Mobile phones make it simple to stay in contact with people we care about. It’s easy to just drop someone a quick text to let them know that you’re thinking of them, to ask a quick question, or arrange to meet up.
Given that most of us have our phones on us throughout the day, it can feel personal and hurtful if the friend we’ve just texted doesn’t reply. It can leave us doubting how much we matter to them and feeling both resentful and clingy.
Although it often feels personal, there are loads of reasons that someone might not text you back, and most of them have nothing to do with how they feel about you.
Here are some reasons your friend might not be texting back and healthy ways to deal with it.
Let’s start with a simple one. As a driver, there is nothing more frustrating than being on the road to meet up with a friend and having them text “just to check how your journey’s going.”
You probably didn’t think about the fact that they’re driving, but they have to either ignore your message, read the text while driving (illegal and unsafe), or pull over (awkward if they’re on the freeway).
Tip: Don’t text someone who’s driving to meet you
If you need to tell them something during the journey, text a passenger or call them instead. Otherwise, just wait until you can talk in person.
If you want a text conversation to keep going, it’s not enough to just reach out and initiate contact. You need to give them something to talk about. This might be asking them a question or telling them something that’s important to them. Even casual conversations need to have something to talk about. Saying “I’m bored. Do you have time to chat?” is better than just saying “sup.”
Tip: Include your own questions and funny responses
Sending someone a link you think they’ll enjoy can be great, but you need to say something of your own as well. For example, you can send your cat-loving friend a TikTok of an adorable cat but include your own thoughts. Try saying, “Can you imagine your cat doing this?”
Including a question in your text shows the other person that you are hoping for a reply and gives them something to talk about.
Having a conversation via text can be convenient, but it can be tricky if someone’s trying to do other things. This can be especially awkward if you want a casual chat and the other person is in the middle of errands. In this case, your friend might just stop replying.
If you’re waiting for a response and wondering why the other person has stopped chatting, you might feel confused and abandoned.
Tip: Be clear when ending text conversations
Try explaining that you understand that they are probably busy, but it would be helpful to you if they could let you know that they need to stop chatting now. Ask them to say something like, “Got to head off now. Talk later.”
If they do, respect that agreement. Don’t try to keep the conversation going. A text to say, “No worries. Thanks for the chat” comfortably ends the text conversation, making them more likely to reply next time.
Messages have become one of the main ways that most people communicate, but that doesn’t mean that it works for everyone. Even people who text when necessary might really dislike it. They offer short replies to factual questions and completely ignore general chit-chat. For example, you might say:
“Hey. How’re you doing? Hope your week’s WAY less crazy than mine! Are we still on for Friday? Can you make 3 pm at the usual cafe?”
You’re hoping that they ask about your crazy week, so you’re disappointed when their reply is just “Sure.” To you, this feels like a one-sided friendship, but they’d prefer to talk about it in person.
Tip: Try other communication methods
Try not to push them to make conversation over text if they clearly don’t enjoy it. You might dislike alternative options, such as phone calls or email, but try to find a compromise. It’s not about you adjusting to what they like or them adjusting to you. You’re trying to find a way to talk that both of you enjoy.
One common reason not to reply to a text is that we were busy at the time it came in. We might have been carrying something, out for a run, or doing any one of a million things.
The advantage of a text is that (in theory) you can wait and just reply when you have time. Unfortunately, lots of us compose a response in our minds and forget that we haven’t actually replied. It can then feel awkward to reply to a text message after too much time has passed.
Some people make a conscious decision not to use their phones at specific times or on certain days. For others, they might just find certain times difficult to reply.
Tip: Look for patterns
Try to see whether your friend has any particular times that they usually do reply or times when they definitely don’t. Sending texts when you think they’re not busy might make it more likely that they will reply.
Try not to take it personally if they still don’t reply. Remind yourself that, although you think they’re not busy, you don’t know for sure.
Sending too many texts in a row can be quite stressful for the other person and leave them feeling overwhelmed.
Most people have an excited or happy feeling when they hear their text notification sound that comes from a small hit of dopamine. For others, however, that same noise causes a stress response.
If you send lots of messages in a row, your friend hears their phone go off again and again. Even for people who enjoy texts, this can be worrying. Multiple texts in a short space of time can mean that someone’s in trouble and really needs them.
Tip: Limit how many texts you send without a reply
Everyone will have their own ideas about how much is too much to text, but a good rule of thumb is to try not to send more than two texts in a row on a single day. If there’s something really urgent, you might need to call rather than text.
Ask yourself what your friend’s phone use is like when they’re with you. If they are on their phone all the time when you’re together but don’t reply to your texts, their slow reply to you may be personal.
If they give you all of their attention when the two of you are together, however, they probably do the same for other people when they’re with them. This means that they might not have seen your message or have simply decided to prioritize being in the moment.
Tip: Remember it’s not personal
If your friend isn’t on their phone much when you’re together, try to remember that when they’re being unresponsive. Rather than feeling upset, remind yourself that this is actually something you value about your friend.
If they’re constantly texting others when they’re with you but ignore your texts, consider re-evaluating your friendship.
