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April 6, 2011 11:07 AM   Subscribe

You all have met some of those non-responsive people in your life. You engage in a rather personal and/or meaningful cyber-conversation and ask open-ended, non-intrusive questions. After a few exchanges, bam, suddenly, no reply, no apology, no nothing.

I assume it’s probably one of these reasons,

- Not a fan of e-mails
- Too occupied with life: be it school, work, family, love life, leisure, etc.
- Receive too many e-mails per day, and mine isn’t as important
- My e-mail was a bit too long for them
- They have nothing to comment on my previous e-mail
- They don’t know how to answer some of those questions
- I unintentionally offended them?
- They (esp. younger people) think it’s okay not to answer
- Doesn't feel like replying
- Too much pressure?

The multiple approaches I tried to increase the likelihood to get an answer,

- I condense my e-mails
- I wait reasonably for days.
- I don’t follow up or bring up this issue even met later in person (If they mention it, I tell them it's okay)
- I show them I’d like to be treated with respect (e.g.: I inform them if I can’t reply within a certain period of time, I thank them for their patience and I apologize for the delay. I keep my promises. I use polite language and am usually in a courteous manner)
- When they decide give a selective response (i.e.: ignores a huge portion of my e-mail), I don’t complain or criticize. I hint and encourage. I tell them it’d be wonderful to continue our unfinished conversation. I also tell them I’m glad to hear from them or I’d like to hear more.

I’ve noticed a pattern that the more understanding I am, the more likely they will repeat this behaviour. Many of them also develop a chronic lateness problem. Some of them get really impatient/unhappy when I can’t reply right away. I clearly remember when we first met, none of the annoying behaviours existed. I think maybe I’m responsible for this. I feel helpless and frustrated.

Should I just bluntly say, when am I going to hear from you/do I get a reply/are you gonna reply me or what? Is that too pushy? What if I asked and still have no replies from people?

Gurus, please point me to the right direction. Much appreciated!
posted by easilyconfused to Human Relations (38 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sometimes the emails just come too often, too regularly. Back in the day of mailed correspondence, there was a necessary hiatus between communications. Even at its fastest, there would be a good four days between mailing a letter and receiving a response.

Even people I like and enjoy spending time with it can get a little overwhelming to always have a new email from them as soon as I write to them. With people like this, I get into the habit of waiting a week or two between emails just so it doesn't feel as continuous. This is particularly the case with people who regularly send me long emails that require extremely in-depth responses. Sometimes when I shelve an email, intending to write back in a week to two weeks, I forget to reply. I feel bad about it, but secretly relieved, because having super-long emails waiting for me every day from a particular person gets old fast.
posted by arnicae at 11:15 AM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


One approach you've left out is 'not care so much'. Seriously, people can sense when you have a real strong grip on their attention, regardless of whether you guard against that or not. Some people don't like to feel as though they're held captive this way. I bet if you find other things to care about, the person who's attention you want might actually step into *your* world to get yours. And if they don't, well, you've found other things to occupy your time.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:18 AM on April 6, 2011 [16 favorites]


Oh, and also! Sometimes people I know casually or not at all contact me with questions or comments about a particular topic. I'll frequently reply in depth and sometimes at some length, expecting that I am answering questions rather than starting a dialogue.

If the correspondent replies to my answers in equal depth, I swiftly tire of the exchange, because I only wrote in the first place to be polite and useful, offering my knowledge or insights about a particular subject, not because I had any interest in a conversation about the topic.
posted by arnicae at 11:18 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


One more thing...you sound like what I call an overspecifier (I'm an overspecifier)...you ping people to get a sense of where the boundaries are rather than carefully inching your way forward. It's nice because it's quicker for you, but it's bad because it's intrusive on them. And you can end up doing more triage and damage control than the slower, safer method.

The trick is, once you've found out where the tipping point is with someone (where they stop engaging, responding with you), you have to STOP. Scale back and stop pushing the boundary. It's there for a reason.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:22 AM on April 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


I agree with "not care so much". It's been my approach to dealing when people don't respond as often/quickly as I might like.

I don't like it when people act as if I owe them my time and attention, so I try not to feel as if anyone owes me theirs. I'm much happier that way.
posted by nat at 11:24 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


i think i'm confused by your question's ambiguity. are you talking about work colleagues, friends, potential friends, potential romantic interests? i think context is very important in this category in terms of expectations.

and generally speaking, i think having high expectations (aka, caring too much, as folks above have referred to) can only lead to frustration. with more and more ways to connect to people through technology, we have an expectation these days of instant access. i intentionally do not respond to people right away sometimes because i want to focus more on my sweetie, my work, time for myself. just because i have a cell phone or an email account or an iphone or an xyz-machine, doesn't mean i need to check it all the time. it's a boundary that i have set up for myself. additionally, because there are so many ways to contact people, i think messages get lost in the blizzard and it can take someone time to respond (or they may lose track of your message all together).

again, if this is work or with someone you are romantically involved with, or a good friend, i think reasonable communication about a delayed response may be appropriate. and i also think breathing, not caring as much, relaxing on your part can help.
posted by anya32 at 11:28 AM on April 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


I am terrible at correspondence. Like, really, really bad. I have I-can't-even-begin-to-tell-you-how-many emails, facebook wall posts, facebook messages, whatever that have never been answered. It's not because I don't like the person contacting me.

