Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. The family group chat: My father-in-law is constantly texting bad puns and greeting card–style memes to a group of eight to 12 family members. The group’s membership changes frequently, as he seems to add and remove people. Sometimes I get different things from him in different chat groups within a span of a few minutes. It ranges from one to four messages a day, and the group chats are not used for any other purpose. He rarely gets any response, but when he does get the odd “ha ha” reaction, it’s even worse because I get more texts! This drives me up a wall. The texts aren’t funny, they interrupt my day, and they make me feel like he’s just looking for attention. Muting these chats would cut down on the buzzing, but I’d still have multiple threads of unread messages clogging my text inbox. I don’t mind a family group chat, but shouldn’t the purpose be for actually connecting with people in a noninvasive and occasional way? Why not post this stuff on Facebook where I can subtly unfollow you? (Which I have done, because he posts similar but not identical stuff there.) My spouse has offered to ask him to stop including me, but that seems like it would make this into more of a “thing” in my relationship with my father-in-law. On the other hand, given that I’m so annoyed, maybe it already is! What would you do?
A: If your spouse has offered to have this conversation on your behalf, I think you should accept the offer. Your spouse will know best how to bring this up with their dad in a way that’s likely to minimize fallout, and after all it’s a pretty reasonable request: “Could you leave [the letter writer] off of your joke threads? There’s anywhere from one to four different messages a day, and it’s a little confusing and distracting to receive those texts during work.” Frankly, I’d rather have an in-law who was a little miffed I wasn’t subscribed to their joke services than an in-law who texted me repeatedly throughout the day through a series of increasingly esoteric group chats that no one else was participating in (or asked for). It sounds like your father-in-law is the kind of guy who can sustain almost unlimited energy on the strength of a few weak heh’s. Deprive him of the heh’s and let him try to sustain himself.