In today’s digital age, texting has become one of the most common ways we communicate with each other. However, the norms and etiquette around texting are still evolving. One of the more contentious issues is whether it’s rude or “toxic” to leave someone on read – that is, to read their text but not respond.
What does it mean to leave someone on read?
Leaving someone on read simply means you have read their text message but chosen not to respond. Most messaging apps today have read receipts, which show when a message has been read. So if you open a text and don’t reply, the sender can see that you’ve read their message but haven’t responded.
Some reasons people leave others on read include:
- They don’t know how to respond or don’t have time to craft a response right away
- They want to respond later when they have more time to have a fuller conversation
- The message didn’t require a response
- They want to ignore the person or conversation
Regardless of the reason, leaving someone on read has become synonymous with ignoring or dismissing someone.
Why do people get upset about being left on read?
There are several reasons why being left on read can be upsetting:
- It feels dismissive or rude: By reading but not responding, it can seem like you’re ignoring the person or don’t think their message is worth a reply.
- It creates uncertainty: The person doesn’t know why you didn’t respond. They may wonder if you’re angry, bored, forgot to reply, etc.
- It disrupts communication norms: Texting has implicit norms of responsiveness. Leaving someone hanging creates awkward pauses in the conversation flow.
- It feels personal: Lack of response can feel like you are rejecting the person or don’t value them.
Overall, being left on read leaves the sender without closure and can make them feel devalued, ignored or unimportant to the recipient.
When is it acceptable to leave someone on read?
There are certain situations where leaving someone on read may be more acceptable:
- If the message doesn’t require a response (e.g. just says “thanks” or “OK”)
- If you’re unable to respond right away and don’t want to send a cursory response
- If you’re in a meeting, appointment or other situation where you can’t text
- If you need time to think about your response to a complex question or issue
- If the person messages you excessively and you need a break
It’s also understandable if leaving someone on read happens occasionally by mistake or due to busyness. The main thing is to not make a habit of ignoring someone’s messages without explanation.
When is leaving someone on read more toxic?
Leaving someone on read can cross the line into toxic behavior when:
- It’s done intentionally and frequently, as a passive-aggressive power play
- You never intend to respond, as a way to ignore or punish the person
- You stop responding mid-conversation without explanation
- You read deeply personal or emotional messages but don’t respond
- It’s part of a broader pattern of passive-aggressive or manipulative behaviors
In these cases, the behavior tends to stem from hostility, indifference or a lack of empathy. The person may derive satisfaction from knowing their messages were seen but ignored. This can feel very dismissive and insulting to the sender.
How to avoid leaving someone on read in a toxic way
If you want to avoid toxically leaving others on read, consider these tips:
- Disable read receipts if you don’t want people to know when you’ve read their texts
- Let the person know if you need time before responding to a complex message
- Give a quick “Gotta run but will message you later!” if you have to abruptly stop responding
- If you don’t have the mental/emotional bandwidth for a conversation, politely say so
- Don’t use unresponsive behavior as a control tactic or way to punish people
The main thing is communicating with care, empathy and consideration. If you unavoidably have to leave a message on read, check back in later to tie up loose ends in the conversation.
How to have a constructive conversation if someone is leaving you on read
If someone you care about seems to be leaving you on read frequently or ignoring your messages, try not to make assumptions about their reasons. Instead, have an open conversation about it, for example:
- “I’ve noticed you haven’t been responding to my texts much lately. Is everything ok?”
- “I see you’ve read my last couple messages but didn’t reply. Was there a reason for that?”
- “I don’t need an instant reply, but it helps me to know you’ve at least seen what I said. Are you still up for communicating this way?”
The goal is to understand why they are leaving you on read and find a solution, rather than attacking them. Some potential compromises include agreeing to disable read receipts, setting expectations about response times, or identifying times you are generally available to respond.
Being left on read can occasionally happen to anyone and isn’t necessarily toxic. But frequent unresponsive behavior, especially without explanation, can feel dismissive and hurtful. While social norms are still evolving, most etiquette experts recommend:
- Avoid making a habit of leaving people hanging
- Give a quick “I’ll get back to you later!” if you have to leave a conversation
- Disable read receipts if you don’t want people tracking your responses
- Discuss texting habits openly with close connections
- Never use unresponsiveness as a control mechanism or way to punish
With care and communication, text messaging can remain a positive way to nurture relationships even amidst our busy, tech-driven world.