I am currently in the situation where someone I'm dating (let's call that person Alex for now) thinks I am expecting more than I actually do.

This relates to response times to chat messages. Two weeks ago, we had planned to go on a date. We "planned" that date a couple of days beforehand and agreed to meet on a specific day with the expectation that we'd be deciding on the what, where, and when on the actual day of the date.

I contacted Alex in the morning (around 10 am) asking whether our planned date would actually work out and at what time it would fit. The answer came in at 5 pm. I waited the entire day and didn't make any other plans because I expected an answer every minute. I also tried to contact Alex several more times, but got no response. When I finally got one, it explained that it didn't work out because Alex is preparing for a couple of exams that are to be taken in short succession in about a month. I believe Alex 100% here.

At that time, I was disappointed because I wasted my entire day waiting for a message. Not having time for the date was fine; I don't get to decide my work schedule, either. But not responding when someone is waiting and when you have the opportunity to do so got me upset. I explained that to Alex and it was understood.

The topic came up today again. It was a similar situation but this time, Alex told me that it would work out much earlier. We spoke about the topic of response times and apparently, Alex thinks I always want my responses ASAP. That's not correct; I want them ASAP when I'm obviously waiting for them and actually lose time doing so. I don't expect immediate responses for regular conversations.

Here goes the actual question: I tried to clarify that I'm only expecting fast answers when it's interfering with plans that we already made. But every time I attempted to clarify, Alex got more nervous and uncertain about what I expect. I don't think I got my point across.

How can I improve in communicating my expectations? I feel like I've been very clear and open about it. But every rephrasing of my expectations led to more uncertainty on Alex' side. This is made worse by the fact that Alex doesn't have time to always keep an eye on his phone because of studying. That makes it especially hard for Alex to fulfill the expectation that I don't even have.

I've had the same issue in other situations as well, e. g. with work colleagues or family members. Also on various topics, not especially about response times to IM messages. I observed the same effect in those conversations. That's why I guess it's got something to do with the way I communicate.

  • @AnneDaunted Yes, because i feel like i am open and honest but i fail at communicating that.
    – marstato
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 19:09
  • I rewrote the question to the specific situation that caused my to ask. But i'm having the same issue with other people about other topics, as well. @Catija i made the apology-vs-physical-compensation thing up to provide an example about the scale of the discrepancy between actual and percieved expectations.
    – marstato
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 20:22
  • Related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/7010/…
    – Em C
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 1:27

2 Answers 2


The need for communication here is on your part on a per-event basis. This means that you have to remember to explain this but it makes it easier on Alex because he doesn't have to remember any "rules".

Your time is valuable to you, your free time doubly so, I would guess. So you need to show them that's the case by giving them a heads-up that you'd like to work around their schedule but don't want to sit around all day. And this is perfectly reasonable for you to say and if they expect otherwise, I would be surprised. Most people don't expect you to be ready to do what they want to do at the drop of a hat, particularly if you don't have firm plans set up.

I've been in the situation you're in before. I've wasted many days hoping that a friend would get in touch because I really wanted to spend time with them and they've flaked on me or they've had something come up. It happens to us all. Hopefully they'll be more communicative about things but you can't really force them to act. What I've found is:

  • If there aren't any specific exact decisions about a meet-up (time/venue/etc) by the day before, I should expect it to fall through unless I hear from someone quickly.
  • If I sit around waiting for them to respond all day, that's on me, not on them.

You say that you had rough plans a few days before... send that text message asking to firm things up sooner... the day before, not the morning of. Let them know that it's your only day free and that you'd really love to get together with them but you also want to do something.

If you don't hear back that day (the day before) ping them the morning of but ask for a response within X amount of time and if you don't hear from them, go on with your day and work something out for another time. So, for example:

You (10 am): Good morning! I'm really looking forward to seeing you sometime today! When do you want to meet up?

You (10:30 am after no response): Since I haven't heard back, I thought I'd let you know, if you want to get together for lunch, please get back to me ASAP or if you'd rather meet for dinner, let me know by 3. I know you're busy so if I don't hear from you by 3 I'll assume you're not able to meet up and make other plans for the evening but if your schedule clears up, ping me any time and I might be able to meet you or you can join me!

(Warning... the above needs to be tailored for your voice and style of communication and whatever deadlines you choose to set. Feel free to break it up into a few messages or go all in one - your choice.)

