I once had a friend who didn鈥檛 text me back for three months. And this isn鈥檛 a 鈥済host鈥 story, aka one where she disappeared forever, without any explanation. She鈥檚 actually still my friend. Over the course of those three months, I invited her to join me for several outings 鈥 with no reply. At first, I assumed her silence was innocent enough. But then one week of silence became two, then six, then twelve.

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Around week eight, I concluded that I must have done something terribly offensive to deserve this shocking rejection. Nothing negative had happened the last time we鈥檇 hung out to cause a rift. We hadn鈥檛 argued, or had a lackluster time together that proved our friendship had faded. We ate, we hugged and we promised to hang again soon. And yet, 12 weeks later, there was still a booming silence. I was confused and upset, and tried to accept that our relationship was suddenly over without explanation. I had been ghosted.

Then twelve weeks and two days into the great silence, which had filled me with worry about my actions as a friend, she emailed me. Her email didn鈥檛 mention any of the reasons my anxiety-fueled thoughts had credited to her silence. It detailed in length how she was sorry for being unavailable, explaining that a work project had eaten up all of her free time. She was dying to get together as soon as possible. Her email implied 鈥 against all my emotional reasoning 鈥 that nothing was wrong all along.

It was a relief to know my friend鈥檚 absence had nothing to do with me. And it also wasn鈥檛. From that day on, I never stopped wondering: Was I the one being rude, or was she?

Are We Giving Ourselves Anxiety by Abandoning the Basics of Social Etiquette?

When I was growing up, I was taught some simple social graces. They weren鈥檛 unbendable rules of etiquette, but more like expectation guidelines. I adopted them as basic standards of how to treat people in social settings and relationships.

In our contemporary, text-dominated times, one of the social graces I learned as a child sticks in my memory. It was this: If a friend reached out two or three times, then it was my turn to initiate contact the next time if I wanted the friendship to continue. As my mom put it, 鈥淵ou can鈥檛 always expect her to do the inviting. Inviting is a risk. You have to take on some risk too.鈥

Now that I鈥檓 an adult and a relationship coach, I鈥檝e noticed that this particular guideline seems to have been erased from our collective consciousness. That鈥檚 not to say that guidelines around what鈥檚 鈥減olite鈥 and 鈥渞ude鈥 can鈥檛 change (I will put my elbows all over this table, thank you). But when a rule around what鈥檚 expected in relationships seems to disappear, doesn鈥檛 its absence make relationships much harder to maintain? Doesn鈥檛 a lack of any standard social graces make relationships more stressful than they need to be?

For example, that interesting, yet profoundly anxiety-producing time with my apparently-not-former friend. Was she being rude for ignoring me? Or, against my better judgment, had I been rude for messaging her insistently? Was I hounding her, or was she ghosting me?

3 Ways to Reduce Relationship Anxiety Around Social Etiquette

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Collectively, I think we鈥檙e all confused about what we鈥檙e 鈥渁llowed鈥 to expect of one another. And I see a connection between this lack of social norms and our growing sense of anxiety around relationships. In my own life, I鈥檝e found that the best way to counteract this anxiety is to consciously build some 鈥渆xpectation guidelines鈥 back into my relationships. Below are three tips I鈥檝e developed for communicating expectations in relationships and, by extension, reducing relationship anxiety.

1. Explore expectations on a smaller scale. While most people no longer grow up with standard social expectation guidelines, that doesn鈥檛 mean you can鈥檛 discuss individual expectations on a smaller scale. For example, when you make a new friend or embark on a new romance, ask them what they consider normal when it comes to digital communication. Does he find it weird if someone doesn鈥檛 text him right back? Does she mostly ignore voicemails, but always responds to texts? These types of conversations will lead to greater understanding of your friends鈥 particular expectations, and by extension, what you can expect of them in return.

2. Move the interaction offline. Truth be told, much of the anxiety people experience around relationships these days is because we communicate primarily through digital devices. While phones are incredibly useful for keeping in contact, they remove many layers of communication, such as voice tone and body language, which help us understand the meaning behind the message.

That means texting breeds misunderstanding, and misunderstanding breeds anxiety. If you鈥檙e feeling anxious about how or when someone is responding 鈥 or isn鈥檛 responding 鈥 to your texts, your best bet is to take the conversation offline. Often, 10 minutes of in-person discussion will give you more clarity about what another person is thinking and feeling than 100 texts will.

3. Accept vague endings. One of the most anxiety-provoking aspects of our etiquette-deficient culture is the ever-present possibility that our relationships can end for reasons we never fully understand. Before smartphones became prevalent, it was considered extremely rude to end a relationship, even a friendship, without giving a reason and providing some closure. Today, many people are less inclined to have tough conversations, preferring to avoid them by ghosting instead.

While I was coming to terms with the disappearance of my not-former friend, I realized that if somebody is truly unwilling to engage with you, you鈥檒l get more peace from trying to accept the ending, however vague it may be, than from trying to re-engage them.

I liken this type of acceptance to forgiveness. By accepting the end of the relationship, you鈥檙e not condoning how they ended it. You鈥檙e not saying what they did was right. You鈥檙e simply asserting that your own emotional well-being is your top priority, and through acceptance, you choose to preserve it.

Do you think there鈥檚 etiquette to follow when texting with your friends? Or are all rules out the window? Tweet us about it @britandco!

This article was previously published on Lantern by Kira Asatryan. Photos via Getty.