A new WhatsApp feature lets you silently leave a group chat, but I still don’t have the courage to go

To those brave souls who leave WhatsApp groups without lying in bed at night worrying they’ve offended everyone, congratulations for being well adjusted

First Person

A new WhatsApp feature lets you silently leave a group chat, but I still don’t have the courage to go

For those of us who would rather be miserable for eternity than dare to quit a group, there is some good news (Photo: We Are/Getty)

By Kasia Delgado

Who are your heroes in today’s world? Mine are the rare humans with the guts to leave a WhatsApp group. Now and then, the words “Laura* has left” will crop up on my phone screen, notifying every member of the group of what is happening, and I will feel a shiver down my spine at Laura’s bold transgression of social norms.

Leaving a WhatsApp group is like announcing: “I am not enjoying this, my time is too precious, I simply don’t want to be part of this chat any more, goodbye.”

To those brave souls who manage to break free of the tyranny of WhatsApp groups without lying in bed at night worrying they’ve offended everyone, congratulations for being well adjusted.

The biggest leap I’ve taken when it comes to preserving my sanity on WhatsApp was turning off notifications for all groups. I can check them when I want to, but there are no noises nudging me to reply.

For those of us who would rather be miserable for eternity than dare to quit a group, there is some good news. WhatsApp has announced that users will soon be able to avoid social awkwardness by silently leaving groups. Rather than the app announcing to everyone that you’ve left, it will only alert the administrator, the person who set up the group.

That still brings with it some challenges, but it’s certainly better than the current passive-aggressive state of things. There will be no telltale “Kasia has left” appearing on everyone’s phone screens, no opportunity for multiple people to gasp and raise eyebrows at my treachery.

This new addition to the app is a relief to me, because like so many WhatsApp devotees, I have a complicated, love/hate relationship with group chats. Scrolling down my phone, in a few seconds I’ve counted 40 WhatsApp groups, some very active, some silent.

I love WhatsApp groups because collective conversation has its uses, and it can bring comfort and joy. In a group with four of my best friends from University, we discuss everything from life to death to what kinds of crisps we’d like to win a lifetime supply of.

Over a decade on from all living in the same student halls, where we could crawl hungover into each other’s beds and talk for hours, our informal group chat keeps some semblance of togetherness and support for each other. We’ve celebrated and commiserated on there, the next best thing to all sitting on the same sofa.

I’m in another group dedicated solely to discussing musicals. Another group with a few close school friends is a hive of nostalgia and warmth. On my family group with all my family in Poland I can see how the children are growing up in the months I don’t see them in person.

And yet, even the best WhatsApp groups have their moments of hell. A quick straw poll of friends and family suggests to me that everyone sometimes fantasises about leaving – even temporarily – without it being the equivalent of sticking it to your loved ones.

‘The biggest leap I’ve taken when it comes to preserving my sanity on WhatsApp was turning off notifications for all groups’ (Photo: Yui Mok/ PA)

There’s the pressure many people feel to reply instantly to an influx of messages, to have the perfectly crafted response to the good or bad news someone has told the group. There’s the sense of guilt many people feel if they go silent for too long, because sometimes there’s just too much to begin replying to, and often the moment has passed. My friends and I regularly find ourselves apologising for not being “on the group much recently”, which is something we should stop doing.

Then there is the fact that nothing compares to the closeness you feel from quality one-on-one conversation and your own individual dynamics with friends, and WhatsApp groups can end up taking up this valuable time.

There is also the brutal truth that these groups can be deeply irritating. Waking up to 923 messages about a dinner you didn’t go to; getting sent 40 pictures of your cousin’s child’s average-looking hamster, which download to your phone because you don’t know how to stop that happening; being thrown into a group with 31 people to discuss the colour themes for a hen party happening in 11-and-a-half month’s time; the group where five people send 14 photos of their baby covered in porridge; those people you met on holiday three summers ago and seemed fun but who this morning told the group about a shoe rack they had an “absolute nightmare” assembling.

So, I eagerly await the day I can politely, silently, gracefully leave a couple of WhatsApp groups, but looking through my phone now, I doubt I’ll summon up the courage to exit very many. After all, what if I miss something? The complicated truth is that for every depressing shoe rack and mangey hamster I’ve encountered on a WhatsApp group, there’s been something else worth sticking around for. Sometimes purgatory is the best place to be.

*Insert any courageous person’s name here

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