Matthew Rozsa discusses his single biggest pet peeve – the freeze out.
I know I’ve tackled this subject before, and that article proved to be one of my least successful for this site. Nevertheless, every so often a writer needs to discuss what’s on his mind even if his audience doesn’t much care to hear it, so hear I go:
I am sick and tired of the freeze out.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “freeze out” is when someone simply refuses to respond to your phone calls/emails/other attempts at correspondence instead of directly telling you why they have animosity. It is, by far, my biggest pet peeve when it comes to social interactions. This may be partially related to the fact that I’m autistic, since people with my condition flounder in situations that lack candor (as I discuss here), but whenever I float my frustration among my informal brains trust, I find that the majority share my view. Sure, there are a few who make excuses for the practice (perhaps because they do it themselves?), but most seem to agree that it’s selfish, insulting, and annoying. At the same time, most seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that it isn’t going to stop.
They may be right, but this particular peeve grinds my gears so badly that I feel compelled to issue one final roar of protest against it.
Here is my case, in no particular order:
1. Freezing someone out should be the exception, not the rule.
There are only three situations in which a freeze out is acceptable: If you’ve never interacted in depth with the other party before, in which case they are essentially a stranger to you; if you feel threatened by them, either physically or emotionally; or if you’ve already made it clear that you don’t wish to interact with them anymore and they refuse to accept that.
That’s it. This isn’t to say that I believe you should be obligated to stay in touch with someone with whom you wish to sever contact, but you are obligated to directly tell them that you’re going to cut ties. If they don’t accept that, then a freeze out is appropriate.
2. When you freeze someone out, you’re assuming that they’re a mind-reader.
There are four types of situations in which I’ve been frozen out: By girlfriends/possible romantic interests, present and/or past and/or potential employers/colleagues, friends/acquaintances with whom I’ve had an argument, and businesses with whom I am interacting. Based on my conversations with friends, I would add a fifth category that doesn’t apply to my situation – i.e., kids and other family members (my family, thankfully, doesn’t pull that nonsense).
Regardless of who implements a freeze out and why, though, all of them commit the cardinal sin of assuming that you’ll be able to read their mind and deduce why they’re doing it. The biggest excuse I’ve heard for freezing people out is that “they’ll take the hint,” but because you haven’t communicated your motives, they don’t necessarily know what’s happening at all. There are people who don’t check their email very often, or are so overwhelmed with emails that they regularly miss important ones. While I’m pretty at emailing myself, I can own up to occasionally being iffy with phone calls – I won’t see that a person’s called, forget to check text messages and voice mails, etc. Aside from absent-mindedness, there are also people who genuinely need more time to reply. Even though the norm is to follow a “24 hour rule,” there are individuals who need three or four times that span before they can feel comfortable getting back to you. Sometimes they suffer from social anxiety or, hey, are actually busy. Did you know that having a life was a thing?
The point is that, unless you actually tell someone that you’re upset with them, it is self-absorbed to assume that they’ll figure it out on their own, because there are always perfectly reasonable explanations for why someone may take a long time to respond.
3. Freezing someone out isn’t just insulting, it’s cruel.
This brings me to my biggest problem with the freeze out – namely, that it can inflict emotional torture on its subject.
That may sound hyperbolic, but really think about it. How have you felt when you contacted someone (whatever the reason) whose response meant a great deal to you, only to wait… and wait… and wait… and wait? Do you remember how the speculation ran through your head as to what might be going on on their end? How you weren’t sure whether you should follow up with them or risk looking like a nag?
No one deserves to go through that, and in a society that viewed the “freeze out” as cowardly (which is the proper interpretation), it wouldn’t happen because the prevailing assumption would be that if you didn’t respond right away, you probably have a good reason. After all, only a bad person would just drop off the face of the earth instead of telling you that something was wrong… in a society that valued basic human decency over convenience, that is.
Because, when you get right down to it, this is a call for a return to basic human decency. It’s the idea that every human being deserves to be acknowledged, even if only to inform them that one’s acknowledgment shall soon go no further. That I have to write an essay on this concept is profoundly troubling to me, but I’ve got this platform and I’m not just going to use it to take down Donald Trump.
I mean, I will be taking him down quite a bit in the future, but today I’m not going to focus on just that particular rude person. I’m going to discuss a broader class of them who, for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to knock down a peg.