How to Respond to Texts From Strangers Without Ruining Lives

Humanity is finally starting to realize that we dont need to make phone calls and leave voicemails like a bunch of animals. Instead, we've moved on to the more refined, less-social-anxiety-inducing text message. But with the rise of SMS comes a relatively new phenomenon: The misdirected text from a wrong number. It's a peculiar kind of power—don't abuse it.

You see, the allure of the misdirected text is the wealth of options that follows. Do you tell this misinformed stranger the error of their ways? Do you ignore them? Or do you take advantage of this mercifully anonymous correspondence to feed into your voyeurism by playing along and/or wreaking havoc? Handling the misdirected text is a delicate art that, depending on your decision, can go in two very different directions—the not being an asshole way and the fun way. Here's how to choose wisely.

People You May Have Met Before

Depending on how bad your memory/tendency to drink until your body secretes poison is, there may have been times where you've looked at your phone only to find that the string of numbers saying words at you might actually be an acquaintance.

Maybe you simply forgot to save their number in a moment of distraction. Maybe you were standing on top of the bar upending bottles of liquor and chanting your phone number—it's impossible to know. The point is, this person may or may not be someone you want to maintain ties with, so handle with care. Because there's no bigger slap in the face than the ol' "Sorry, all my contacts were mysteriously deleted somehow! Who is this again?" You filthy liar.

Usually from the text's content, though, you'll be able to tell fairly quickly whether or not this is someone you actually want and/or need to be in contact with.

Whatever you do, don't just ignore them. That's when you run into a situation like my friend Chloe's:

How to Respond to Texts From Strangers Without Ruining Lives

When in doubt, just write back. A simple "sorry, I think you have the wrong number" should (hopefully) suffice. But if things start really getting out of hand, you can call your service provider and have that particular number blocked, usually free of charge.

Definite Strangers: Let 'Em Down Easy

Out of all the ways to handle a misdirected text, politely letting the offending party know what happened is unquestionably the kindest route you can take. They'll either apologize and immediately cut ties (boooooring), or open up a gyre of uncertainty and insecurities (fun!). So should you choose the noble route, be ready to handle the consequences. Like our very own Chris Mascari was:

How to Respond to Texts From Strangers Without Ruining Lives

For the most part, though, times like these are rare. It's more likely that your mysterious texter will find him or herself mortified and either send a brief apology or stop responding altogether.

That's right; it is possible to be just as helpful and/or encouraging without spiraling into a deep hole of feelings. Whether your new friend finds out their mistake on their own or hears it straight from you, it will always feel nice to know that someone out there is rooting for you, Be it regarding a new pregnancy or how one gets there in the first place.

How to Respond to Texts From Strangers Without Ruining Lives

Definite Strangers: Screw With Them

So it's come to this. You're positive you don't know this person, so you decide this is a prime opportunity to teach him or her a lesson about thorough contact-entering and attention to detail—more colloquially known as being a dick. Fine, follow your heart. But it's important to be aware that A) there's a human being with real feelings on the other end; B) you have no idea what condition their mental state might be in; and C) keeping B in mind, they have your phone number.

Some of these little text pranks can be (mostly) harmless, like my friend Katherine's below. But when you're receiving messages of the "why is there another girl's bra in our bed" and the "hey come help me bury the body" variety, maybe best to take a few steps back.

How to Respond to Texts From Strangers Without Ruining Lives

So as you can see, there is no perfect response. But by using context clues, gauging the temperament of the messenger, and looking inwardly to discover how much of an asshole you really are, there are ways to minimize your losses—and more importantly, theirs. Of course, you do always have the option of ridding yourself of your phone altogether. After all, abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method against unwanted texts. But then where's the fun in that?

Image: Shutterstock/Andy Dean Photography