Sometimes someone will ignore texts or even ghost you because they’re annoyed. You might have said something rude or disrespectful or had a misunderstanding. Either way, you’ll notice a change as your friend suddenly pulls away.
It’s upsetting to be left wondering whether you’ve annoyed your friend. If they’re not replying to your texts, it can be difficult to be sure whether they’re mad at you, and it’s almost impossible to fix a problem if they won’t reply.
Tip: Try to find out what’s wrong
Think carefully about whether there was something you said or did that might have left them unhappy with you. You might be able to ask a mutual friend for some advice. Find someone you trust, explain that your friend is not returning texts anymore and that you want to make sure you haven’t upset them. Be selective about who you ask, thinking about whether this person will do their best to help you set things right or whether they enjoy conflict and drama.
When bad things happen, some people pull away from the people who care about them. It’s not that they don’t care or they don’t trust you. It’s just a part of how they protect themselves.
To you, this feels exactly like ghosting. Without a reply, you worry that you’ve upset them. They probably know that you’re worried and feel bad about not having the emotional energy to reply. This can leave both of you feeling awful and not knowing how to reconnect.
Even if they don’t have major crises, they might have gotten stuck in a “guilt cycle.” They took too long to respond, and now they feel bad about it. Rather than replying with an apology after 2 days, they felt guilty and waited another day and then another. If it’s really bad, they might end the friendship altogether rather than reach out.
Tip: Be there for them when they’re ready
If your friend does this, let them know that you understand. They might worry about getting a lecture if they reach back out or worry about how much they hurt you when they pulled away.
Send them occasional messages (maybe one in a week or a fortnight), saying that you’re thinking of them, that you hope they’re OK, and that you’re here for them whenever they’re ready.
If you still feel hurt, that’s totally normal. You don’t need to bottle up those feelings, but it’s best to talk about them after the crisis has passed.
When we send a text, it feels like we’re talking to a friend sitting next to us. That’s because we’re thinking about them. When they don’t reply, it can feel personal.
But we’re not actually sitting next to them. It’s more like we’re calling to them across a noisy room. With everything else they’re trying to pay attention to in their lives, they might genuinely not see the message from you.
Tip: Follow up without blame
Try sending a follow-up message. Make it clear that you’re not angry or chasing. Don’t say, “I guess you ignored my last message.”
Instead, try, “Hey. I haven’t heard from you for a while, and I just wanted to see how you’re doing,” or, “I know you’re busy, and I don’t want to hassle you. I just know how easy it is for messages to get missed, and I just really need an answer to… “
Some messages are easy to reply to, but others require more thought. If you’re trying to arrange an event, for example, your friend might need to check whether they can get childcare. If you’ve said something that makes them feel awkward, you might find that it takes longer for them to work out how to raise that without upsetting you.
Tip: Consider whether they might need more time
Read back over the messages you’ve sent, and think about whether your friend might need to think about their response. If they might, try to be patient. Considering their response carefully can be a sign that they really care about you, even if it takes longer than you’d like.
If you need an answer sooner, try suggesting a voice or video call. Talking about difficult topics can be easier when you can hear the other person’s tone of voice, and you don’t need to worry about something coming across badly.
Poor mental health can make people bad at texting. People with ADHD might read your message, plan to reply but get distracted by another task and forget to press “send.” Social anxiety can make people worry about sending potentially ambiguous messages and overthink what they want to say. Depression makes sending a text feel like a huge effort, leaving people to assume that you don’t really want to hear from them anyway.
Tip: Remember that the effort to reply to texts varies
You sometimes hear people say that replying to texts takes “zero effort.” Although this might be true for them (and maybe you), it isn’t true for everyone.
If you start feeling rejected, remind yourself that it probably has more to do with their mental state than with you. There are also many who suffer from texting anxiety.
Everyone has their own expectations and boundaries around communication. Younger people may expect that texts should be replied to in under an hour, while older people might assume that sending a text message shows that something is not important or urgent. Just because something feels like the norm for you doesn’t mean that it is for the other person.
Tip: Work out what your needs and boundaries are
Trying to put your expectations into words can help you to understand what you want and whether your expectations are reasonable.
For example, you might expect people to always respond to texts within 5 minutes, while others will find that unreasonable. You’re completely entitled to have unreasonable boundaries, but you need to accept that you will probably lose friends over it in the long run.
Try thinking about why you have those needs and what it means to you. In the example above, talking to a trusted friend or a qualified therapist might help you realize that some of your desire for extremely rapid replies comes from insecurity around how much your friends like you or a fear of being abandoned. Understanding this can help you to find other ways to feel secure and cared about.
Ignoring texts can be a sign of disrespect, but that isn’t the only explanation. Generally, not answering a specific, important question is rude, but not replying to memes, GIFs or links is not.
Some people never reply to texts, while others will always reply. Ignoring your texts might be normal for them. It’s not normal for someone who used to send instant replies to suddenly start taking a long time to respond. You may want to ask them if something has changed.
Everyone forgets to reply sometimes. If a close friend stops replying to you, try talking to them about it, ideally in person. Tell them how it makes you feel without being confrontational. Ask whether something is going on in their life that’s making them slow to reply.