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Read it and weep: The receipts shortchanging relationships

Originally published on The Big Smoke

The read receipt: the function that allows others to see that you've seen their messages. The next great (read: destructive mind-game) tactic in the dating world.

We live in a world where we are ever-connected. Communication in 2017 is really a sight to behold, yet we are becoming more anxious around our communications than ever before. How did the communication waters become so muddy? You can thank the read receipt for a large part of this.

If you are unsure of what a read receipt is, it is a notification that tells you the recipient of a message has opened the message and has viewed it. Read receipts come in different forms and are found on many platforms, from emails, text messages and instant message chats. Some websites and apps have a “last active” or “last online” notification so you can see when others were last online.

There are three ways that read receipts play out. Firstly, your message is read and you receive an immediate response. This is validating and makes us feel like what we have to say is of importance to the person we are communicating with. We are engaged in a communication that feels mutually beneficial to our sense of self-worth. They find our conversation and ultimately us, interesting and that makes us feel valuable.

Secondly, your message is read and you do not receive a response in what you consider a reasonable amount of time. You begin to wonder if you offended the person you are communicating with; did they not appreciate the meme of the grumpy cat that you sent, or maybe are you not important to them? Are you that low on their priority list that a simple reply to a message is all too hard for them to manage? This can leave you feeling anxious, confused and unwanted. We don’t seem to allow much social grace when it comes to read receipts. More often than not, we don’t consider quite reasonable explanations for a lack of immediate response.

Could the person just be busy? Are they now at work and cannot reply until after their morning meeting?

Thirdly, knowing that your message has been viewed and not receiving a reply at all can be emotionally crushing. This makes us feel insecure, rejected and upset. We are left asking why this person has declined to communicate with us anymore and where did we go so wrong?

“Ghosting” is a tactic that is highly effective in a message fight. Message fights are rarely won by loving and respectful communication methods so we are using whatever weapons we have at our disposal.

There was a time when we could avoid communication by claiming that we never received the letter that was sent or our Mum neglected to pass on the message. Ignorance was bliss! With read receipts, we have nowhere to hide. Like it or not, your ability to reply to your messages instantly may reflect on you negatively. Your friends, family and coworkers may assume that you are irresponsible, unreliable or aloof if you don't reply swiftly.

People are also using the read receipt as a mind game in their dating and relationships. It has become a weapon to be wielded. It is being used just to toy with people’s thoughts and emotions. Take “ghosting” for example. “Ghosting” is a tactic that is highly effective in a message fight. Message fights are rarely won by loving and respectful communication methods so we are using whatever weapons we have at our disposal. Have you ever been in the middle of one and turned off your read receipts and stopped replying? You can read whatever the other person is writing but it will appear to them that you are not. They will think that you have completely disconnected from the communication and their minds and emotions will begin to run wild. They will ask themselves “Why are they not replying?”, “How could anything be more important to them than sorting this out with me?”, “OMG do they don’t care about me at all?”

And just like that, you have used the read receipt to manoeuvre yourself into the power position. If you do not message them back, in time you will likely receive a message saying “Look, I am sorry, I hope I didn’t upset you”. Just like that, the read receipt won you the battle.

The read receipt has added another complex layer to communication for our generation. It causes some of us to become more rational and resilient with our expectations in social interactions. On the other hand, some of us are becoming less empathic and more demanding of others, and this is causing strain. So it is worth keeping in mind the potential weight that the read receipt holds and the effect it may have on your relationships.

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