Email and Text Subject Lines
December 19, 2010 8:05 AM   Subscribe

New Relationship Filter: My gf sends me several emails and texts w/o subject lines every day. I requested she fill in the subject lines in future messages. Much argument ensued. Please help me sort this out.

I am a male in my 30's and my girlfriend of 2 months is also in her 30's.

My gf likes to send me several messages (photos, videos, links) a day via her iphone. The issue is that she leaves the subject line blank. Today, for example, there were 13 messages and looking at them I can not tell which ones were videos or links to articles. I use labels in Gmail and have created an auto-archiving set up for her messages.

I told her today how much I appreciated her sharing events from her day and the things she finds on the net and suggested she add some information on the subject line, e.g., cat video or winter travel article.

She was angry with my suggestion and said, among other things, that I was being "controlling" and "ridiculous"; that her messages were often sent on the fly and she did not have time to enter a subject line. When I pointed out that she could add a subject line when she was not on the fly so at least those messages had subjects, she seemed to grow more angry and said she was not going to fill in the subject line.

My answer to the claim that I was being controlling was that including a subject line is a standard convention and I did not care how she titled it, just provide some information about whether the message was a video, photo, article, et cetera. I pointed out filling in the subject line is universal in my experience; I do not receive emails from anyone that routinely omit the subject line.

She remains angry at me and insists she will not provide any info on the subject line. I am ok with that, it is not the end of the world, but I am perplexed that her reaction has been so strong and that she rejects what is a universal convention (she said “I don’t!” when I pointed out that everyone I know and have ever heard of fills in the subject line).

So, Ask Metafilter, please give me some unvarnished advice: Am I being unreasonable? Was this a ridiculous request I made? Do people routinely not fill in subject lines on messages sent from iphones? Feel free to address anything you think I may be not getting.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (60 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Clearly this isn't really about the subject line or lack thereof. Why does she feel you're controlling? Does she perceive that in other areas of your relationship? Is it a holdover from your past? What was your tone like when you asked her about the subject line? Be very honest with yourself - was there any condescension (like "everyone knows you should do it this way")?

It doesn't matter if she starts using subject lines or not, because this is just a symptom.
posted by desjardins at 8:11 AM on December 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

I meant "Is it a holdover from her past"
posted by desjardins at 8:12 AM on December 19, 2010

I hardly ever fill in subject lines even when I'm typing on my computer. It's just not something I think about.

The level of freaking out she did seems completely unreasonable to me. If my S.O. wanted me to do something simple like that I'd probably at least offer to try to remember. It's one compromise out of the millions that a successful relationship is made out of. It's like keeping dirty socks off the floor. It's a simple thing that I don't think about, but if it means making him happy then I'll at least try. Because his happiness is important to me.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:12 AM on December 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

I, too, find it very annoying when people don't put subject lines in emails, because it makes it a lot harder for me to go back and find anything after the fact.

I would, however, also totally back up your girlfriend on this. People routinely leave subject lines blank, and that goes double - or triple - for those sent from mobile phones. If these were messages of real significance, it would be different; as it is, dear god, why are you making a big deal about this? "It's a standard convention" is not generally the kind of argument you want to find yourself making to your girlfriend.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:13 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

You're not being unreasonable at all. I often leave out subjects when sending casual emails to people. People have brought it up occasionally, in a playful way. It's kind of crazy to take personal offense to something like this, when I know I'm just being forgetful or lazy. You're not being controlling at all - a more normal response from her would be something like "lol yeah, I know I do that. Sorry. I can't promise you'll get every message with a subject, but I'll try to remember to include something brief."
posted by raztaj at 8:13 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You sound a little nitpicky*, but her response seems overly dramatic (of course we only have one side of the story).

Has she ever reacted this way to anything else before? Have y'all had any spats before that turned this sour, or were they resolved fairly easily? This could be a red flag for how she reacts in the future. A more charitable answer might be that this is not about subject lines, but some other part of the relationship that is bothering her, and flying off the handle about labels is the way that those emotions are coming out (albeit in a non-constructive and bewildering manner).

*(isn't the beauty of gmail that even with auto-labels, you can search all messages for keywords? I just dump all my emails into a "friends" or "parents" folder and use the search function for the content of the messages, the titles have never been an issue. But maybe she's just sticking in a link without any message in the body?)
posted by mostly vowels at 8:15 AM on December 19, 2010

as desjardins says this is a symptom. when she is sharing this info she thinks you will toytally "get" the reason she sent it to you because when she enjoyed that video, joke, file, what have you she thought of you. It's the spontaneity she thinks you're disrespecting not the fact that she didn't put a subject line.

Clearly you 2 have had issues in the past of spontaneity versus X and she feels this is some kind of last straw and has become angry.

A 30 yr old who expresses anger like an 18 year old is the real issue here. Communications between you two are going through proxy, proxy jokes, proxy anger. Question is, do you want to work on the communication and leave off on the "Am I being UNREASONABLY here people? I mean she's acting like a child! AMIRITE?" vibe I'm getting from your question?
posted by Wilder at 8:20 AM on December 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

I agree it's definitely reasonable for you to ask her to include subject lines, and it's worrisome that she reacted in such a disproportionate way.

