We All Suck at Group Texting

With emotions running high and messages easily misinterpreted, here’s how to keep the thread from getting awkward

Rainesford Stauffer
Forge
Published in
6 min readMar 31, 2020

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A young woman bites her fingernail while using her phone at home at night
Photo: Images By Tang Ming Tung/DigitalVision/Getty Images

InIn one of her ongoing group texts, Amanda has been participating in what’s become the pandemic version of small talk: She shared an update of how her family was holding up against the spread of coronavirus. Her dad, in Texas, was still going into the office every day. Her sister had gone ahead with a planned gender-reveal party. Her mom was on lockdown in the hospital and couldn’t have visitors.

“You could hear the crickets,” says Amanda, 41 (she requested that her last name be withheld for privacy). Holed up in her home in Los Angeles, she waited for her friends to reply. And then, after an initial silence, the comments came flooding in: “How could my sister be so selfish? How could [my dad] still go to work?” Someone shared a link to an article about Patient 31, who was at the center of an outbreak in South Korea. No one mentioned anything about Amanda’s mother, though two friends later texted her privately to check in. She’d wanted a chance to commiserate; instead, she felt attacked.

The experience, Amanda says, changed the way she approached the group chat, which she’d previously used to freely share her thoughts with a collection of friends. “After my comment about my mom, I realized that I do need to filter myself a bit,” she explains. “Even during a pandemic, I feel like I have to fake everything a bit.”

As a quick scroll through Twitter can tell you, there are plenty of similar stories out there right now of group texts gone awry. As we practice social distancing from the safety of our homes, the group chat is now the most easily accessible form of group interaction. As a result, it’s taken on new importance in our lives — and become newly fraught. Here’s how to turn around a thread that’s heading down a bad path.

Assume the best about each text (even the terrible ones)

“Humans are built for connection, and our language is as well,” says Olivia Hirschey Marrese, a linguistics researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I’d reached out to ask her how we can be better texters right now when everyone is tightly…

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Rainesford Stauffer
Forge
Writer for

Author of An Ordinary Age, out 5/4/2021. Freelance writer. Kentuckian.