If you want to be flexible, do something that you could add them to when they are available that day or that you can easily walk away from when they do become available. If you make plans with someone else (or a group of friends) let them know what's up when you make the plans and see if it's OK for Alex to join you later or if they're willing to be flexible if you have to back out. If Alex never becomes available, your day/evening isn't wasted.

When you wait for a response for seven hours, you made that choice so expecting some sort of compensation is (in my opinion) inappropriate. You can't control what other people do, you can only control yourself. Focus on changing your behavior to make it easier for the people around you to know what you expect from them. They can't read minds, so you need to be explicit about what you want... but be flexible if you can. Emphasize that you want to spend time with them but that - since you don't get a lot of time off - you really have to use that time wisely.

Since you're also asking about clarifying your needs, I'd recommend starting from scratch. Tell Alex (or anyone else) that anything you've said before, they can forget. I think you should be able to give them two rules that will make it clear what you expect.

  1. If we're discussing getting together within the next n hours, I would like responses ASAP so that I can make sure my schedule is set because I don't get a lot of time off and want to use it as fully as I can.
  2. Otherwise, please respond when it's convenient for you.

This should be pretty easy for them to remember and is pretty simple to convey. It explains why you need this quick response time and in which cases.

That said... I strongly recommend you use the other guidance above to prevent them from needing to remember this. If you have rock solid plans the day before, they can be slower about responding to those requests without you feeling you're waiting on a response (win/win). Even if those plans are "If you're not sure of your schedule tomorrow, I'll call/text you at 10 am and we'll work something out." they know when to look for a call or message from you so that they can respond quickly.

  • +1 When you wait all day for 1 person to respond, the OP is unconsciously telling the other person that their time is not as valuable as theirs. I've been in similar situations (regarding timely arrivals) and it's a similar mentality. I also find that texting allows people to put it off until it is convenient for them rather than just respond to the question. A phone call is more direct. Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 21:02
  • Note that i never expected any compensation for the lost day - that was on me. Otherwise: thank you for the answer! I agree to what you say about asking for heads up and that waiting for others is on me. But is setting the expectations beforehand really the only option? I was also asking why clarifying my expectations leads to more uncertainty rather than less.
    – marstato
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 21:07
  • @marstato It's really difficult for us to tell you how to clarify your general needs to Alex without knowing where the misunderstanding lies. Part of this suggestion is designed to avoid the problem entirely by firming up plans sooner rather than the day of, for example... I'm not sure how you explained it to Alex and if there's a language change (your native language to English - considering the Europe tag) there may be additional confusion there. Other answers may address this part of your question, too... though the current status of the question may hinder that.
    – Catija
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 21:11

You're dealing with a person who either doesn't value your date / meetings as much as you do, or who simply has a vastly different communication style. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

Regardless, the mistake you made is letting the plans hang for as long as you did in the first place. In situations where you've established that you're meeting on a given day, and have not set up a time or place, try to set up those details as early as possible.

If you do end up in a situation where it's the morning of the day of, and you're waiting for the details, establish a certain dead-line by which being given a time is inconvenient to you, and you switch from Plan A) Date, to Plan B) Hang out with friends.

For example, say you've been waiting for Alex to set up the details for several days. Message the night before, and ask for a time/place. If none are forthcoming by noon the day of, message him/her and cancel, giving their own lack of a reply as the reason:

"Sorry the meeting today didn't work out, did something come up? See you some other time."

If Alex suddenly messages you, then you'll know that replying to you was clearly not a priority until you cancelled. You can then choose to either make plans, or establish some boundaries:

Sorry, when you never called me back I made other plans. Next time let's try to set up the details a little earlier.

That way you establish your own expectations, and don't let the other person take advantage of you. More importantly, however, you will not set yourself up for disappointment.

If you come to realize that Alex is simply a flaky sort of person then you can decide how you want your relationship to proceed. Maybe you need to take charge and set up the events. Or maybe you let Alex set the pace, and measure the effort that (s)he puts into meeting with you.

The important thing here is to realize that different people have different priorities, and that you need to move ahead with your own goals clearly in mind. In that one instance, for example, Alex was clearly focused on studying, and replying to you was an inconvenience (s)he didn't have time for. For you, however, it led to a complete waste of time, and stress. The fix here is managing your own expectations, and plans.

  • Thank you, too, for the answer. I like Catjas a little more so i accepted that one.
    – marstato
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 21:25

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