That said, did you explain to her why you in particular preferred seeing a subject line? I noticed that you wrote a lot about how "everyone" uses subject lines, and I find that talking that way just isn't helpful in relationships. It doesn't really matter what "everyone" or "most people" do or like. It only matters what you and your partner personally prefer. Sometimes those statements about how "everyone" does things come across sounding like unnecessary criticism, and they also lead to debate about whether or not "everyone" does that particular thing, which is just a distraction from the real issue of you expressing your needs/preferences.

If I were you, I'd try asking her in a calm way what made her become so angry when you asked her to include subject lines. I'd probably also say that I felt hurt or confused (or whatever it is you felt) by her response. Maybe you can work out together what's really going on. If she can't talk about it in a calm, reasonable way, then I think this might unfortunately be a sign of some real problems and you might want to think about whether it's worth it to you to continue the relationship.
posted by zahava at 8:20 AM on December 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's unreasonable and kind of ridiculous. If you want her to take the two seconds to add a subject line to her email so that you face less inconvenience when adding labels to her emails, but she doesn't want to comply, then you can take the two seconds to add the label when you first open the email. You want to know if it is an article, funny video, sexy picture? Label it with the subject yourself. FWIW, I often send emails without subject lines when what I'm sending is a brief, one-off funny note or picture. People do not "universally" fill in the subject line all the time (and I know plenty who fill it in none of the time), and you kind of made your girlfriend sound like an asshole who doesn't know how to use The Email by telling her otherwise.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 8:22 AM on December 19, 2010 [8 favorites]

I had a similar conversation with my mom. She likes to reply to my emails and instead of just letting the email client alter the subject [so my email with the subject "plans" would automatically come back with the subject line "Re: plans"] she keeps the "Re" and adds her own subject [so my email with the subject "plans" would come back with the subject line "Re: this weekend"] which breaks gmails threading and is just weird besides.

I mentioned it once. She was a pain about it. I mentioned it again much later and explained why I cared [breaks threading, makes it tough for me to find her emails] omitting the "it's not normal" aspect and framed it more like one of my little twitchy things and she was much more amenable to changing it. People don't like to be told they're doing something wrong when they're using the thing in the normal way. A lot of people don't really feel the etiquette that surrounds online tools, they literally don't see it. So, email clients don't force you to include a subject line, so it's technically optional. Now let me state, I feel your pain and this would make me crazy. That said, this is clearly an issue with your girlfriend for whatever reason so that is your new problem to be solved.

I think I'd try to split the difference. Subjectless emails for little photos, videos, cute little one-offs, but if she's emailing you to talk about something, needs a reply or needs you to notice her email out of an inbox of hundreds of emails, she should probably add a subject. That's compromising.
posted by jessamyn at 8:23 AM on December 19, 2010 [12 favorites]

Ha! Guy & I had exactly this "argument" early in our relationship. He found it annoying and disruptive to have no subjects on the dozen emails I sent a day and I--being overly sensitive to suggestions that I might be Doing it Wrong--was taken aback that it mattered enough for him to suggest I adhere to the Subject Line Rule in the future. In the end, I started labeling my emails One Two Three Four Five cause I understand that his email client doesn't display mails or search mails the same way I do and I understand that he has a huge need for his own organizations structures. But I also have asked--and he tries--that he limit the "hey, I see you doing this activity in This Way but I want you to do it That Way" (which sometimes he phrases as "hey, I see you doing this unimportant activity in This Way but I do it That Way") comments to once a day and sometimes, not at all.

If it's really important to you that she do any particular thing the way you want it done, you need to find a way to ask her to do things that way that don't sound to her like you're telling her what to do. And you need to limit the number of times it matters to you enough to ask her. She also needs to learn how to react to those requests of yours without accusing you of controlling her or being disrespectful of you (provided, of course, that you are not trying to control her or being disrespectful). In short, you both need to let some things go. Conversation and compromise are the only ways through.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:28 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I regularly send and receive e-mails (originating on a computer rather than a phone, incidentally) with either no subject line or, more commonly, a completely contentless subject line such as "hi" or "yo" or "Fryman, we're full of religion now." And let's not forget a chain of emails that diverges to far different topics. In my experience, the only time a content-describing subject is standard practice is with professional e-mails.

Honestly, I've never thought to care. If you're going to read it anyway, why does it matter what title is attached? Especially when Gmail is easily searchable.

So, yes, you're being unreasonable. You can always ask for anything, if done in the right way. But she's not deviating from social norms or standard practice, and it sounds like you're just being anal.

My guess about what prompted her so-called over-the-top reaction: (1) she doesn't react well to being told "you're wrong"; (2) she understands your request as an attempt for you to make it easier to ignore her stupid cat-video emails (it sounds to me like that's what you want) and she's offended by that.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:28 AM on December 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

Literal answers of your questions: no, I don't think it's an unreasonable request. I am surprised by the vehemence of girlfriend's response. I don't ever omit subject lines, and I rarely see anyone else do it. If I did, and my wife asked me to include them, I wouldn't get bent out of shape about it, as, to me, it's a small request that's pretty easy to fulfill.

Perhaps she has some past, negative experiences with this. Maybe it's something people have bugged her about before and she doesn't want to think about it when she's having fun sending you stuff. Maybe someone else in her past bugged her about something similar (spellchecking her emails or whatever), and she wants to be free of that sort of thing in a relationship.

