Hear Me Out: Read Receipts Are an Underrated Love LanguageIn case of mental health emergencies, consider this simple, sweet gesture.
Just as I was starting to emerge from hibernation one early pre-pandemic spring, my friend broke into my apartment. OK, she had keys. But I sure as hell thought someone was breaking into my apartment when I woke up from a day-long depression nap to the sound of someone shouting outside my bedroom door. I stumbled out of bed—unshowered, naked, afraid—to discover my anxiety-stricken friend crying in my entryway because she thought I was dead. Or, at least, because she thought something was very, very wrong. Why? I hadn’t read her texts in a day, she explained, and I “never leave her texts unread that long.”
At first, I was confused. My texting habits certainly were consistent(ish), but they had always included the occasional pause in communication when my mental health called for it. Since when did going days without replying raise the alarm enough to warrant an in-person visit?
But then, standing in my living room, covering my tits with a throw pillow, I realized I’d accidentally turned on my read receipts. The revelation was momentarily horrifying—sorry, read receipt lovers—but I was touched that she was paying attention to whether I “read” her message when I didn’t respond.
So, I decided to keep them on.
The post-2020 case for read receipts.
Back in a strange, pre-pandemic lifetime, when I was actually a good texter, my friends didn’t have to look much further than my messages if they wanted to know how I was doing. If I was short, I was probably stressed out or distracted. Ignoring a message for a few days meant I was mildly depressed. Anything longer than that indicated something was seriously wrong.
It wasn’t a perfect system. We didn’t always send the right signals or translate each other’s subtext correctly. But, still, they came in handy—digital dispatches reassuring each other we were OK.
Three years later, our collective texting habits have…suffered. If one of my friends doesn’t text back in a timely manner these days, it could mean anything from “I’m a week into an engrossing video game” to “My cats are a week into eating my body.” And who’s to say which one it is?
Between personal crises, long COVID, toxic jobs, layoffs from toxic jobs, burnout, existential dread, or getting sick of looking at screens, there are a lot of reasons we can’t come to the phone right now. So long stretches of silence aren’t exactly the red flags they used to be, let alone reliable distress signals.
So, as unfounded as my friend’s worry turned out to be, using a read receipt as an “I’m well enough to look at the message you sent but just not down to respond” status update is kind of perfect in These Times.
Enter, the emergency read recipient.
Yes, I made that term up. I’m hoping a cute name will distract you from the fact that I’m earnestly suggesting you turn on your read receipts in the year 2023, which makes me feel about 100 years old.
If it helps, you should know that I also used to hate them. The stamps alerting someone I had seen their message felt intrusive at best and weapons of passive aggression at worst. As far as I was concerned, when I read a text was simply not information anyone needed to know. And I still feel that way—mostly.
But between countless health scares and textless depressive episodes—again, thanks pandemic!—I’ve grown to appreciate the read receipt I share with very specific people (the right people, my people) as the little proof-of-life stamps they are. Mental health struggles aside, it’s way too easy for the loved ones who are out of sight to stay out of mind. So I’ll take all the small touchpoints I can get—even if it’s the tiny comfort of seeing my friends have read my latest text when they’re too…something to actually respond.
I fully acknowledge that, no, read receipts probably won’t help much in an actual emergency, but that’s not really the point. Turning them on for a trusted friend (aka your emergency read recipient) so they can check in on you is kind of like a friend saying, “Text me when you get home!” at the end of a long night. It’s not like they can protect you from danger on your journey, but as you make your way home in the dark, you get a cozy feeling knowing that someone’s waiting to hear you got there safely.
My emergency read recipient moved to a different state last month, so I don’t get to ask her to text me when she gets home as often as I used to. And if I ever go a few days without reading her texts again, it’d take her a lot longer to come break into my apartment. But, all the same, I like that she’s still looking out.
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