Should You Feel Guilty For Forgetting To Text Back? Not Always

Thanks to the invention of the smartphone, we now have tiny computers in our hands at all times. A report by revealed that people spend around ⅓ of their waking hours using mobile apps, and a survey by found that the average American checks their phone 344 times each day. In other words, most of us are practically tethered to our devices.


Even if our smartphones are with us wherever we go, we might not pay attention to every notification that comes through — including messages from friends and loved ones. Head-spinning group chat convos, invites from casual acquaintances, pings from relatives — it can be a lot to manage. That's why sometimes, we may find ourselves mentally taking a rain check on messages only to (accidentally, of course) never text back.

It's a habit that could lead friends to accuse you of being flaky or ghosting, even if that's not your intention. However, you don't always have to feel guilty for forgetting to respond.

Waiting to respond may be better for your mental health

Texting makes staying connected easier than ever, but, admittedly, the constant connection can also be super stressful. As Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist at Stanford University, shared with BBC Worklife, "One reason [chat platforms] stress us out is the built-in urge to read a text in real time — and the parallel expectation in online culture that you will also respond in real-time."


If you wait hours or even days to respond, you might feel like a bad friend, but it can be a necessary act of self-care. "Sometimes you have to focus on loving yourself more than replying to texts; your mental health has to come first," licensed professional counselor Theresa Libios told Well+Good. Letting some texts slide, especially if they aren't urgent or about a serious topic, allows you to focus on the quality of your interactions, not the quantity — especially if you receive dozens of messages every day (like the average adult).

Life gets busy, and that's okay

Unlike an old-fashioned phone call or even a knock on the door, texts don't have to be answered immediately. That fact can be a relief when life gets busy — though it can also be the reason why you might forget to respond altogether. But according to experts, that's okay. Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert, explained to USA Today that it's generally best to ignore messages when you're with people face to face. "If you're within a group of people, or out on a date or whatever it is, just be mindful of who you're with. You can always, always, wait until later to respond to a text," she explained.


If your busy schedule prevents you from giving thorough, thought-out responses, it's also totally okay to leave them on read for the time being. After all, a one-word text can often be worse (and lead to the dreaded dry text convo) than no text at all.

Forgetfulness may not be your fault

If you genuinely meant to respond but it slipped your mind, you're not alone. You may even prepare an entire message, only to forget to hit send. According to Nicole Sbordone, a licensed clinical social worker, it happens all the time (via HelloGiggles).


With so many distractions, it's easy to get sidetracked. This is especially true if you have a condition like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to Healthline, common symptoms of adult ADHD include a lack of focus and forgetfulness. Losing your keys, zoning out during conversations, and, yes, forgetting to text back are often a part of everyday life if you have ADHD.

Even if you're not neurodivergent, you may still overlook messages on your phone — you're human, after all. If you notice an unanswered text buried in your apps, don't sweat it. Accept your mistake, and remind yourself that it happens to everyone from time to time.

You might not be interested in the other person

When someone doesn't text back, that little voice inside our heads starts shouting, "They're just not into you!" And while this isn't always true, sometimes, well, it is. And just as you might not hear back from someone who's moved on, you, too, might forget to respond because you aren't really invested in growing the relationship.


Of course, it's best to hop on the anti-ghost trend when you can, and send a short but sweet response letting the other person know you're not interested. Sometimes, though, a lack of interest can be the reason you legitimately forgot about the message in the first place.

This can happen with a lukewarm match from a dating app or an acquaintance you haven't seen in years. Either way, if you forgot to respond for several days and you're not truly interested in connecting, let it go. If, however, they follow up with another text, don't leave them hanging again. "It's important to be direct and straightforward—yet very kind and compassionate," Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a psychologist, told mindbodygreen. Send a message that gently conveys you're not looking to go on a second date, attend their high school reunion, or whatever else they may be messaging about.


What to say when you do finally respond

If you regret letting a text slip through the cracks, it's a good idea to reach out once you remember. Send a sincere apology and consider adding a short explanation for why you were MIA. While many people will understand, note that not everyone will be so forgiving. When discussing people who are left waiting for a response, clinical psychologist Kelley Kitley told Refinery29, "We figure that since we are someone who would text back immediately, that everyone else should, too." These expectations can lead to anxiety and hurt feelings. And if you're the one who forgot to text back, you might end up on the receiving end of your friend's resentment.


If your apology isn't taken well, remind yourself that the other person may be dealing with their own insecurities. If you value the relationship, you could aim to respond more consistently in the future. Keep in mind, though, that it's never your responsibility to manage their feelings.

Texts that you should always respond to ASAP

It's okay to put some messages on the back burner until you have the mental bandwidth to respond, but this doesn't apply to every situation. "There are moments when it's important to reply in a timely manner, and others when it can wait. Get better at making those judgements," urges Dr. Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy (via Stylist).


Time-sensitive texts about, say, an upcoming meeting or an event later that evening should be responded to quickly, before you have a chance to forget. Other response timelines can vary based on the situation and your relationship with the other person. For example, a close friend messaging you about a personal problem often warrants a speedy response, because you genuinely care about them and want to nurture your friendship. However, an ex ominously sliding into your DMs to say "We should talk" can probably be ignored for a while (or indefinitely — your call).

Offer other ways to connect

If your friendships are veering into textationship territory and you chronically forget to message back, those relationships are inevitably going to suffer. Texting may not be your strong suit, and that's okay — as long as you offer other ways for friends and loved ones to connect with you. Show up to social events and parties, and even invite your contacts to call (yep, the old-school way) when they need to get in touch.


In fact, you might notice major benefits when you stop relying on back-and-forth messages. "Digital communication is fantastic for staying connected in some ways," Dr. Aimee Daramus, a therapist, remarked to Well+Good. "[B]ut it takes up social energy without giving us things like touch or shared experiences that we can only have in person," she added. "You might be getting socially exhausted, just like you might at a party, but even more so because of the lack of physical sensation."

When messages are the only practical option, consider setting aside time each day to respond to any messages that came through. You can even create a reminder on your phone so you don't forget. That way, a neglected message thread doesn't get between you and the people you care about.