No Response is A Response

October 21, 2014

Have you ever written someone an e-mail message asking a question and never gotten a response?  Or left a voice mail message requesting a call-back?  I can answer a resounding “Yes!” to both.  In most cases the person I am writing to knows me.  We have been friends or had a business relationship, and he or she has never expressed dissatisfaction regarding our connection.  This kind of communication roadblock drives me crazy.

I agree we’re all bombarded by texts, e-mails and voice mail.  No matter what, I still think I merit a response.  One therapist I went to a long time ago, when I was bemoaning a man I was dating who hadn’t called me back, told me the scoundrel had answered me.  It’s called “No Response” or as Greg Berendt and Liz Tucillo so aptly titled their book He’s Just Not That Into You, The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys.  

I must be delusional, because I thought those people I wrote to or called were into me enough to write or call me back.  I thought they were into me enough to open and read the e-mail I sent, but my best friend informs me they probably deleted it before opening it.  That shocked me.  And, of course, it could have even gone into their Spam folder.  This saddens me more than I am willing to admit.

Why Be Sad?

But, why be sad?  Perhaps one reason is that I gave more meaning to a relationship than it was due.  I feel deeply enough about the interactions I have had with a person that it feels worth holding onto.  In the past I credited myself as a good judge of character.  I thought I knew when a particular relationship was worth my time and energy.  Lately, though, that’s all changing.  Relationships I considered close are not so close.  People’s interests are shifting.  Demands on our time are relentless.

I keep thinking there’s more to it.  When people don’t respond to e-mail messages I send just to them, I start questioning the nature of the relationship.  Somewhere along the way a judgment was made and I wasn’t in on it.  The other person has moved onto other things more tantalizing, fulfilling, and worthwhile, or new demands, even a crisis, may have usurped their time.  He or she no longer sees the need to pump energy into our relationship.  Here’s what’s so disconcerting:  The decision probably wasn’t conscious or arbitrary.

It reminds me of a buffet.  The buffet’s first course has been well picked over and now a second, more delectable course replaces it.  Those people I wanted to hear back from have gotten up to get the second course.  Meanwhile, I’m still eating the servings I loaded on my plate from the first.  I’m not ready to return to the buffet table for the second course.  Or worse, the helpings I took when the first course was served were just too big.  If I had taken smaller portions, I could have gone back for the second round when the others did.

Decision by Others

What troubles me the most is other people’s decision to move on without some sort of closure, without informing me things are changing and what we have will be different from what we had.  This makes me remember the day I came home from school (I was ten) and learned my father had left our house on a stretcher by ambulance.  A neighborhood friend, someone I wasn’t even that close with, told me she had witnessed his departure.  No one told me this would happen.  How could someone else I didn’t even know that well see what I should have seen?

My father hadn’t been feeling well all summer and couldn’t join me for Father’s Day at day-camp.  He was beginning to spend a lot of time in bed away from his medical practice as an obstetrician/gynecologist.  Unbeknownst to me, he was diagnosed with cancer and it was progressing.  Occasionally other doctors would come to the house to see him.  Since I knew these doctors as my parents’ friends, I thought the visits were meant to give support, not to diagnose the progress of his disease.

Things started changing.  Out of the ordinary gestures became routine.  Instead of my mother driving us to school, one of my brother’s classmates picked us up each morning.  People brought casseroles to the house.  Friends stopped by for no apparent reason.  Relatives started showing up.  I thought I heard people whispering, but no audible sounds were heard.  Something was being said, and I knew deep-down it wasn’t good.

Time to Move On

My mother made decisions that affected my two brothers and me.  She took us twice to visit my father during the four weeks of his hospital stay.  The second and last visit was the most disturbing.  One part of his hospital bed was tilted so he appeared sitting up.  An oxygen tent–something I had never seen before I walked into his room–encased him.  I remember he was lucid and carried on a normal conversation, but nothing about the visit was normal.  I couldn’t hug him, kiss him or snuggle up to him.  He was untouchable.  I didn’t understand it.  I was ten, unable to ask questions or figure out what was going on.

On October 13, 1958, my father died.  I knew my father was ill, but I didn’t know he was dying.  No one informed me his situation was so dire.  How could this have happened?  What happened?  If only I had known, perhaps I could have done something about it.  I would have written him letters that might have consoled him.  Or I would have asked to visit him more.  Perhaps I could have been a participant, rather than a side-lined child.  More importantly, perhaps I could have prepared myself for a loss that has colored my entire life.

Those same feelings of being a side-lined child surface today when people don’t answer my e-mails, calls or letters.  I am aware something is no longer as it was, but no one told me what that is.  People are so busy.  Finding the time to let me know that a situation or a level of relationship has changed is not their priority.  I can ask.  I can keep sending e-mails or make repeated calls, but when the answer is “No Response,” I must remember what my therapist said long ago, “No Response is A Response.”  I must somehow come to terms with the silence, accept what is, and let it go.  I know it’s time to move on and be open to what presents itself to me now.

2 Responses to “No Response is A Response”

  1. Bette Says:

    I was touched by this post — in fact, I was sitting at my computer reading email, hoping to have heard from someone who, apparently, has given me his response via silence — “No response IS a response.” I’d love to hear from you and your readers as to a preferred option — would you want to receive an email that said I’m too busy to write anything meaningful? I have other priorities? I no longer want to be your friend? Or, would you prefer no response over those other, hurtful options?

    • Bev Hitchins Says:

      Thanks, Bette, for your note. Actually I was giving them the benefit of the doubt. I was hoping that it would be a kind response, something like “I am swamped. I’ll get back to you when I can.” Or “I won’t be able to respond to your request, and I hope you will understand.” Even those few words might still be too taxing for them to write. I wasn’t thinking their response would be hurtful, but rather considerate and that it could give me closure.


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