This reminds me of a schism in my social group on Facebook. Most of us are over-educated, Liberal Arts types who proofread everything we write -- even jokey Facebook posts. We're all very quick to jump on misplaced apostrophes and God save ANYONE who spells "you" as "u"!

But a small number of my friends people hate this sort of pendanty. When they're hanging with their friends, they want to RELAX. And, to them, relaxing means not having to worry about dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's. That's something they associate with homework, and having to worry about it when chatting with friends makes chatting with friends more of a pain than a pleasure.

Having said all that: pick your battles, dude! THIS is what you're fighting about? How are you going to deal when one of you gets a job in a new city and asks the other one to move with you? when one of you wants to get married and the other one doesn't? when one of you wants kids and the other doesn't? when one of you is caught cheating? etc.?

Oh, and one more piece of advice: "what most people do" is neither here nor there. Is your here to be able to prove to your girlfriend that she's the only person in the world who omits subject lines? Even though I agree with you that omitting them is odd, if I was your girlfriend, and you proved to me that I was the only one doing this, I'd say, "And?"

Don't try to prove that a loved one is a freak!
posted by grumblebee at 8:29 AM on December 19, 2010 [8 favorites]

She can send you emails without a subject line because as her boyfriend, you're contractually obligated to read them. Another person couldn't do the same because you rely on subject lines to decide whether or not to open them. Your suggestion rejected her interpretation of the closeness of your relationship.

Also, subject lines are just awkward to write and some people hate them. Maybe she wants to send you a surprise cat video, not an explicitly labeled cat video.

Finally, as you're a Gmail user I don't really understand your argument as the Gmail inbox previews the first line of every email, allowing you to see if it's a youtube link or URL or whatnot. Why not star the emails you want to recall and be done with it?
posted by acidic at 8:30 AM on December 19, 2010 [8 favorites]

What client do you use? Do you use gmail? If so, just tag each of her emails -- "photo", "video", etc. -- when you first read it, and Bob's your uncle: another relationship saved by google!
posted by grumblebee at 8:34 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Am I being unreasonable?

No, not at all. It was just a request and as you noted, it's not the end of the world, just something you'd like to happen.

To me, an outside observer on the internets, it seems as though you two have different styles of communicating and remembering affection. She's probably less worried about labeling the thing as opposed to sharing the thing, hence the no subject line. Meanwhile you want to label them, so that you can keep them and refer to them again. I'm guessing that you find her messages sweet and you want to come back to them in the future, just to to be reminded of the sharing that your girlfriend did.

If that's the case, explain it to her why'd like appreciate the addition of the subject line. Paint her messages as keepsakes you treasure (if that's the case) and ask her to her help you keep and remember them.

Baring that, why not just make labels in Gmail, such as GF-cute video, GF-funny link, etc and just organize yourself?

But yes to your larger point, people who send emails without subject lines are uncivilized and should be quarantined from the rest of us until they've gone through Remedial Human Decency 091.
posted by nomadicink at 8:36 AM on December 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

To be honest, I think you are both being unreasonable. She is basically just treating these emails like little text messages, which also don't have a subject, and are simple enough to not need one. You are treating them like some kind of complex burden you have to deal with; why does it really matter what is in the subject line? (And I agree that subject lines are annoying to think up sometimes and mine often just end up being "question".) On the other hand, it seems weird to get so upset about being asked to use subject lines. Perhaps you are either implicitly or accidentally sending the message that you wish she would email you a little less?
posted by advil at 8:37 AM on December 19, 2010 [8 favorites]

It's really impossible to tell what's going on here, but I strongly suspect you're not telling (or maybe even realizing yourself) the whole situation.

Could be: 1) you are controlling in other areas and this one just got to her; 2) she has issues from the past that make her overreact to perceived controllingness; 3) she's really childish and overreacts to any criticism and has anger problems; 4) you said this to her in a condescending way that made it sound like "you're stupid for not adding subjects" and she reacted with anger because she doesn't like being called stupid.

Whatever it is, one thing is for sure: whether or not it is "normal" to add subjects has nothing at all to do with this. It's such a small small request that most couples would just be able to bend in either way -- she adds the subject or you add a tag later. It's a bad sign to have such a huge fight over something that takes basically no effort. There is something else going on here.
posted by yarly at 8:41 AM on December 19, 2010 [8 favorites]

There are probably 500 emails between myself and a friend of mine with the subject line, "Holla." Also popular, "I thought you'd like this," "What's up?" (even though what is up isn't the actual concern of the email), "Hey," "Hi," or really anything at all. I'm sure I've gotten bored and put "Fuzzy Bunnies!" on an email that is nothing to do with bunnies.

If you don't want to watch her cat videos, just make up a new rule: I don't watch YouTube at work. Or I don't do whatever at work, which sounds totally reasonable to any employed human being, and then you can just not watch them. (This is EXACTLY how I get out of being tortured to watch 1,000 videos a day, only because I am the only person on earth, apparently, who finds YouTube to be more annoying than useful or fun.) You can make this rule for yourself, but you can't make her use some system you prefer if she's going to be dug in about it. I mean, really, it's just not life and death. If you're looking for one of her cat videos, I'm guessing searching "Youtube" will suffice. Also, funny cat pictures? Not really all the way up there on anyone's priority list with regard to email sorting systems. Stick it under your "Girlfriend" label or whatever and be done.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:42 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Am I being unreasonable? No. Highly nitpicky, though.
Was this a ridiculous request I made? No.
Do people routinely not fill in subject lines on messages sent from iphones? Yes. People routinely don't use the subject line from desktops, let alone mobile devices.

