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.
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*
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.”
Secret work groups
Work email is no longer a thing. It’s too… official. Want to flout HR’s watertight social media policy? WhatsApp to the rescue! Workmates are going underground to share outré opinions, slag off the tea bags in the “shared breakout area” (one clapped-out toaster and a flock-patterned feature wall) and lightly bully each other – the kind of conversations even the office Slack dare not host. The bubble usually bursts around Christmas time, when one excitable colleague gets on the complimentary house red and blurts out a WhatsApp-only secret. It’s over, shut it down. And update your CV.
Say Whatever you like, but don’t forget to give all bosses codenames.
Don’t say “Hi, this is Ciaran from HR – I think you added me by mistake a couple of weeks ago?” Not cute, mate. Not. Cute.
The travel organisers
Starting with an ominous “SO GUYS…” the group’s self-appointed senior planner – someone who likes “icebreakers” and company away days – gets to work. Whether they’re arranging a stag or hen weekend, a group holiday or, worse, a wedding, buckle in for repeated deposit requests, “I’ll be online from 3am looking for flights”, “Guys, are we definitely skipping life drawing? What about paintballing?” and rumblings about differing income levels within the group.
Not going and never intended to anyway? Cool, but it’s not over for you. Leaving the group makes you a buzzkill, so you’ll have to endure the endless preamble of, “I’m on my way! Line me up a Singapore sling!”, drunken pics of the basics on tour, and banter-packed, hungover reminiscences as everyone makes their way home.
Say “Sounds great. Such a shame I can’t make it. Have fun.” Then throw your phone into a body of water.
Don’t say “Let me know how much and I’ll see you at the airport.” Again: Phone. Throw. Splash.
WhatsApp’s curse? Any group set up for a specific purpose soon descends into chaos, like “off-topic general discussion” internet forums of yore. Glued to headphones all day, we’re so starved of ephemeral, inconsequential chitchat that even the most specialist of groups – “Enthusiasts of correct orientation for text on a PowerPoint slide” – will soon brim with restaurant recommendations, reviews of last weekend’s Strictly and murky political opinion. Oh, and gifs: there’s always someone who responds to a serious question with a Real Housewives gif. Does this mean yes? Or no? This lack of focus necessitates, eventually, the creation of another group – “TEXT ORIENTATION ONLY PLS” – which goes brilliantly until Anwar from the Wakefield office digs out that gif again.
Say “Great! Big fan of centred text for headings.”
Don’t say “Slightly off-topic, but…”
Bitchy splinter groups
Daunting fact: whichever WhatsApp group you’re in, there’s an offshoot dedicated to slagging everyone off. Sometimes you want to bitch about the bitching. And, yeah, Mark is really annoying, isn’t he? And screw what Julia said just now, amiright?!
Flipping between the two requires wily efficiency and sharp attention to detail, so you don’t drop a truth bomb in the wrong thread. What’s that? Your group doesn’t have a toxic tributary? I have some bad news: the call is coming from inside the house.
Say “I just think Phil’s gif of me spilling tomato juice down myself was in poor taste. He’s a bastard. And so is everyone else, except us.”
Don’t say “I’ve screenshotted EVERY word and I am messaging this to Phil NOW.”
Same old arguments – unpaid council tax, washing-up rotas, pleas to stop leaving boxer shorts on the bathroom floor – but this time with the added drama of distance and technology, bitchy digs sent out into the ether and met with deafening silence, with nobody daring to break as the anxiety ticks stack up. See also the drunken message sent out at closing time warning you your housemate will be “bringing a few mates back” or, “I’ve pulled, so best wear some earplugs.”
Forewarned is forearmed, and WhatsApp is the perfect set-up for a fiery showdown in the shared kitchen. One could almost become wistful for a good old-fashioned passive-aggressive note taped to the fridge.
Say “Sorry about last night. How about a big house dinner to make it up to you guys?”
Don’t say “Dunno who owned that chablis in the fridge, but it’s given me gut-rot.”
Now that child-rearing is a vocation, rather than something people do to fill up their spare bedrooms, social media is essential for successful, performative parenting. That NCT or nursery group WhatsApp chat might start off as a place to share useful advice, cute pics or meet-up dates, but it’s soon a hive of birthsplaining, endless comparison and thinly veiled poisonous pile-ons.
Members lacking, perhaps, regular adult conversation and all sense of nuance means even the most innocent tips or pointers are dismissed with acidic jokes, boasting, gaslighting and derisive contradictions starting, “Well, actually…” until it’s all-out war.
Say “Proud mummy!” “Just gorgeous! Well done!” “What would we do without your tips, Stephanie?”
Don’t say “Actually I’m FINE with my Hugo’s vocabulary and BTW, Stephanie, your Lola looks like John Bercow.”
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