For all its glorious benefits—convenience, ease, speed—texting is still communication in a vacuum. Sure, any digital chat can get a message from person A to person B, but without the natural elements of body language and facial expression inherent in an IRL convo, or even the tone and candor that you can hear in a phone call, the words of a text can lack key context and nuance. Unless you aim to fill that contextual void with additional language or emojis, it’s easy for a simple texting exchange to feel robotic, inhuman…at the very least, dry.
The term “dry texting” has come to mean any texting interchange where one of the participants is using only very brief, one- or two-word responses to keep the conversation going. While this kind of communication might be frustrating in an in-person or phone conversation, it can be particularly annoying with texting given that the recipient lacks the benefit of any other context to gauge the texter’s interest or mindset. Devoid of non-verbal social cues, this dry texting (e.g., “sure,” “cool,” “that’s fine”) can leave the recipient “unsure of where they stand and the tone the message was sent in,” says relationship therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, cofounder of premarital counseling platform Ours.
Among folks eager to avoid that gap in communication, it’s become increasingly common to pad text messages with things like “lol” (which is basically used as punctuation at this point) and emojis, both of which help color how a text-sender really feels. In fact, a 2017 survey of 2,000 adults in the United States found that 71 percent use visual expressions like emojis, stickers, and GIFs in their texts. And according to a 2022 survey of 1,000 remote and hybrid workers in the U.S., seven in 10 believe a message is incomplete without an emoji. All of which just makes the dry texters stand out even more: The bare-bones style can be read as an intentional choice to omit context, particularly amid the surge of visual tools and language trends allowing texts to have a richer, more human tone.
So what are we supposed to do with the dry texters in our lives? Below, therapists share some insights on why people might get into dry texting in the first place, why it can feel so frustrating on the receiving end, and what you can do to juice up conversations with a dry texter.
Why would someone engage in dry texting, anyway?
A person’s decision to share only the bare minimum over text makes it easy to wonder what they’re hiding or withholding and why. But according to relationship therapists, the answer to why someone is dry texting might have more to do with them than the conversation.
“The way that these straightforward messages sound in their head might be much more friendly than they’re actually coming across.” —Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, relationship therapist
For starters, there’s always the potential that someone really is just busy and doesn’t have the time to add more nuance to their texts, or simply feels like texting should only be for basic messages (like the time they’ll be arriving somewhere) and nothing more, says Earnshaw. In that case, they might not even realize that their texts could be read as emotionless or robotic. “The way that these straightforward messages sound in their head might be much more friendly than they’re actually coming across,” says Earnshaw.
On a deeper level, it’s also possible that the dry texter might struggle with communicating via text to the point where they only feel comfortable sharing short responses. “Dry texters may suffer from social anxiety and have a difficult time communicating their thoughts and feelings via written word,” says psychotherapist Anita Astley, LMFT, author of the forthcoming book Unf*ck Your Life and Relationships.
Personal reasons aside, however, it’s also possible that the dry texting is a reflection of how they view your relationship. After all, the most villainized of dry texts is the now-infamous “k” (literally, an abbreviation of the abbreviation OK) because of the nearly nonexistent effort it requires to send. Other dry texts could be used similarly by someone unwilling to pour any real effort into the conversation—and by extension, the relationship, says Astley: “It could be their way of distancing themselves from you by sabotaging successful communication.”
In that way, dry texting can veer toward passive-aggressive behavior. Rather than simply telling you that they’re disinterested, or expressing their grievances directly, the dry texter may be “withholding their end of the conversation as a means to indirectly express their anger or upset,” says Astley.
The psychological reasons why dry texting is so frustrating
In plenty of cases, dry texts are annoying simply because of the fact that they lack context, leaving you questioning what’s really being said. But in other cases, you might not doubt the intent of the text (for example, a long-term friend’s “sure” probably just means “sure”), and yet still feel frustrated by what’s said (and unsaid).
Part of the reason why has to do with the expectation of reciprocity in a healthy relationship. If you’re sending lengthy, descriptive texts riddled with emojis, and a friend or partner is replying with short, dry texts, it can feel like they’re not putting as much effort into the interaction as you are, says psychiatrist Nina Vasan, MD, MBA, chief medical officer at mental wellness platform Real. “This can leave you feeling like you aren’t a priority and that your desire to communicate and connect with the other person is one-sided.”
“When someone ignores one of our bids for connection, it can be distressing to the part of us that wants to securely attach to them.” —Earnshaw
Even if you don’t expect them to fully reciprocate with texts that are equally detailed as yours, you may feel like their curt responses are dismissing what you have to say. In this scenario, your initial text is what relationship researcher John Gottman calls a “bid” for connection (aka the things we do to connect with others, like sharing a story or asking a question), and the dry response to it feels like the person is turning away from or ignoring the bid, says Earnshaw.
“When someone ignores one of our bids for connection, it can be distressing to the part of us that wants to securely attach to them,” says Earnshaw. Even if it would be highly out of character for this person to ignore you in real life, it can still feel disheartening for them to seemingly brush off a text of yours with a quick response.
This could also be particularly triggering “if you’ve been conditioned to interpret the silent treatment or minimal expression of thoughts and feelings as a way of expressing upset,” says Astley. “If your parents gave you the silent treatment or reduced communication to express anger and negative feelings, then you’re more likely to carry that into adulthood and make assumptions about others when confronted with similar experiences.”
How to liven up your conversations with a dry texter
Before you start diving into tactics for getting a dry texter to be more chatty, it’s important to connect with this person and ask a couple questions—namely, whether they actually like texting and have time to text whenever you’ve been reaching out to them, says Earnshaw. If the answer to either question is “no,” you’d be better off determining a communication “middle ground,” she says, where you’re texting a little less and they’re responding with a little more vigor.
In this conversation with the dry texter, it may also be helpful to “directly name how their current communication style is being received by you,” says Dr. Vasan. They may not realize that their texting style is making you feel potentially unheard or unappreciated, and just in learning that, they may be inspired to get a little more verbose in their replies.
From there, you can also set clear communication expectations for texting, so that you’re both on the same page, says Astley. “For example, you might decide that one-letter, one-word, and/or one-emoji responses are not acceptable for you, and that you’ll disengage from the conversation if you receive responses in this manner.”
On your end, you can also model the kind of texting that you’d ideally like to receive, and craft your own texts around things that tend to drum up engagement, like pictures, gifs, or even voice memos, says Dr. Vasan. “Similarly, you could also send articles or links to things on social media that made you think of them and ask open-ended questions, which typically encourage longer and more engaged responses,” she says.
In any case, however, it’s important to keep in mind that texting is still just one form of communicating—and an inherently lacking one, at that. If a partner or friend doesn’t or won’t compensate for the lack of nuance that texting entails, that’s also all the more reason to connect with them more often in other ways (which we could all do more of, anyway).