Never send nudes, and keep swearing tame’: a WhatsApp survival guide

It’s funny how quickly apps have become shorthand for everyday tasks: we now go on “Tinder dates”, a takeaway is “a Deliveroo”, taxis give way to “getting an Uber”. And when it comes to sharing confidences and keeping in touch, we’re all WhatsApping. The preposterously named app, which sounds like an unwelcome thumbs-up across the dance floor, has become the preferred method of communication for 1.2 billion of us – leaving emails, texts and (obviously) face-to-face conversation in the dust.

WhatsApp’s main plus – and quite a big minus, if you think about it – is that anyone can use it. It’s free, and makes chatting in a group really easy – almost too easy, in fact, as you spend half your time being added to random groups and trying desperately to catch up and decipher their in-jokes. Leaving is not an option unless you want to be accused of flouncing. There are unwritten rules waiting to catch you out.

How to leave a group is the first thing you need to learn: it’s like checking where all the exits are when you board a plane. Yes, you can mute the group (stopping notifications unless you check); but if you want to cut all ties, seasoned quitters advise making an exit first thing in a morning, when everyone’s too busy commuting to care or re-add you, or slipping out during a particularly busy chat flurry. Or you can be upfront-ish, with language any WhatsApper would understand: no data left to chat, taking a break because of work commitments, jealous partners. A few promises that they can re-add you soon (they’ll forget) and you’ll be blissfully out of the loop but still on everyone’s Christmas card list.

If you’re committed to sticking around, you’ll need to locate the mute option pretty fast (group info at top of screen; option is halfway down): perfectly acceptable if you’ve said all you have to say, or the last three replies have been gifs from the same Netflix TV show that you’ve never seen.

You’ll also need to prepare your best excuses for when you inevitably forget which group you’re in, and send a message to the wrong people. Pro tip: never send nudes, and keep swearing cheery and tame, in case someone’s screenshotting you and sending it to Mum. And as for anxiety ticks (the blue checks that tell others when you’ve read their message), they’re easy to turn off; but then your friends will set up a private chat about why you’re so secretive and shady. Plus, you won’t be able to see their ticks either, so you’ll never know for sure if they’re ghosting you.

Here’s my guide to negotiating the eight groups you’re most probably avoiding right now.

Family

Flown the nest and feeling nostalgic for Dad’s after-dinner flatulence and Mum’s constant questions about the location of the adjustable spanner? All the “living at home” conversations carry on, in broken grammar and misused emoji.

Just like a family Christmas, everyone immediately reverts to type in a WhatsApp chat. Yes, you have a job and a mortgage, but in this group – tweely titled Parentals, Mothership or La Famille Jones – you’re a stroppy teenager again. Eyes roll at your parents’ screeds – “fgs just press SEND after every sentence, Dad” – and molars grind at Mum’s accidental cry-laughing emoji in response to the death of a relative, or use of “selfie” to describe any photo with a face in it. It’s enough to immunise you permanently against homesickness.

Say “Mum, please don’t use the aubergine emoji when talking about your dinner.”

Don’t say “I’m thinking of spending Christmas abroad this year. That’s OK, right?” *sends gif of Mariah in Santa hat*

Arm’s-length friendships

You’ve nothing in common any more, other than having been at university together, and there’s enough blackmail material between you to sink all your respective careers, so what better way to maintain the illusion of a friendship than WhatsApp? Group chats play out like soap operas – houses are bought, babies are born, vague promises of catch-up drinks are made – without you ever having to reunite in the flesh. Perfect.

Say “Need to catch up soooon. I’ll ping over some dates.”

Don’t say “OK, so I’m free on the 20th, 21st and then any day the week after that. Any good? Let’s get it in the diary.”

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