The Most Caring Way to Start a Text Message
Earlier this year, when I had Covid, people naturally checked in on me by text during my illness and recovery.
All of the messages came from a place of caring. But they all kind of stressed me out, too.
I loved receiving and reading the support, but I felt overwhelmed by the expectation, either implicit or explicit, that I respond. How was I feeling, people wanted to know? Too overwhelmed and tired to answer any texts, was the honest answer.
This went on for weeks. It wasn’t until after I felt better that I realized how to avoid inflicting this on others in the future. When you send a caring message or an offer of help to a friend or loved one who’s going through a hard time, add the simple disclaimer, “You don’t have to respond to this, but…”
Chrissy Teigen, in writing about losing her son Jack, noted that of the thousands of messages she received after she shared her loss publicly, the ones that provided deep relief were the ones that included the “no need to respond” disclaimer. A year into this pandemic, with so many people going through so many hard things, I think this is a habit worth picking up and sticking with. Whether you’re offering help, just saying you’re thinking about someone, or sending them fortitude or solidarity, removing the expectation that they respond to your message is hugely caring.
I realize it seems counterintuitive: When we’re all already so distanced, how can the most loving thing be to provide even more space? But keeping in touch can feel like a to-do list item, and when the cognitive work of just keeping yourself healthy, fed, and clean is already so high, adding more to it in the form of questions can feel like the opposite of loving. A friend who lost a family member to Covid told me she received condolence messages — and then follow-up messages a few days later on a different platform asking if the first message had been received. That is not compassion or empathy. It’s admin.
It may not be true for everyone, but it certainly is for me: Sometimes, the most loving thing people can do is give me space. Space to work out what I’m feeling, space to ignore my phone, space to not have to explain.
The beauty of this simple disclaimer is that the person is still welcome to respond, of course. To people who are happy to receive and respond to a caring message, they may scarcely notice the disclaimer at all. But for people like me — and I suspect, many others — who feel overloaded by the emails, texts, and DMs that define our online lives even when we’re not going through something tough, the disclaimer will feel like sweet relief.