This was a very weird hill for you to die on.
posted by spaltavian at 8:43 AM on December 19, 2010 [13 favorites]

Yeah, you're being nitpicky. But she's being completely inflexible too. I get many emails in a variety of mailboxes every day (upwards of 200, plus a series of mailing lists I'm on) and filter accordingly. I triage by subject before reading and get either "Question" or "???" "Review" or nothing at all in a handful of emails every day. I look at those last, if at all. I figure people can either make an effort to communicate with me in the most efficient manner or they can wait longer for a response.

The weird thing is, when you go to send a link on an iPhone, it fills in the subject with the title of the page, so it looks like she's taking extra steps to remove the subject.

Her reaction is crazy. At the end of the day, she doesn't have to send a subject, you don't have to read the emails and you don't have to date each other.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:48 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

My guess, as some other have suggested, is that she's taking this request as a sign that you don't actually appreciate all the emails from her. So now she feels defensive about that, and a little bit humiliated, and that's why she flipped out. And no amount of reasoning about subject lines is going to improve this particular emotional state.

General rule, when somebody's emotional response seems way out of proportion: they're responding to something other than what's straight on the surface. In an ideal world, everybody would be self-aware and mature enough to recognize what they're actually responding to, and would verbalize that. But we don't live in that ideal world, and you, as a partner, can be helpful by recognizing signs that somebody feels under attack -- even if you don't understand why! -- and help draw down the situation, make them feel safe, and then figure out what was going on.

If this happens frequently, that's another issue; it means that she's got serious difficulty regulating her emotions, or that you are in fact controlling or whatever and she doesn't know what to do about it, and in some way things are really not working for the two of you.

Best of luck!
posted by wyzewoman at 8:52 AM on December 19, 2010 [11 favorites]

I'm actually with you on this one, OP, and I don't think it's unreasonable, or even nitpicky. I receive an inordinately high volume of e-mail every day and I have a limited amount of time to deal with it. Including a subject line, even if it's "funny" or "hi," gives me SOME idea of what I'm looking at so I can make sure go to through "plans for tonight" or "shop after work?" or "IMPORTANT" first, and save "funny" or "video" for later when I have a little leisure. Is this the issue for you, and can you frame it to her that way?

I will say, I teach as an adjunct at a local college and student routinely FREAK. OUT. when I ask them to include a clear subject line and their last names in the e-mail (since not all of them use the school e-mail system and I have no idea who "Joe123@hotmail" is). They find this controlling, obnoxious, and an impediment to their style of communication. Lucky for me, as their professor, I can tell them I simply delete e-mails without subject lines and ignore ones without last names. Which I do. And part of my annoyance with social e-mails without subject lines stems from dealing with obnoxious student e-mails that don't conform to any norms of communication whatsoever, whereupon those students get extremely upset when I have no idea who they are or what they're talking about. (Real e-mail, when I had four classes, no subject line: "hey, whut's that paper for that class about?" I e-mailed back "what paper? what class? who are you?" and the student got abusive about it because apparently I should psychically know without any clues. That was the straw that broke the camel's back on demanding subject lines and last names at the very least.)

I don't typically say anything about it but if one of my close friends or relatives were sending me 6 or 7 e-mails a day with no subject line, I would definitely mention it because it would be driving me NUTS.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:53 AM on December 19, 2010 [22 favorites]

I had this situation with a friend who didn't subject emails and it was difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. I stopped responding to anything as I didnt have the time to sort through them. After a short time the message was received and important emails were labeled.
posted by buttercup at 8:55 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

But I also have asked--and he tries--that he limit the "hey, I see you doing this activity in This Way but I want you to do it That Way" .

I have a friend who is like that. He will invariably dismiss "my" way of doing things as ridiculous, and ask incredulously how on Earth I cannot be doing it his way (i.e. the only valid way). Example: updating apps as soon as they become available (him) vs waiting a few days when the update is minor (me). Inconsequential, right? Yet, it is A Big Deal.

This drives me so nuts that I refuse to accept any of his suggestions out of pure frustration, and often get disproportionally angry when he starts, even if he may often make quite reasonable suggestions.

Perhaps something similar is going on in your relationship?

As several people have mentioned above, I would also frame your request more in a "this is why it would make my life a lot easier" way than "everyone does it (therefore you're doing it wrong)" way. And, to be honest, you might also want to ask her (one day, when everyone is calm and not het up) if there is a particular reason she reacted that way and if she feels there is a bigger issue, as you were taken aback by her reaction.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:04 AM on December 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think she thinks that you're clicking on her emails the minute they show up, thus appreciating her spontaneous outpouring of affection and warm thoughts. Asking for a subject line means you're waiting to look/read, thus not being all swept away by the mere sight of her email address/phone #. It's a little silly, IMHO, but clearly it matters to her.
Sounds like a scene from a rom-com.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:07 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: comment removed - general "your girlfriend is crazy" or "how to tell that women are crazy" answers are not helpful, considered harmful, and do not answer the question. If your answer does not in some way mention "email" maybe you need to keep it to yourself. Love, the female mod.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:28 AM on December 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

FWIW, I rarely get emails without a subject line and if someone chronically did that, I would likewise ask for one. While I don't think your saying that everyone universally includes a subject line is helpful (and likely to put her on the defensive), it sounds like this came after she called your simple request "ridiculous" and "controlling" (which probably put you on the defensive).

