Elizabeth Day: Don’t call me (seriously, don’t)

The final text I sent last night before bed was at 22.20. It was to a friend I’d meant to get back to for a couple of days. I hadn’t found the time to type out a thoughtful response until that very moment. As a result, I’d spent the intervening days with a nagging sense of guilt.

‘I must get back to her,’ I’d think as I was rushing to my next appointment. ‘But I want to have enough time to do it properly.’ And so the text got put off, falling down the list of things I absolutely had to do. The longer I left it, the more magnitude it seemed to acquire.

Dan Kennedy

It became inexplicably important to reply to all of my friend’s questions, conveying everything that was going on in my life and offering solutions to every problem. Anything less would show I was a Bad Friend. This is why I found myself texting at half past ten instead of going to sleep, like any reasonable person.

Increasingly, I don’t think to question these decisions. I answer emails at any time, often while on my way somewhere or in snatched moments in the bath that otherwise I would have spent reading or in quiet contemplation.

There’s vanishingly little time off. The succession of lockdowns and 24-hour email has meant the rapid erosion of the line between office and home. And gradually that same work culture of immediacy has bled into our personal lives, too.

We are living through an age of urgency, where the capacity to communicate instantly has led to an expectation of an immediate response. Too often we don’t think to question whether one automatically follows the other. The truth is that just because someone gets in touch with you, it does not mean that you are obligated to reply within the hour.

In the olden days when we didn’t have mobile phones or email, people could go for months without hearing from each other. This didn’t affect friendships all that negatively. Perhaps it made them stronger because when you did talk on the phone or see each other, it was important quality time and there would always be lots to catch up on.

Although I love the regularity of text and voice note interactions with my dearest friends on everything from favourite teabags to the unexpected synchronisation of our menstrual cycles, it’s getting impossible for me to manage the constant stream of communication from everyone else outside my inner circle.

I often find it’s the acquaintances you’re not that close to who demand the most. They’ll expect me to have the same communication preferences as they do, whereas I’ve come to believe that the best friendships allow for difference. My closest loved ones know that I hate phone calls but like texting. They also know not to worry if I don’t text them back for several days. They are generous in their love for me and they assume I will be busy and therefore they don’t take it personally. They know, too, that my feelings for them run far deeper than a few dashed-off text messages or emails. When we do see each other, we can always pick up easily from where we left off with no judgement or guilt felt by either party.

The more demanding acquaintances are the ones who text hours after their initial communication with the dreaded words ‘just checking you got this?’ It’s a masterstroke of passive-aggression, designed to make the recipient feel bad. And often, it works. I will reply with an immediate apology for the delay, as if I’m a train manager compensating passengers for the late running of their service.

But I am not a train. I am not an automaton. Sometimes life is hectic and I need time to myself and a few days’ grace before replying. On the odd occasion, dare I admit it, I might not reply at all. That doesn’t make me a bad person, just an exhausted one.

This week I’m…

Transforming

My hair with Kiehl’s Damage Repairing & Rehydrating Shampoo. My hair was glossier instantly!

Painting

My nails with Nails Inc Relationship Status: Proud set. In June, 25% of all profits go to Stonewall.

Gorging

Myself on Propercorn Peanut Butter & Almond. The most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.