their life is dictated by how promptly they can respond to a message sent by an online friend. I think that deep down, this is why I was so bothered by that other online friend who responded too quickly. I felt as if they were taking over my life; I would always be expecting their responses and then I felt the need to respond back just as promptly to be polite. It was super creepy that they were on my mind that much and it almost felt like that was their intention for messaging all the time. My theory is that everyone has a certain range of time between responding to a message where they feel in control of their life and comfortable.

Both the time it takes someone to respond to a message and the content of the responses send a psychological message to the receiver. If a person responds too quickly (in the receiver's perspective), they could come off as needy, creepy, and dependent. If a person takes a long time to respond (in the receiver's perspective), they could come off as uncaring and rude.  

As you can see, there is no perfect solution to this problem because everyone has different perceptions of what the appropriate response time is. 

Not everyone can accept a person taking so long to respond to text messages or emails. In this case, sadly to say you may have to cut ties with this online friend. If it truly bothers you, there really isn't much you can do about it. We can't control the other person's actions, only our own.

If you have a situation similar to mine with an online friend you really connect with but they take a while to respond, you can do what I do and respond in a similar amount of time they take to respond to you. Personally, I think that's appropriate. There are some exceptions like if they took much longer than their usual response time and mentioned why it took so long. But that would be for you to judge. I would also suggest finding new hobbies and activities to do to keep yourself occupied. If you're starting to feel insecure about yourself because of their response time, then it's time for you to focus on your own life and find things to keep yourself busy.

2. I always send thoughtful messages and emails but their responses always revolve around them and their problems. They never acknowledge my messages. What should I do?

This one also goes back to our lack of control over the other person's actions.

I have a friend offline who sometimes has these tendencies. I think there are some people in this world who are really cool to hang with offline but if you want to text or email them, they really suck at it. So it's not exactly fair to simply label this person as the scum of the Earth.

With online friends, this is more difficult as you don't see them in person. You can't just walk up to them and talk with them directly. Over 50% of communication is conveyed through body language. We don't get that in online messaging or texts. Due to these unfortunate circumstances, if you really can't stand them doing this, it's best to either bring it up to them in a polite way (although you could risk appearing uptight, overly sensitive, and needy depending on your expectations), or to cut ties with this person.

I think the resolution of this will depend on how effectively you bring up the issue and how understanding your friend is. If you two are in sync and truly have a mutual understanding and respect of one another, then this problem could be resolved through the direct approach. My advice is to keep most of your emotions out of your message when addressing the issue. Focus more on how their responses made you feel. Keep as much emotional charge out of your message as possible. Have clear goal in mind when writing to this person about your problem with them. What kind of outcome do you want? Try to make that clear to them and try to make it reasonable.  

3. My friend never congratulates me on things and often just responds with "yay..." They also commonly use "yea..." as a response to other things. WTF does this mean? 

I personally get annoyed with people who respond this way and don't have the common sense to at least give a simple phrase of "congrats!" to a friend who made a significant accomplishment.

I've never really had this issue with close online friends but I've had this problem with a friend offline through texting. It was pretty weird because instead of a simple "congrats," they would say "yay..." You can imagine what I thought about that. 😑 It's difficult to know what the person is truly thinking based on a simple text message. I eventually got confirmation that they were happy for me once when they stated, "I'm really happy you got the job." I don't think she truly didn't care or wasn't happy for me. Although, if she didn't make that last statement, it would be quite difficult for me to believe she cared.

Again, with online friends, this answer is skewed since you may not be able to ask your friend in person (which is almost always the best mode of communication). You could always just ask them through texting/messaging if they continually do this (though you may risk coming off as 'overly sensitive'). But sometimes the person might not be aware of how their responses affect you and may just really, really suck at messaging.  Adding in some emoji's may help. ^^

I think that at times, it's much better to address certain problems directly instead of fume in silence. This will be based on individual preferences and how well you know the person. What you do will strongly depend on what you're willing to put up with and what you won't.

I hope this essay was informative and perhaps helped you with your online messaging woes.  💗

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