Her dismissive response to your request (assuming you phrased it nicely) would be a red flag to me and I would keep my eyes pierced for others.
posted by murrey at 9:30 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it's an e-mail that needs an answer, you can always add your own subject after the Re:

If you want to be an arse about this, reply with all the quoting/context removed (and no subject), and leave it up to her which message the replies "good idea", "i'm working late", "no I don't think so" and "lol" refer to. But don't be an arse.
posted by scruss at 9:43 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm with your gf on this one, i think introducing issues of email convention and auto-sorting into what is probably to your gf something she is hoping is a fun little quasi-secret way of staying in touch with you is kind of ridiculous and controlling. If I were her, I would interpret your behavior as a gratingly nitpicky rejection, like pointing out spelling mistakes in a love note.

I would have more sympathy with your plight if you phrased your askme as "hey, mefi email geeks, my gf sends me cute messages with no subject lines - who's got a work-around?".

If her overall behavior makes it clear that she's not interested in figuring out what you like, and accommodating that, then that's one thing - but that doesn't sound like what you're saying.
posted by facetious at 10:04 AM on December 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

This is the most ridiculous argument I've ever heard about! I would try to explain to her that you don't want to get her messages confused when you reply to her, and a subject would help if you were checking these emails at work, so at least you know if something totally inappropriate would show up on the screen when you open the message. If I was getting too many emails without subjects I would honestly have trouble replying to them (since I often open an email and then reply later, and it'd be hard to find the exact email I want to reply to without a subject), so this is kind of passive aggressive, but maybe just don't reply to her as much if the lack of subject lines makes it harder to do so. Or as someone else suggested, add your own subject line if it's an email that will be going back and forth - then at least you'll immediately pick out the one that you will need to reply to again.

In general, I live by the rule if something means a lot to someone and it's a simple thing for me to do (for example, add a one-word subject line), I'll do it without fighting it, since it takes only a second of my time but makes the other person happy. But if you go by that same rule and she is REALLY against subject lines for some reason, then just let it go. It just depends on who this issue is more important to.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 10:34 AM on December 19, 2010

Yarly is right. There is something else going on here. I hope the two of you will be able to step back and look at the bigger picture together and figure out what that might be.

In other news, on the right-hand side of emails in Gmail accounts, there is a little paperclip icon when something is attached. Maybe this could help you with preliminary sorting.
posted by aniola at 10:39 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

These silly, casual emails aren't meant to be stored forever. If you just watch the video, read the joke or whatever and then delete them, wouldn't the problem automatically be solved?
posted by hazyjane at 10:41 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm puzzled by the idea of texts with a subject line. Perhaps this is different with different cell providers, but I don't have any way to enter a separate subject line for a text message, and if other people have subject lines on their texts I don't get them on my phone.

I've never heard of a text having a subject line before, so from my perspective the subject line is neither blank or not blank, there simply isn't one.

I rarely see emails without a subject line and it would annoy me if someone sent a number of emails a day and expected me to sort through which ones were youtube videos and which ones were some sort of important information that I needed to respond to. If she sends you messages that she expects you to read sometime soon in addition to funny links, it seems a bit controlling on her part to expect you to look at all of her messages and sort out which ones you might need to reply to or take some sort of action on.

On the other hand, if there are all funny links, I'd find it annoying but it doesn't seem like a big deal -- I'd just figure, oh another message from person X, guess I can ignore that for now.
posted by yohko at 10:46 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the future you could simply say that your SPAM filters don't always allow emails without subject lines.
posted by Gungho at 10:48 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would find getting multiple emails a day without subject lines really annoying, so I wouldn't consider asking the sender to include subjects an unreasonable request. My boss sends me subjectless emails. She gets to and I don't complain about it because she's my boss. "You don't get to complain because I'm your girlfriend" is a rather less healthy relationship dynamic, IMO. Yes, she's your girlfriend, and yes, after discussion the two of you may come to an arrangement where she still doesn't include subjects, but that's not the same as it being unreasonable for you to feel annoyed or bring it up.

That said, certain interactions with my husband got a lot easier once I figured out that phrasing things in terms of "that's how it's done" or "that's how normal people do it" puts his hackles up. Any kind of roundabout, Guess-culture phrasing like "Do you think that shirt's really appropriate for where we're going?" would result in argument, stress, and ill feelings. But I can ask for anything and have him willing to consider the request if I put it in terms of him doing something for me. If I say "Honey, before we go out could you please change your shirt to something dressier, as a favor to me?" he will roll his eyes at me good-naturedly and go change.

Also, consider whether this is an example of underlying traits and tendencies, and this is just where it's manifesting. Does your girlfriend leave the subject line off, figuratively speaking, in other areas of her life? Do you alphabetize and color-code things, figuratively speaking, in other areas of yours? A "yes" answer doesn't mean the relationship is doomed, it's just something useful to be aware of.
posted by Lexica at 11:03 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Unreasonable? No.

Ridiculous? Very much.

