We have all done it. We took a day or two to send a response or to call someone back and immediately open with:
I am so sorry it took so long to get back to you!…”
Trust me, I get it. We feel bad that we didn’t respond or pick up the phone right when the recipient wanted us too. AND, every time you apologize, you perpetuate the notion that we are all at each others beck and call and that nothing “should have been” more important than responding to their electronic communication. Fuck that. That is what is (metaphorically) killing us and raising people’s cortisol levels to the point that even opening up their emails or texts is overwhelming and so they just shut down. Plus, we could all use a healthy dose of “you’re not that important” juice every once and awhile. Because the reality is, we aren’t always the priority in people’s lives. Or them in ours.
I know that sounds harsh AND it is true. I am not a priority to my husband, every moment of every day. And thank goodness or else a lot of very sick patients in the emergency department would get inadequate care. Does it bother me? I mean, sometimes. I am an only child, after all, and struggle with sharing the attention of others. AND, I understand it. I am not (nor do I want to be) his whole life. And he is not mine. And if that is the case, I can’t expect this would be any different with people further out in my periphery of connections.
Plus, think about it this way. Unless it is scheduled or talked about in advance, isn’t it kind of rude to expect that just because I text, call or email you that you will see it or respond that moment, or even that day? I may decide to call my mom when I have a long drive home in the car (don’t worry, it’s hands free and synced up to Bluetooth in my car). Am I disappointed when she doesn’t answer? Yep. Am I subsequently annoyed when she calls me back just as I am getting home with an arm full of groceries and stuff to do? Yep. But is that fair? No. I called her when it was convenient for me. It was not the right time for her and so she is calling me back when it is convenient for her. No one messed up. We just missed each other and neither of us has anything to apologize for.
What’s worse, and I am sure we all remember when Smartphones created the ability to see when a text was read or on email or Facebook messenger when you can see when someone opened our email/message. If you are like me, you have found yourself, a time or two, feeling super annoyed when “seen” does not translate to an immediate response Staring bitterly at our phone, shame, anger and sadness slowly crawling up our legs, saddling up the horses for a long ride. All because we want people to operate on a timeline WE create.
But it’s more than calls and texts. When I email someone, sure, it is nice to get a response more immediately, but to expect it? It’s bullshit. Email is passive communication. Sure, it allows us to be more complete and detailed in our responses. It allows us to include others in a conversation and share attachments, links, etc with those included. AND, it is passive. Sending an email is like mailing a letter (before USPS launched the informed Delivery email system telling you everything headed your way). You didn’t know what was going to be in the mail until you got it. Email is literally “electronic mail” and yet, we have somehow concluded that an email sent should be received immediately and therefore responded to on OUR time clock. And on the receiving side, if something has made its way to the bottom of our email list or takes us longer to respond 9than we arbitrarily decided we “should”), we feel like a jackass.
So, where did this pressure to apologize come from? Where did the annoyance and pressure for responses derive from?
It all stems from the instant gratification and immediacy that electronic communication created. When the electronic communication craze took over, it hit strong. We could IM a friend for homework help (or more likely to gossip about the latest hot topics in school) rather than wait until your mom gets off the internet so the phone is free. We could have 1-3 word conversations, exchanged immediately through our phones and without ever having to call them. We could have our friends help us pick out an outfit to wear by sending them photos to choose from…the list goes on. And it sounds amazing, right? I mean, in many ways, it is. The doors to worldwide connection and communication allowed the possibility of so much more professionally and personally. AND, you guessed it, there is a HUGE toll it has taken on us, as a society - our brains have become dependent on and hardwired to expect instant gratification and communication. Like the term “Instant Messaging” suggests, our brain expects it to be instant. You’re eating dinner? Well it is just one quick message, why not do it while you’re eating? You are watching a movie with your kids? Great time to get through your emails. And what’s worse, the false belief that multitasking is “better” definitely played into this. “Look, i can do it all - I can make dinner AND stay on top of my emails. I can go to all of these meetings and keep my Facebook profile updated…and so on and so forth.”
And it is exhausting. it throws my brain into overload and as we now know, multitasking is NOT Productive. Hyperconnectivity breeds distress and anxiety and leads to superficial connection and mental chaos and clutter. There is a reason why self care and mindfulness practices are so popular - everyone is looking for an excuse to disconnect because I don’t know about you but I hate it.
I hate trying to track all of my contact points. I hate even attempting to obtain those bullshit ratings on social media about being responsive because no matter what, I will never be as responsive as they expect unless I become a robot. And as such, enter shame. I hate when people text me because as soon as I open it, the bubble goes away to remind me to respond and I forget. [enter shame]. I hate emails because sometimes just sorting out which ones are helpful or important feels overwhelming in a mailbox stuffed full every day with shit content and sometimes I miss important things or take a long time to get back to people. [enter shame]. Phone calls become overwhelming because my brain starts to make it feel like they will last forever and I am never getting off of the phone. And so I avoid them. [enter shame].
Now, obviously, there are reasons I LOVE and thrive with electronic communication. I am not suggesting we get rid of it. I am just suggesting we take control of it rather than let it control us. Stop letting the idea of instant gratification be the expectation. Stop perpetuating the belief that we have to be available all of the time and that we dont find our time more sacred and protected.
How do we do that? Well, the first step is to stop opening up your electronic communication with “I am so sorry it took so long to get back to you” AND to stop expecting it from others. Every time someone emails me with that line, I respond with “There is no reason to apologize.”
Life is about having to set boundaries priorities and if you try to make everyone feel like they are first, it’s going to cause one big clusterfuck of stuckness in your life.