It’s safe to say we’ve reached peak group text. In the past year, during our masked and restricted times, as the need to connect and reconnect became much stronger, dormant group chats regained steam and new ones were formed. We used group chats to fall back into old rhythms with college buddies, figure out school openings and pod-arrangements with other parents, and create family texts that grow longer by the day (Is that you Cousin Pauly?)
Group texts are convenient, simple, and non-intrusive ways of communicating with friends, family, and co-workers. That is, until they aren’t. Without warning, they can become overwhelming floods of information (and misinformation), dissenting opinions, and loads of notifications that really just make you feel like this.
Who hasn’t short-circuited after seeing they have 114 new messages from a friend chat, only to check them and see that they’re all variations of the same blink-and-you-missed-it Twitter moment (OMG DID YOU SEE RUDY GUILIANI’S HAIR DYE DRIPPING?) Or to have a family chat devolve into a passive aggressive political discussion where “I’m just saying” is a common refrain.
Every person reaches their group chat breaking point. But, this begs the question: How do you leave a group chat without feeling like a dick? Do you just throw the ‘ole smoke bomb and disappear without a word?
There are three basic, unofficial categories of group texts — friends, family, and work. All of them have the capacity to become overwhelming and annoying. While some digital etiquette rules have been loosely established in order to facilitate healthy group texts, they may as well be the fine print no one reads before tapping “I Agree” to terms and conditions. And because we all have different texting styles, we’re bound to have different texting frustrations.
“I hate group texting with my co-workers,” says Ryan, 38, from New York. “It’s more intrusive than an e-mail, because it pops up in real time. You can’t circumvent or avoid seeing it like you can when you actually have to sign in on open an app to check your email.”
If group texts are a part of your job — or if you were pulled into one by the coworker who loves to bond — they’re a necessary evil, and plotting an exit has to be tactful and competently executed unless you want to come off as arrogant or apathetic.
“The reason people get offended when you leave a chat“is because they instantly feel like you are rejecting them,” says April Brown, LMFT and marriage/family therapist specializing in relationships at The Heard Counseling, LLC. “Don’t let them think that. Explain you’re leaving because of a value you have, rather than being annoyed.”
Brown offers a well-crafted out: “As a parent, you can say something like, ‘Hey, my kids have become addicted to their screens. I’m trying to model better behavior, so I’m going to leave the chat and focus on being more conscious of my phone.’”
While the above might work on co-workers, it’s hard to say that in family and friend group texts, which quickly become digital barnacles with overwhelming crosstalk, opinions, and stupidity.
“My breaking point was the election,” says Curtis, 39, from Ohio. “That’s all every one of my friends in the group text was talking about, and I couldn’t take it anymore. It was just notification after notification of people arguing. Like Facebook without the aunts and uncles. Every once in a while I’d throw in an emoji or an ‘lol’, but it was a huge pain in the ass.”
After leaving, Curtis was confronted with a somewhat humbling realization: nobody seemed to notice. “I tried to be strategic, and exited the chat at like 1 a.m. one night,” he says. “I figured that the flurry of morning texts we usually get would push the notice that I left out of the way.”
Regarding a stealthy text departure, Dr. Tama Chansky, Ph. D. the founder and director of the Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety, agrees that such a move requires finesse.
“If you truly just want a quiet exit, are not ready for or don’t want a lot of questions, think of leaving like giving your two weeks notice. When is it best for you?” she says. “Is it best to quit or leave on a Friday, turn off your phone, and wake up rested to greet the new day? Or are you the kind of person who wants to do it first thing in the morning, let the fallout happen – if there even is any – and have it dealt with by the end of the day? Run through each scenario and see what feels most comfortable to you.”
And then there’s the big question of how do you leave a group chat with family? Family group chats are a great way to stay connected to distant family — to fire off a few photos of the kids to grandma and grandpa, to check in with your brother in law. But once a group chat gains momentum, all bets are off and it can easily be nothing but outdated memes, stale Facebook news, and political discussions.
“Our family group text grew to about 25 people,” says Maria, 37, from Connecticut. “No joke. Most of the time, it was just messages from random phone numbers popping up and I had no idea who they belonged to. Cousins? Aunts? Uncles? I don’t have these people’s numbers in my phone. I would come back to my phone, and it would say ‘56 new notifications’. It took me about two weeks to say, ‘Yeah, I can’t deal with this shit anymore.’ I left, and when my mom asked me why I said my phone broke.”
Sam Nabil, CEO and Lead Therapist for Naya Clinics says that fibbing about technical difficulties — like a broken phone, running out of storage, etc. – are a viable, convincing strategy.
“Even if you’re bending the truth, this is a good explanation,” he says. “If you choose to say you’re having technical issues as your excuse to leave the group, it’s less likely to raise probing questions.”
Even if it does, he says to remember a very important truth: you’re not responsible for other people’s thoughts. “No matter what your explanation for leaving, people will likely still speculate on your ‘real’ reason,” he says.
Nabil also reminds us that leaving a group text doesn’t mean removing people from your life, just your phone.
“You’re just leaving a place you don’t want to be,” he says. “You can directly message certain people within the group and say, ‘If you ever need to connect with me, I’ll be available through here.’ But, otherwise, you don’t owe anyone anything. Who you communicate with is your choice.”
In the end, you know your text mob better than anyone. (Even if you can’t ID each of the thirty-some numbers in the chain.) So you know what plays, and what doesn’t. If your group is trustworthy and supportive, an honest capitulation might be met with understanding and compassion. If your group doesn’t take itself seriously, a funny image or self-deprecating one liner explaining your leave should work. Whatever your reasoning, though, it’s important to remember that you’re not a dick. You’re a human being with an annoyance threshold that wasn’t meant to endure a constant onslaught of Minion memes, conspiracy theories, and Happy Hour updates.