Confessions of a Text Lagger | Why I Don’t Always Respond to My Girlfriend’s Text Messages

Sometimes it's difficult to be a good, attentive boyfriend.

Paul Tamburroby Paul Tamburro
Photo: James Whitaker (Getty Images).

If I could guess one trait my girlfriend would happily eradicate from my personality – and I say “guess,” though she’s repeatedly told me –it’s my penchant for completely losing interest in a conversation at any given moment. This isn’t something that I’m aware I’m doing at the time, but I have been informed that midway through a conversation, sometimes my eyes gloss over and she can see any and all enthusiasm I previously had for the topic at hand visibly exiting my body. I imagine this process is similar to a snake shedding a layer of skin, with the “real” me slithering off to go think about something else (like why Goofy is treated like a human but Pluto’s treated like a dog) while she’s left talking at the husk of a man that I’ve left behind.

I don’t mean to be ignorant, but sometimes a new train of thought comes chugging along that’s impossible to derail, and she’ll start talking to me about how we’ve run out of eggs while I’m thinking about why Arthur Leigh Allen was removed as a suspect from the Zodiac Killer case. I mean, sure, it was mostly circumstantial evidence that led to him being a suspect in the first place, but there was a lot of circumstantial evidence. I just don’t get it. The guy owned the same typewriter the killer used to type out his letters to the police AND he even referred to himself as the Zodiac. Am I supposed to just ignore that because she doesn’t have enough eggs to cook an omelette?

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I’d wager that I’d be able to get away with my unwitting ignorance if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s spread like a virus to my texting habits. Roughly 75 per cent of the text messages I ignore are as a result of looking at my phone, forming a response in my head, then getting distracted and doing something else instead. The other 25 per cent is a mixture of either not knowing how to respond, not wanting to carry on with the conversation so prematurely ducking out, or not actually wanting to talk to the person who’s messaged me. Much to her chagrin, messages sent to me by my girlfriend can be met with complete radio silence as a result of any of these four reasons.

I talk to my girlfriend more than any other person in the world. We live together, share a vast majority of our lives together, hang around in mostly the same friendship circles and are closely entwined with one another’s families. We’ve been going out for a number of years, and when a relationship has withstood the test of time for as long as ours has, there are a few topics that become stalwarts of conversation: “How was your day?” or “Did you remember to buy milk?” or “I think I’ve got a water infection again.” As such, I don’t blame her for not responding to my messages every now and again, with them often veering between the mundane and the inexplicably dumb, with little room in between.

After scrolling through my text messages to see which ones she’s specifically ignored, I’ve found a photo I sent to her of me with a hair clip stuck in my fringe and the caption “How does this work?” There’s another text that simply reads: “Longjohn Jim is a good beer.” I have since googled Longjohn Jim and found that no such beer exists. The latest text that wasn’t worthy of a reply saw me detailing an encounter I’d had with some birds. “A gang of magpies are having a turf war with some pigeons on our roof,” I wrote. “I shouted at them from the bedroom window and now they’re sat in the tree opposite our house screaming at me.” As evidenced here, it is difficult to judge her for ignoring these ramblings.

Her text messages to me are often more concise and not as fundamentally useless. She’ll send me some news about her day, or inform me of a chore that I need to do around the house, food I need to pick up, or when a family member or friend is visiting later. Usually I don’t intentionally ignore her, but rather she’s caught me during a time when my infinitely fluctuating attention span has nose-dived. During these occasions, when she next sees me she’ll ask “Why didn’t you respond to my message earlier?” I’ll say “Oh yeah, sorry about that,” and then I’ll watch her deflate in quiet exasperation.

But there are other, rarer occasions when my ignorance isn’t a result of absent-mindedness, but rather a conscious decision to not reply. There’s no malicious intent behind this decision (it’s not like I’m rubbing my hands together in anticipation of an opportunity to mildly irritate my significant other) but it’s typically due to being sent a request or a question that I would prefer to not respond to in that particular moment. For instance, she might ask whether I “want to do some housework” because her mom is visiting later this evening. This is a rhetorical question, of course, because there’s not a fiber of my being that actually wants to do what she’s requesting, but I know that it’s something that I have to do. However, if I don’t respond to this message and, y’know, pretend that I haven’t seen it, there’s a chance that I might get away with not doing it, and sometimes I’m willing to take that chance.

Unfortunately, most messaging services now have a built-in snitching system, in which a blue tick will notify the sender if you’ve read their text messages. As such I have taken to reading the blurb of the message on my home screen, before wiping that bad boy away and trying to forget it ever existed. This means that when my girlfriend returns home, sees the copious amount of dog hair on the floor and asks “Why didn’t you vacuum?” I can disingenuously reply: “Vacuum? I didn’t know you wanted me to vacuum.” She’ll then look at her phone, see the lack of blue ticks and (hopefully) believe me, allowing me to continue with my afternoon uninterrupted by my adult responsibilities. Or she’ll leave me for someone who won’t concoct elaborate schemes in order to avoid tidying the house. But at least I won’t have to clean up the dog hair.

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