If anyone, SO or not, actually took the time to ask me to do something so extraordinarily inconsequential, I'd be like WTF too and I'd be unlikely to do it without a real reason to do so just because I'm ornery like that.

If you have some legitimate reason to need subject lines when you know exactly who it's from, then fine, but it doesn't seem like you do. This particular instance is about as not-a-big-deal as it gets, but arguing to make someone do something that doesn't matter in any way is the purest form of controlling behavior.
posted by cmoj at 11:06 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're being nitpicky and kinda micromanaging, she's being melodramatic. I think this is a very weird battle you've chosen, though.

She can send you emails without a subject line because as her boyfriend, you're contractually obligated to read them. Another person couldn't do the same because you rely on subject lines to decide whether or not to open them.


(Warning: When she wraps your Xmas/Winter Holiday presents, she may not put a To/From tag on them. Remain calm. She knows which ones are for you.)
posted by desuetude at 11:30 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received about an argument is to ask yourself whether you'd rather be right or happy about it.

Let it go. You're a smart guy, and you can figure a gmail filter setup that routes her mail correctly.
posted by ikaruga at 11:53 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think your request is unreasonable. If you get a lot of mail, you want to know what is an actual message from her and what is a silly video. This can be important when you are at work. However, framing it as "everyone else who sends me email does it" is not good. Why should that matter to her? You should just be able to explain without bringing what other people do into it: "I save all your mail in a folder, but when I want to go back and read something you sent me that I enjoyed, I don't have a quick way to find it." Or "since I don't know what you've sent me, I have to wait until lunch or break to go through your emails."

Her reaction was over the top, but I don't think your reasons were very persuasive. No one wants to hear someone tell them that they should care that they are not behaving like "everyone else".

Texts don't need subjects. I don't even have that option in a text.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:55 AM on December 19, 2010

My boyfriend and I both like a number of subjects. Still, I know that because I send him four emails a day that have things related to those subjects attached, I have to "sell" them in order to make sure that they don't get ignored and forgotten about. He reads all the emails I send with actual words and my thoughts in them, he just has to have some motivation to click on links I send.

Also, I think it is potentially problematic to not include a description of the link. What if you accidentally click on a link with video that auto-plays while you're in a quiet library? Or what if she sends you a NSFW thing at your at W? Etc, etc.

I think it is disrespectful of others time to not include a brief description of why I want people to look at the thing I'm sending to them. For example, "Here are some examples of beanplating recipes you requested" or "This is literally the cutest LOLcats site I've ever seen". It takes 10 seconds whether she is on her phone or on her computer.

I would not make a fuss about it, but just quietly stop reading the emails she sends with untitled links.

you didn't ask this, but I would also be questioning my choice in a girlfriend. Her freaking out about this seems pretty over the top from a person you've been dating for 2 months and would make me think about the implications for how she'll deal with conflict and how able she is to compromise in the future
posted by arnicae at 12:18 PM on December 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

While your request is, objectively, quite reasonable, this is exactly the kind of issue that is very sensitive to the tone of your request. It is, frankly, such a small benefit to you that unless you broach the issue in a manner exactly as serious as the importance of her behavior. I suspect that you didn't do this, because you clearly think that not only are you Right, but that she is Wrong in her behavior. She noticed this even before you pointed out that it is "universal in (your) experience" that people use subject lines, based on reading between the lines of what you said or wrote. I would be surprised if she weren't reacting far more to that judgement than the particular behavior which you focus on.

If I were you, I'd suggest trying to imagine how she views these emails and texts. What is important to her about them? Is that conveyed in what she does? Is it balanced by the situation in which she sends them? Remember that these messages aren't viewed exactly the same way to both of you, and thus the way you want them to be shaped is going to be different. Respect that.
posted by Schismatic at 12:21 PM on December 19, 2010

"Just let it go" is practical advice, I guess, but I'm not sure it is prudent advice. A relationship based on choosing battles isn't built on affection, trust and respect, but on tolerating the other person's behavior because you still profit in the end. When one person's ability to let it go disappears, there is no relationship left.

What I would be worried about is how the argument played out. Neither of you seemed interested in a compromise. A minor thing turned into a major thing. That's weird.

One might look at her insistence on not including the subject as her own control issue, or brand of insecurity. If there is no subject, you are forced to open the email and figure out what it is about. You can't temporarily ignore them because that risks missing something Important. If she included subjects, that would give you permission to ignore the less important ones. And, if this theory is correct, that means that she isn't the Most Important Thing All The Time, Forever. Further evidence of this mindset might be how she handles voice mail. Does she leave messages? Or expect that you call back simply because she is in the missed call list? Or are the messages "call me" with no context?

On the other hand, it might be how YOU presented it. Tone trumps good intentions, every time. As does timing. If you are going to ignore something once, you better be prepared to ignore it forever, because "hey, that thing you do that I never mentioned before really bothers me" is a very disconcerting thing to hear.

("Subject:" commentary: This is why email programs need to prompt for a subject if there isn't one, or automatically insert one. Sending a link should automatically include the page title, a picture should include the picture name. Maybe there is an option in the phone that will do this?)
posted by gjc at 12:30 PM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had a client who insisted on doing this all of the time and it drove me crazy.

In person, I told the client that I was getting spam from other sources that all had no subject line, so I was therefore diverting all received emails without subjects into the trash.

