What Should I Do If They’re Slow to Text Back?

How to tell if someone’s slow replies are a red flag or a deal-breaker.

A member of the Create the Love community sent in a question that was specific to their experience but all too familiar to many who are dating nowadays: 

“I just started seeing someone and he’s a total gentleman. Charismatic, confident, we have great chemistry, and so far he doesn’t seem to be afraid of the important conversations. He’s been very open about his issues with commitment. Let’s just say that he didn’t grow up with a good example of what a great relationship can look like. When we’re together it’s great, but when we’re not, his communication is TERRIBLE! Goes hours, sometimes a day or two without responding, and it’s driving me crazy. I just feel like that causes such unnecessary anxiety and it brings out the worst of my insecurities, leaving me to question everything, and I hate that. Is it a red flag or a dealbreaker?”

I love this question, and I know a lot of people would respond by saying you should kick this person to the curb, peace out, or whatever. Plenty of fish in the sea, right? (Just not in New York, because even though there’s nine million people, all of them are complaining that there’s no available fish in the city.) But before you pull the plug on what sounds like a great connection, there’s a few things to consider.

First, he’s already declared to you that he has some commitment issues, which is an invitation to get curious about this person. When you’re together (maybe touching tongues a little) and when it’s convenient, he’s showing up, he’s ready, he’s great. But when you are not together, his communication isn’t where you want it to be, and it’s causing unnecessary anxiety. 

If only people were their best selves all the time! But people are complicated and complex. We don’t get to just put them in little pockets of their beneficial behavior. Everyone has a price of admission, and there’s always something you get, or a price to pay, with the picking of them. For instance, sometimes I eat hummus and get a little gassy, which is part and parcel of choosing me. But bad communication? That’s not something to settle for. 

Which brings us to the second consideration, which most people skip or forget about: open up a conversation about it. Bothered by their bad communication? Then let’s talk about it! 

When we declare our needs and state what we actually want, we scare away people who are not meant for us. Isn’t that such a blessing? By showing up as yourself, declaring what you want in a confident manner (that doesn’t rely on their validation), then they will be gone if they can’t, or they’ll come closer if they can. It’s really that simple. 

If you need help starting this discussion, here’s an idea for a framework you can follow:

  1. Start with a compliment, because people love to feel validated, and leading with a positive lets them know how much you appreciate the connection: “Hey, when we’re together, I really love it. I feel like you’re present, we have such a good time, and I’m really enjoying getting to know you.” 
  2. State the issue at hand, as objectively as possible: “But when we’re apart, I notice that your communication can be sort of scattered. And even after I’ve asked you a question, or we’ve been in the midst of a conversation, it will take one to two days for you to get back to me.” 
  3. Own your perspective and part in it, naming why you’re bringing it up and how it’s impacting you: “Now, for me, maybe just because of past relationship experience, that causes me to get a little anxious about where I fit and what’s going on between us.”
  4. State what you want to explore in this conversation: “So I’d like to clarify what’s going on between us. And, if you could also tell me so that I understand your perspective, why is it that sometimes you go that amount of time without responding?” 
  5. Finally, the most important step of all: Listen fully. 

Now, this is a very reasonable way of starting this conversation. It’s not triggering, you’re leading with curiosity, and giving them an opportunity for them to be themselves and give you an honest answer. Once you’ve brought it up, just listen. Really hear them out. 

Most of the time, people tell us the truth and what they can and cannot handle, but we don’t hear them because we’re so busy being triggered. We might think, “They told me they don’t want a relationship, but I just can’t figure out why they won’t show up all the time and why they’re not available.” When clearly the writing is on the wall. So just ask, get curious, and tell them what your expectations are in terms of communication. Can they meet those expectations? Are you comfortable with what they’re able to provide? 
If they can meet you there, then great! If they can’t meet you there, that’s totally okay, too. Let them move on, because wherever they were, there will be someone else who will move in. And I know that makes it sound like we’re in this time where people quickly discard others or a generation of folks who swipe and get rid of people without actually trying or sticking it out. By having the hard conversations instead of pulling the plug, you are doing the necessary work to figure out if this person wants what you want in a relationship. If you don’t want the same things, that’s okay. You’ll find someone else who will.