OPINION: The Guilt of Leaving Someone on Read


Hailey Stessman

It’s not that I don’t want to talk to you; I just don’t have the mental energy or capacity. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

Sent Aug. 29 10:15 am: “Hailey, are you free today?”

“Hey, sorry. I definitely saw and acknowledge your text message, but currently I am incapable of human interaction because I am busy questioning and fearing the state of the world. However, in a world where I wouldn’t have to worry about the anxiety of possibly contracting or spreading a deadly virus, or worry about missing a scheduled virtual class over Zoom, I would say ‘yes’ in a heartbeat.”

To all those who I have yet to text or call back, I apologize. But also, I don’t feel guilty. It’s not that I don’t care about you or don’t want to talk to you, I am just mentally and emotionally incapable of carrying a meaningful conversation. I value every single one of my friendships, old and new. However, in an age where we have to bear the weight of a pandemic, the terrifying effects of climate change happening right outside your window, the workload of being a full-time student solely online or in a new environment and the struggle of maintaining a stable and healthy mental state, I think it’s time to adapt how we fulfill the expectations of our friendships.

When our lives were seemingly normal, I would like to say I had a pretty solid foundation in all of my friendships. I knew my limits for public outings and when it was time to back off for the sake of my energy and mental health. Thankfully, a lot of my friends recognized and respected my need to have alone time. Now, months into quarantine, I have found myself struggling to balance how much I can give to others and how much I need to give to myself.

When it was announced that classes (and life in general) was to be restricted to the confines of our homes due to COVID-19, there was an immediate shock. Not only did this affect our school lives, but it affected our social lives off campus. While I cannot attest for others, for me, my school life and social life are incredibly intertwined. It is in classes and on campus that I am able to see my friends, whether it be in the Queer and Trans Services Office or bumping into each other in between classes. To have that experience and conduit of connection be suddenly taken away, I was lost. There was an immediate collective yearning from everyone to see their friends again.

There was also a swell of stories and an increase in attention toward learning how to maintain friendships and relationships in a COVID-19 world. Ideas included hosting virtual dinner parties over Facetime, joining friends in a wide, open area such as a park for lunch while wearing masks and or talking with the windows rolled down between cars. As someone who is more introverted in nature, I was somewhat excited for the ways I could connect with my friends during the pandemic that did not require me to leave the comforts of my own home.

Friendships were switched to an online format, much like our classes. The first month or so into quarantine, I had found a comfortable rhythm with how to stay in touch with my friends. Messaging over text was the easiest and required the least amount of energy. Facetime, though not my favorite, provided a face-to-face connection while ensuring the safety and health of myself and others. It was also comforting to see the faces and hear the voices of my friends once again.

However, quickly I realized that responding to a text message or agreeing to a Zoom meetup was causing me more anxiety than joy. Rather than focusing on the excitement of seeing my friends again, I became uncomfortable with the task of having to stare at a screen for an unknown amount of time and having to uphold a meaningful conversation in a manner I’m not used to. Sometimes responding or engaging in a conversation with friends felt more like an obligation rather than something I genuinely wanted to do.

According to a study conducted by Baylor University, 60% of U.S. college students consider themselves to have a smartphone addiction. I can confidently say that I fall under that category. My smartphone is constantly sending me messages, through text and visually in my social media, notifications, and miscellaneous updates. The conversations I was having with my friends through my smartphone was becoming intermingled in the digital media clutter and was becoming ungenuine on my end.

I am not saying that it is impossible to maintain friendships through social media, texting, and Facetime. I also am not saying that you should constantly meet your friends in person and not follow proper social distancing. Rather, I want to communicate that you shouldn’t feel guilty for leaving someone on read or choosing to opt out of a Facetime call. Your friends should understand your need to take some time for yourself. As we continue to move forward in this everchanging world, we have to respect the boundaries and mental limits of others when it comes to engaging in conversations digitally. But most of all, we need to respect the boundaries and limits we set for ourselves. Your friends will understand.