That ended that. No future problems.
posted by imjustsaying at 12:47 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing that some guys I have dated tend to do is that they don't understand that if we get into a big argument about a small thing, it's probably not that I am irrationally bent out of shape over this thing. It's that it's part of a growing list of stuff that is bothering me, and all of it points to an issue that must be addressed.

Controlling behavior is a perfect example of something like this. No, it doesn't bother me that much that you made small request X. It's that last week you made small request Y, and before that came small requests Z, W, V, and T, and at this point I'm feeling like you are officially dominating my life.

Also, if this is truly about the email subject line for you, and it is really ripping you apart that she won't do this, you need to take a step back, a deep breath, and possibly a break from your computer. Because wow. Yeah. So not important.
posted by Sara C. at 1:34 PM on December 19, 2010

while we don't know the whole story here because it's obvious that email subjects lines weren't really the reason your gf reacted so strongly, her adamant, impetuous, and immature reaction should put up a red flag of which you best get to the bottom. if i were you, i'd ask her—when things are calmer—why she reacted in the way that she did over and that i was concerned that her reaction to something so relatively minor could be indicative of a pattern of how she deals with other situations in the future, situations involving far more important issues. because to me, this isn't about how she reacted to your request that she subject her emails, this is about how she may deal with conflict in your relationship—and if she is going to just shut down and shut you down every single time you bring up an issue, or unilaterally deciding this isn't something that the both of you can work out a compromise on, then you have a far bigger problem than not being able to sort/organize her emails.

but i also agree with the others that next time you need to make a request of someone, better to couch it as: this is a quirk that i have and it would be a favor to me if you could indulge that, rather than: this is how everybody else in the world (but you apparently) does it.
posted by violetk at 1:39 PM on December 19, 2010

next time you need to make a request of someone, better to couch it as: this is a quirk that i have and it would be a favor to me if you could indulge that, rather than: this is how everybody else in the world (but you apparently) does it.


I was once in an emotionally abusive relationship. One of the key symptoms of the abuse was that anytime I did anything that wasn't 100% the way he would have done it, down to the tiniest thing, he responded by bringing me down a peg. Usually by insisting that I was objectively WRONG, that I was the only ignorant weirdo who did it that way, and that his knowledge of the CORRECT approach made him a better person than me.

Examples included the way in which I performed inconsequential computer tasks, by the way.
posted by Sara C. at 1:52 PM on December 19, 2010

This would drive me totally insane, and I would probably set up a filter to send every email without a subject straight into my spam folder (it's usually spam anyway, because you're 100% right, it is considered common goddamned courtesy to include a subject). You are not being unreasonable at all. I agree with other posters that she is the one being controlling, expecting you to treat her cat video emails with the same rapt attention as the important emails.

I would also be very put off that she called this tiny, tiny request "controlling" - it's a token gesture, and if she can't even do that, what else will she be utterly unable to compromise on? A partnership is a give and take. Now, if you're constantly making these kinds of requests, or if your tone is hectoring or dismissive, then yeah, it's definitely time to dial that back. But if this is how she reacts to the smallest, easiest request, one that costs her nothing and improves your quality of life, then I would be reconsidering a long-term relationship where you have to be able to rely on each other. To her, it may seem "inconsequential" - but only because she is ignoring the effect her actions have on you, and refusing to take you at face value when you say it bothers you.
posted by dialetheia at 2:11 PM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm answering without reading the other answers so as to not color my initial reaction... I'd say she thinks anything she sends you should be important enough for you to read, and also, why do your organizational systems trump how she has always sent emails? It seems like it's about feeling important and special to you - she wants what she sends you to be looked at because SHE sent it, not as part of your "videos to watch" gmail tag. The reaction may have been a little much though, but she may be projecting other behaviors of yours that make her feel not-so-important to you into this one issue. Apologies if this has already been said 27 times..
posted by annie o at 2:31 PM on December 19, 2010

I think it's utterly reasonable to ask that she include a subject on emails, as a favor to you. It's not much effort to put "funny video" or whatever in the subject line. However, I think it's rude and unproductive to make that request by saying that "normal people" do it and so should she. I really wonder if that's what she was bristling at. I tend to accommodate requests like, "hey, I have this weird thing where I just can't keep track of Facebook messages. Could you just email me next time?" whereas, "Could you just email me like a normal person?" would get a hurt, defensive response. I'm not saying her reaction was necessarily proportionate to the offense, but your attitude of "normal people do X" isn't helpful.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:42 PM on December 19, 2010

I would find it irritating to get emails with subject lines which call attention to a steady stream of totally frivolous, obviously personal email. It's not forbidden to get personal emails at work, but I'd still prefer it to be discreet.
posted by desuetude at 3:59 PM on December 19, 2010

For what it's worth, I get lots of e-mails from my students that are formally "replies" to e-mails I sent months ago but are actually about unrelated topics. I suspect the students just look for an e-mail from me and hit "reply". Since I use the subject line properly, these e-mails generally bear subject lines that make no sense in context, and often scare me into thinking they're resurrecting some old long-ago point.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:42 PM on December 19, 2010

Yeah, how about no subject line = goes into some other folder you check only once in a while? Then, when she's like,"did you see the xxxxx email I sent you?" you can just say "oh, no, it prob went into the 'no subject line' folder."

