#1353: My friend always takes over a day to respond to messages.

Ahoy Captain, 

I (she/her) have a really good friend (she/her) who is just the worst at texting or emailing back, and it’s starting to really make me angry. I cannot remember the last time I got a response from her that wasn’t at least 36 hours after my initial message. We all sometimes drop the ball on responding – I certainly do-  but I am having a hard time not feeling disrespected and ignored when I don’t hear from her. It makes it impossible to plan things.

I’ve had a talk with one friend about this issue- I expressed how it made me feel and asked if we could brainstorm ways of making either of us feel more on top of stuff (on her end) and/or less ignored (on my end). She’s very aware of the issue and has worked on it her whole life (we both have ADHD and are receiving treatment for what it’s worth). She feels really bad about the issue and wants to change but like many things with ADHD it isn’t that easy. What often happens is that she sees the message and adds it to her mental/physical list of things to do but then it just gets either forgotten about or put on the back burner until she finally gets around to responding. She is overall just a very forgetful and absent-minded person. (I’m making her sound not so good here, but she’s incredibly sweet and kind and patient, and has helped me through many rough parts in my life. She is definitely worth keeping as a friend.) so we didn’t really come up with anything- all that came out of it was a resolution on my end to be more patient with her. Which isn’t going very well.

FWIW I have also tried calling her more often because she doesn’t mind phone calls. That is definitely more effective than texting, so I’m trying to do that more, but it still isn’t always effective- sometimes she just never calls me back…

What can I do? I love her and we both care about each other but I am having such a hard time with these feelings of resentment and bitterness.

Hello and thank you for your question.

It’s three days past ADHD Awareness Month, which for this blogger, is pretty much on time. Object Impermanence, meet Rejection-Sensitive Dysphoria!

Whenever what “should” be happening and the reality of what is happening in a relationship don’t match up, there are three basic options:

1) Ask the other person to change what they’re doing so you get more of what you need. (You did this already).

2) Adjust your expectations about what they’re actually capable of and try meeting them there. (A work in progress.)

3) Adjust how invested you are in the whole thing. (E.g. leaving a situation that isn’t working for you, scaling back to a more casual friendship or association, doing less work on maintaining ties. )

All of these means accepting the reality of the situation. “But ____ SHOULD _____!!!!!”  Maybe? But it’s not happening, so what do you want to do now?

It sounds like you have done a very good job with both expressing your needs and meeting your friend more than halfway. Changing things up (calling instead of texting) has yielded some success, and you say you like the friend a ton and you’re very invested in the friendship, so here are my practical suggestions:

From now on, when you text this friend or leave a voice message, plan for it to take several days for her to respond. Change your default assumption from when she arguably should reply to when she is actually likely to reply. You say it usually takes her 36 hours to get back to you, so, that’s the new baseline. Anything before that is a bonus. Removing the expectation of an immediate reply will remove pressure, which, if this is a case of mismatched attachment styles, can only help.

For this to work, it’s important that you don’t hold your own schedule open indefinitely waiting for her to respond,  as it’s a guaranteed recipe for frustration. That 36-hour grace period? Is also a cut-off.  Monday: “Do you want to go roller skating Saturday?” If by Wednesday, you don’t have an answer, make other plans. If your friend gets back to you on Thursday or Friday, whoops, sorry, you didn’t hear from her so you made other plans, maybe next time! You can tell her you’re instituting a cutoff (“I need to know by ____”), but I recommend just doing it to start. It’s more important right now that you wrest a sense of control back than it is that you change how she reacts, not everything has to be a negotiation.

Alternately/additionally, if she’s willing, you can try to add some structure to this friendship by instituting a regular friend date. Maybe the first Saturday of every month you’ll meet up at a known favorite spot for a meal and cultural outing, maybe you’ll take turns going to each other’s houses for a cozy day in, maybe you’ll block out the time now and take turns deciding on the specific plan. The important part is finding a consistent time block and making it a sacred ritual. If you and your friend can create a structure that sets everyone up to succeed, maybe everyone can relax a little bit. You’ll know at least one definite time when you’ll see each other again, and you won’t have to reinvent the wheel with comparing calendars and the subsequent irritating back and forth (which is all forth and no back at present). “Noon, Saturday, usual spot? Your turn to plan btw” is an easier starting point for actually getting together than “Any chance you have some time to hang out soon?”

Whenever any of this starts to feel like work, when you feel the rising bitterness and resentment, stop. Don’t chase her. When what you need is a more immediate response and connection, prioritize friends who respond quickly and who are easy to make plans with. Try another time when you have the energy, mood, and ability to reach out without starting a resentful countdown about her response times. If that means that you see her less, so be it. She has your number.

Of course, following most of this advice will feel like you are doing more work at maintaining the friendship than is strictly fair. You’re going to end up taking the lead on setting up the recurring friend dates. You’re the person more likely to initiate a call or text, because if you wait for your friend to realize that it’s her turn, you might be waiting a long time. This isn’t easy when you already feel undervalued and unloved, and I want to acknowledge that.

As with every question that touches on responsiveness to communications, chronic lateness, and relationships between planners and non-planners on the site, I think the issue is about a balancing act between affection and compatibility. Sometimes all the affection in the world isn’t enough to make a relationship work, and sometimes the answer is “wait,  back up, do you even like these people?

It is okay to want friends who are compatible with you and who meet your needs without you having to coax them into it. For readers whose first thought is “COME THE EFF ON, how hard is it to text back????!!!!!!???????,” please know I think that it is perfectly okay to decide to not be friends with people who continually infuriate you. “I could never be friends with someone who __________[expects immediate responses][takes a while to respond].” COOL, DON’T BE. A lot of failures of “manners” and reciprocity in friendships that I see in letters are really mismatches in affection, and being honest about that would set everyone free.

But also, when there is strong mutual affection and desire to maintain a friendship, people find ways to accommodate each other’s (dis)abilities, differing attachment styles, and quirks. Not all incompatibilities can or even should be bridged, but there are worse guideposts than “Do I like this person enough to keep putting up with/working on whatever this is?”  If no, that’s good information about how to budget your investment of time and energy. If yes, “fixing” your friend, discounting your feelings of frustration, or receiving a judgment on whether a certain behavior is Objectively Rude isn’t really useful. Try to remove judgment and pressure, as in, your friend is not avoiding, rejecting, or disrespecting you, she just has her own stuff going on and different needs about this than you do. Do you like this friend enough to wait three days between texts? (Will you still like each other in three days?) Do you enjoy the times that you do connect enough to keep at it? It sounds like yes, so ground yourself in affection, acceptance, and enjoyment and trust that they’ll guide you where you need to go.