Read receipts—you know, the feature on iMessage and email apps that shows someone has read your message—are loved by some and reviled by others. But no matter how you feel about them, at least they’re a measure of transparency: A read receipt tells the recipient loud and clear that your message was, you know, read… but perhaps isn’t a priority for response. By contrast, being left on delivered—when a person gets your message but, so it appears, hasn’t even opened it—can unlock a bunch of different anxiety-inducing possibilities about your text after it’s been sent. Maybe this person saw your message and is choosing to ignore you, or the message mysteriously vanished on the way to their phone. (You get the picture.)
The lack of a definitive answer is what makes being left on delivered so uniquely distressing. “People tend to have anxiety around things that are unknown, so when somebody has a lack of knowledge or they can’t really understand the causes of whatever behavior is happening, they’re able to construct narratives in their head that are potentially negative,” says relationship expert Jess Carbino, PhD, former sociologist at Tinder and Bumble. “You have the capacity to jump to conclusions that are not necessarily grounded in reality, but that can feel very real for you.” If you’re left on delivered, you don’t know whether the person you’re texting was just busy, or doesn’t like you anymore… and these possibilities can activate hurt and confusion.
“If you’re not responsive, it can look like a sign of disinterest or lack of intimacy, so it’s fair to feel anxious about getting left on delivered.” —Jess Carbino, PhD, relationship expert
How responsive someone is (or isn’t) can lodge doubts in the brain because many consider it a direct correlation to how much this person likes you. “If you’re not responsive, it can look like a sign of disinterest or lack of intimacy, so it’s fair to feel anxious about this,” Dr. Carbino says. If you like this person, the thought of them behaving in a way that shows they’re not that into you can kickstart anxieties.
Occupying your time overthinking about your texts can also stress your internal pain points, too. If the thought of being left on delivered makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you may have an anxious attachment style or feel primarily responsible for keeping the flames of connection burning. And according to clinical psychologist Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, those who feel like they have to be the “caretaker” in their relationships may feel especially distressed when their efforts to connect (e.g., sending a text) aren’t clearly acknowledged or reciprocated.
Why someone might leave you on delivered
While there are a wide variety of reasons why someone might leave you on delivered, perhaps the most obvious is also the most mundane: Not everyone is available to text during the day because of a job or other commitments. People have varying texting habits and obligations that affect their response time; if you’re dating a surgeon, for example, they probably won’t have lots of downtime during the day to text back, says Dr. Carbino.
A different texting style could also be at play. Not everyone texts with the same frequency and thoroughness, so what might seem like an unacceptably long response time to you could be someone else’s norm, says Dr. Carbino. Maybe you constantly text throughout the day, but the object of your affections only replies at mealtimes or a certain other time of day. Maybe one of you is a dry texter, meaning only sending a couple words of response; if the dynamic is mismatched, there’s bound to be some confusion.
However, if someone just never responds and leaves you on delivered indefinitely, that’s entering ghosting territory. According to Dr. Romanoff, leaving someone on delivered for a very long time (or forever) may be a way to signal that you don’t want to be involved with them—without dealing with the painful emotional exchange of breaking things off. “For many in modern dating, it’s easier to not respond than to send a difficult message that might be hurtful,” she says. “They could be too scared or worried to hurt the other person’s feelings by overtly sending a rejection text.”
4 ways to take the anxiety out of texting and dating
No matter the reason, being left on delivered can be just as frustrating as being left on read. But there are healthy ways to deal with it. Here’s what experts recommend:
1. Remember: You can only control your own actions
Relationship coach Adelle Kelleher, founder of Coaching Hearts Consulting, advises disengaging whenever you’re awaiting a response. It can be tough in the moment, but try to keep yourself busy so that you’re not so fixated on your phone.
Put your phone on “Do Not Disturb,” and go for a 15-minute walk, or make a nourishing snack. If they want to get back to you, they will. If they don’t, that may provide some clarity about how they feel, too. “It’s important to take that control, so you feel like you have more of a sense of agency and that you’re not being left to the whims of others,” adds Dr. Carbino.
2. Text them like you would a friend
Texting someone you’re trying to romance can come with undue pressure, like worrying whether you’re texting too much. “The key is to text them like you’re texting a friend,” advises Kelleher. Be yourself, and try not to invest so much in the volley back and forth and clock-watch the responses. You probably wouldn’t immediately assume your friend doesn’t like you anymore if they didn’t respond right away to your messages, so try to extend that same courtesy to this person.
3. Consider their communication style
To gain some clarity (and reduce the stress of being left on delivered), Dr. Carbino says you might try mirroring this person’s texting style. “Try to match your texting behavior so as to diminish [being left on delivered] and make things feel less loaded,” she says. For example, if you go back through your messages and notice they typically respond closer to the end of the day, you could time your texts to reach them closer to that window.
Clear and honest communication is the quickest route to an answer, so you could also simply ask why they hasn’t been responding, or what their texting habits are. Having this info in hand helps eliminate the ambiguity spurred by being left on delivered.
4. Decide what your own needs are
Remember that relationships are a two-way street, so a healthy and nourishing one won’t be constructed or sustained by a bunch of one-way text barrages. If you find yourself being left on delivered often and don’t like how it makes you feel, Dr. Romanoff says it’s worth considering whether this person is putting forth the effort you need for a supportive connection.
Don’t try to tamp down your feelings about this, but rather use them as clues to help you decide what you want. This introspection may lead you to discover that you find a lack of speedy response unattractive, and that you need a partner who is happy to shoot you a timely text to soothe your anxiety. “Relationships are co-constructed and require both people to put in effort, so it’s important to notice this anxiety and see if the other person can put in their part to meet you in the middle,” says Dr. Romanoff.