Perhaps then there will be subjects in the future. (perhaps not)
posted by exlotuseater at 10:22 PM on December 19, 2010

Maybe it's a situation where you have to be there to get it, but from the sound of this question -- you sound like you're being a little weird about something as totally minor as subject lines and she sounds like she's being a little defensive (why? is this a symptom of something else going on between you two?).

FWIW, the only time I ever care about subject lines is professional email and that coming from companies, in that I'd find it a little off-putting if Walmart emailed me with "(no subject)," but I really don't care if my mom/fiancé/friend does the same.

Can't you just have all emails from your girlfriend appropriate labeled, or filed, or whatever that will suit your needs so you can just avoid this whole thing?
posted by asciident at 2:05 AM on December 20, 2010

I don't think I've seen it so far, but emails which have no subject line are annoying because often mail programs tend to group them (as part of their threading) all together.

If you have separate subject lines then several threads can be running and the mail program you use will happily keep them apart. As soon as threads stop having subject lines then they all get mashed in together and it makes it a right pain in the backside to keep track of what is being said.

To be honest though, I doubt this line of reasoning will help so I suggest (like others have) working out some kind of mail rule to work around her behaviour.
posted by mr_silver at 4:31 AM on December 20, 2010

I've been saved from my husband's mother's habit of this by the GMail Message Preview function. If she leaves the subject blank - presto chango! - more room for a preview of whatever mail forward she's sending out today.

It's in the Settings menu > General > Snippets.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:57 AM on December 20, 2010

Her being initially angry at your first request is something I cannot really explain because there isn't enough information there. What's missing is your tone and other aspects of your relationship and/or if you did something to set her off already or if she generally gets a controlling vibe from you. So maybe take a moment to think about that, as others have suggested. Has that kind of claim ever been made at you in another relationship?

Anyway, with that said, this:

My answer to the claim that I was being controlling was that including a subject line is a standard convention and I did not care how she titled it, just provide some information about whether the message was a video, photo, article, et cetera. I pointed out filling in the subject line is universal in my experience; I do not receive emails from anyone that routinely omit the subject line.

This was not a good argument to make and though I don't know why she got angry at first, I certainly know why she's angry now. It sounds like your entire point is that you want her to do something because it is the done thing. That would drive me just absolutely insane. It also isn't any kind of answer to her claim that you're being controlling, even if you think it is.

A better thing to say would be that you get so many messages from her and sometimes you'll want to go to a specific one to show a particular photo off, or what have you, and it'd make it easier to find with a subject line.

An even better thing to say would be nothing, because this is really not important and is absolutely not worth fighting over.


I am perplexed that her reaction has been so strong and that she rejects what is a universal convention (she said “I don’t!” when I pointed out that everyone I know and have ever heard of fills in the subject line).

Really think about this.

You're perplexed that she rejects a universal convention.

Let's look at that in different terms.

Instead of rejecting a universal convention, let's call it: There's a thing that most people do when sending email, but she doesn't.

When we put it that way, it doesn't sound so deliberate. My guess is that this is a force of habit she has, that doing it a different way would involve retraining herself out of what is by now a more or less automatic set of actions, and she doesn't see how this would be important enough to warrant that. For what it's worth, neither do I. It's not that you don't have the right to care about it - you absolutely do - but that it's just such a tiny thing.

Anyway I agree with the commentors who've said that this is more likely to be a symptom of something larger in your relationship. It sounds like you're a very structured person who needs a certain amount of order and predictability in your life, and it sounds like maybe she is not like that. Consider that, and work from there.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:58 AM on December 20, 2010

It's not an unreasonable request, but it could be the way you're phrasing it to her. Not sure if the same thing is going on in your relationship, but as an anecdote, this reminds me of an ex I had who would calmly ask very small and rational requests of me, but say it in a way that conveyed, "Because everyone does it this way. You are a freak for thinking otherwise and you are wrong. This is universal because everyone I've ever known does it this way, therefore, I am right." Please consider if you are conveying this message, because it kind of sounds like it. Yes, subject lines are common, but no, it is not universal. You could be talking to her in a belittling and judgmental way, which could have led her to act in a way that seems like overreacting.
posted by lacedcoffee at 11:45 AM on December 20, 2010

Once upon a time, it was understood by everyone who knew there way around the internet (of course the ignorant masses had no clue) that emails without subjects were all spam.

Recently, I've seen some incidents where spam has been hitting a mailing list, and it's all the result of malware on some member's computer, and it all is sent without a subject line.

There are certain people for whom convention is anathema. These are the people who would declare another person "controlling" for wanting subject lines to always be used.

Sometimes, it is cute, even attractive and positive, when people eschew convention. Other times, it is only a sign of immaturity.

She can't be bothered to use subject lines, and she makes a stink about it. This is not a person who respects the time you use to pay her (and her emails) attention.

Personally, I could never take such a person very seriously, and therefore, such a relationship would be doomed.
posted by Goofyy at 3:13 AM on December 21, 2010

How to create filters in Gmail

Filters I would suggest for you:

- From: girlfriend AND Has the words: --> Apply the label: entertaining-diversion
- From: girlfriend AND Has the words: cuteoverload --> Apply the label: entertaining-diversion
- From: girlfriend AND Has the words: controlling OR ridiculous --> Always mark it as important
posted by heatherann at 3:58 PM on December 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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