Group chat guilt is real. An August survey of 1,000 Americans found that 20 percent of respondents felt the need to respond to every group message, while 42 percent found group chats could “feel like a part-time job.” According to The Atlantic, we’re in the “Age of the Group Chat.”
But let me tell you a secret: It doesn’t have to be this way. Opting out of group chats earlier this year was one of the easiest, most rewarding choices I’ve ever made for personal sanity. Here’s how you can free yourself of group chat guilt, too.
Why it’s OK to leave a group chat
Somehow, the same issues we’ve come to struggle with on social media — from protecting our limited attention spans to moderating our daily exposure to dozens of other voices and opinions — have also manifested in our group chats. Like some social media posts, certain chats can be delightfully entertaining and informative. But many others feel like a digital burden we’re unable to shake off.
We stay in group chats for the same reasons that we stay on social media: because we have a fear of missing out, or feel the need to be seen, or because we feel pressured to participate in the larger cultural conversation.
But group chats were never intended to be so much work.
As our experience on social media has degraded, we’ve turned to group chats for a more intimate experience with people we know in real life. Now our messages are not just a place to communicate with one another but to gather socially. And you have a right to politely leave the function.
Of course, there are exceptions. Some chats aren’t mentally taxing to contribute to at all. And family group chats or ones you need for work are trickier to leave. Use your discretion when deciding which chats to sign off from, and listen to your gut when it tells you it’s time to move on.
How to bow out gracefully
Don’t ghost: Be kind and tell your chat before you head out for good. They’ll likely be notified by the messaging when you do, so it’s best to give them a gentle heads-up.
Be honest: Say how you feel: that you’re burnt out or anxious about missing messages, or are just spending way too much time on your phone. Note that this is about you, not them. Your honesty may encourage others to become defensive about leaving but don’t feel pressured to engage. You don’t owe them more of an explanation than what you’ve already said.
Give the best way to contact you outside of the chat: If you’re comfortable with it, note that you can still be reached one-on-one through your preferred messaging app. If you don’t want texts from people in the group, encourage them to follow you on TikTok or Instagram to stay in touch instead.
What to do if you regret leaving (and when to mute chats instead)
Once you leave a conversation, give yourself one whole week before returning to it. If you decide, after those seven days, that you miss the chat or that you absolutely must be a part of it to maintain an important relationship, simply ask to rejoin by messaging a group member privately.
And if you’re stressed by the onslaught of messages but genuinely enjoy a chat’s banter or feel like you’ll miss out on too much important content if you leave, try putting the chat on mute. This is an option on iMessage, WhatsApp, and other messaging platforms that will ensure you stay a member of a chat but won’t receive notifications about new messages. This will allow you, as Issa Rae puts it, to “tap in when [you] want to tap in.” Group chats should be fun, so let’s keep them that way.