It’s high time someone swung hard in favor of society’s most polarizing issue: read receipts.
Now before you @ me, know that I get the conventional wisdom. Read receipts are bad. They add stress and heighten expectations. Sometimes you’re too busy (or, let’s be real, too lazy) to respond, or you simply don’t have anything to say. And I’m here to deliver a revolutionary message: that’s OK. You don’t need to respond immediately — even if they can see you’ve read what they wrote.
Between texts, emails, Snaps, and Instagram DMs, we’re always reachable. One second you’re trying to decipher the latest weird GIF from your Tinder match and the next you’re getting a Snap from your freshman roommate with the caption “butt or elbow?” You’re archiving your mom’s latest chain conspiracy theory forward in Gmail when a message rolls in from your friend who just got back from studying abroad and now refuses to use anything besides WhatsApp. It’s too much, and sometimes messages slip by.
I can hear you already: That’s exactly why I don’t want read receipts on. I get it. Read receipts can be awful, especially in romantic situations. They become a check on your time and attention. It feels like your partner has a meltdown every time you see their message without immediately clearing your schedule to respond.
Robyn, 27, calls them “argument ammo.”
“I don’t even like them in friendships,” says Kitty, 27. “It comes across as stalker-y to me.”
“I don’t like them ever,” says Jacques, 29. Whereas in a face-to-face conversation, you’re “present and engaged with the other person,” with texting you’re often juggling it against other tasks. “[Read receipts] create too many weird dynamics.”
“People with read receipts [turned on] are psychopaths,” says Clara, 28. “People who need automated confirmation that someone else received/read their message probably have some major self-work to do.”
But me, I actually love read receipts.
Take the ballad of Riley* and I as an example. After a few months of friendship, we both felt a charge and decided to go out. At the end of our first date, we enthusiastically made plans for a second date later that week. I sent her a message the next day saying that I was glad we went out and was excited to see her again. I didn’t receive a response, but I wasn’t worried about it until I still hadn’t heard from her the morning of our second date. A quick text to confirm plans was met with more radio silence.
By evening, because I had no idea what was happening, my mind raced and my anxiety spiked. Had she even received my text? Was she simply busy, or was something up? Should I double text? Maybe send the exact same text and if asked, pretend my phone glitched?
I finally sent another text. Eventually she got back to me, but her responses were similarly delayed until it was clear she wasn’t going to make it; a week later, our friendship had splintered. Obviously, read receipts wouldn’t have somehow fixed her rudeness in standing me up for our date or how she handled the aftermath, but they would’ve alleviated so much of my anxiety in the moment — at least I would’ve known for a fact she saw my messages. I can take rejection fine; I just hate being left in purgatory.
Kane, 29, agrees. “[Read receipts] make decisions easier for me in the beginning, because I know when I’m being ignored.”
“I like to have mine on so my partner knows I read [their message] even if I didn’t have time to reply,” says Julia, 24. “This is good for logistics if I’m at work and just busy, or if I want to leave him on read because he said something dumb. He knows the difference.”
Beyond alleviating delays, there’s also a real joy to the cadence of “Delivered,” “Read,” and finally, those three dots that indicate the other person is typing. It demonstrates active engagement in the conversation, and by extension, the other person.
“Personally, I think [having your read receipts on] is sexy,” says Charlotte, 22. “It proves they’re willing to be an open book. There’s a certain boldness to it.”
There may be an age divide at play here as well.
A 2015 study concluded that the use of read receipts rises the younger you are: the under-18 crowd clocked in at 65% usage, slightly higher than those 18-24 (63%) or 25-34 (59%). It makes sense given that read receipts were introduced by Apple in 2011; since then, almost every app (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat) has them on by default — sometimes, without the option to turn them off. In fact, 56% of those under 18 didn’t even know whether the setting was on in any of their preferred messaging apps. By contrast, only 37% of those 18-24 and 19% of those 25-34 were unaware.
Still, the Gen Z daters I spoke with have some concerns.
Maeve, 21, says she doesn’t use read receipts unless she’s on Instagram or Facebook Messenger, two platforms where you cannot turn them off. “Even then, if I can’t reply immediately, I won’t open the message. I don’t want to leave them hanging or make them feel like I’m not interested.”
“Having read receipts [on] with people you’re dating opens the door for them knowing what you’re doing, and until you’re in a committed relationship, having that space is good,” says Lori, 19.
Read receipts can enforce a healthy level of accountability in both people we like or are dating and ourselves. More than merely cattle prodding us into responding more quickly, they appeal to our sense of empathy. We all have moments when the texts pile up and we just don’t have the energy or opportunity to respond that instant. We know there’s no maliciousness to it, yet when others don’t respond immediately to us, we jump to the conclusion that we’re being ignored.
In a healthy relationship — platonic, romantic, or somewhere in between — read receipts are the technological equivalent of a comfortable silence. Not every text requires a response, and not every response has to be immediate. But more than that, read receipts can add meaningful layers to your text conversations: investment, transparency, and trust — all qualities you’ll need for a relationship to thrive anyway.
So go on. Flip the switch. You might even like it.
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.