Life Advice



Ending A Text Conversation

Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin on

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I use text messages to ask and answer specific questions or to relay information. For conversations, I use telephone calls.

A former graduate student recently contacted me via text message, and I was really enjoying catching up. If we had been conversing via phone, I would have known the cues that indicated whether and when she wanted/needed to wind the conversation down.

Being in the dark about the conventions of messaging, I asked her to let me know when I was carrying the "conversation" overlong. Then I asked her a few more questions about her life to let her know that I wasn't hinting that I needed to end our chat.

She didn't respond. At all. Could you advise me if I need to do something differently in the future?

GENTLE READER: There is a tendency to think that new technology requires entirely new etiquette, when the truth is more incremental.

The telephone conditioned us to provide verbal cues ("I'm so sorry, but I really have to go") to replace the nonverbal ones (anxious, furtive glances at the clock).


The biggest etiquette consequence of texting derives from its immediacy: Conversations can have lacunae when, unbeknownst to the other party, the train arrives at the station or the doorbell rings. One could offer to "be right back," but it is also permitted to suspend the conversation for later resumption.

None of which requires a modification of your behavior -- though your student, if she had no intention of returning to the conversation, should have indicated that she was signing off.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I heard a funny story from a friend who took another friend out for dinner at a nice but casual French restaurant. The friend found a hair as she was diving into her roasted chicken dish.

Having alerted the waitress, she was offered a profuse apology, assured the meal would not be put on the bill and asked how long she would be willing to wait for a new dish. The friend thanked the waitress and said that no new dish was required.


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