The biggest factors that contribute to my lack-of-response:

1) It's someone I haven't talked to in a while. A short note feels too dismissive. Logically, I know a short "oh hey good to hear from you" is better than nothing, but ideally I'd like to catch up. However, at the time I receive a note, if I don't have the time or energy to compose a long reply, I put it aside.

2) I forget about it. I'll see that someone emailed me/wrote on my wall, and the above goes through my head. "I'll get to it tomorrow," I think to myself, but then by tomorrow I've forgotten about it completely. A few weeks later, I'll come across it again while looking for something else, and then it's just too long ago/awkward to reply. (Again, logically, it's probably still better to reply, but I'm an awkward person.)

3) If it's someone I've been talking to frequently, if I don't respond it's because I've got nothing going on and nothing interesting to say. So I set it aside to wait until I have something worthwhile to write back with, but as it happens, this sometimes reverts back to case #2, and then sometimes I'll even forget about it for so long it becomes a case #1.

So if you're in email contact with a person like me, please remember that it's not about you. This is my problem, and it's not meant to reflect on how I feel about you at all. The best thing you can do is send a (short, oh god please short) email when you don't hear back from someone and just say, "hi, how's it going." That way, the pressure will be off to craft some huge response, and the lines of communication can be casually opened again.
posted by phunniemee at 11:31 AM on April 6, 2011 [31 favorites]


Don't worry about it. You didn't do anything wrong. But you can't rely on other people to make you feel good. Whatever you hoped to get out of those email exchanges, try to give it to yourself. The possibilities of communication on the Internet are confusing--you can push a button to contact someone instantly, which makes it seem like they're very available but really they might not be emotionally available to you. And the communication can seem intimate, but really it's often just confusing because it's too easy to project your own feelings onto naked lines of text and there's just no way of knowing how real the interaction is. Don't worry about it and treat yourself to something nice today to cheer yourself up if you need to.
posted by Paquda at 11:33 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


To be honest, your post gives me the impression that you're writing an unreasonable amount of "rather personal and/or meaningful" emails. It sounds like you're writing these to a lot of people - and if you've tried all of those techniques, you must be writing a lot of these emails.

There aren't tons of people who I want to have "rather personal and/or meaningful" conversations with, and I'd almost always rather do it in person or via some method other than email. Unless this email exchange is for some explicit reason (i.e. counseling a friend in need, giving specific advice) I'd probably stop answering after a few exchanges too - I don't think you can do much about this.

(Of course, there is always the possibility that I'm misinterpreting your question and you only send 100% appropriate emails to people who are actually interested in this sort of exchange. Hard to say for sure on MetaFilter)
posted by ripley_ at 11:40 AM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


It sounds like sometimes you may be doing "too much, too soon." What may seem non-intrusive to you may indeed be intrusive to the other.

I would say "when are you going to answer" is really pushy. In my opinion, please don't do it. You're worrying if you are pressuring the person, and saying that is incredibly pushy, needy, and pressuring.
posted by xtine at 12:06 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Responding to big emails is a lot of work. It takes a lot of work to read them, digest them, decide what to say and what not to say, and how to say it and NOT say it, if you get my meaning.

On top of that it sounds like you are expecting the other person to take the lead in the conversation, with your open-ended non-intrusive questions. And I bet you still have lots of framing in your emails, where you try to pre-spin what they say or secure your point of view in so deeply that the other person has to either ignore it or spend a thousand words relaying foundation. You are probably stealth-pushing your reality onto them. (Nothing personal about you, everyone does this.)

So yeah, it's a lot of fucking work. Consciously or not, people are going to assess the return on investment. Is this going to lead to fun or money? Or, they will conclude: if you all enjoy being together in person, email is irrelevant—and if you all don't, email is still irrelevant. So either way, there's no point to email.

Ultimately, most people, almost all people, don't have the time and energy to invest in sustained, wordy correspondence. It can be difficult to find the right mutual level of giving-a-fuck with people. Good luck.
posted by fleacircus at 12:25 PM on April 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


You have to right to expect any particular form or quantity of communication from anyone. They have to want to communicate with you. So the question is, why should they want to?
posted by yarly at 12:27 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I mean, you have NO right to expect any particular communication ... )
posted by yarly at 12:28 PM on April 6, 2011


I am exactly like phunniemee.

The thing is, your email isn't the only one I'm procrastinating getting back to. There are tons -- particularly in my industry, where I'm contacted by strangers daily, on top of friends and family. So every single day, there are Facebook messages and wall posts and phone calls and text messages and Tweets and oh my god, they just keep on coming, and I swear they're making me more introverted instead of the opposite. As soon as I'm ahead and I give myself a break, they stack up again.

I know I should respond as soon as I read them. But each takes a certain level of emotional energy to deal with, and while I love you, responding to your long, thoughtful email takes the most by far. If I could get back to five people waiting on me in that same space, I'll do it. Or finish that outstanding guest blog post. Or that interview. Or something else I'm putting off.
posted by changeling at 12:45 PM on April 6, 2011


I agree with the others who've said more information is needed.

You engage in a rather personal and/or meaningful cyber-conversation and ask open-ended, non-intrusive questions. After a few exchanges, bam, suddenly, no reply, no apology, no nothing.

Who are these people you (think you) know well enough to ask "rather personal and/or meaningful" questions, but whom you don't know well enough to be straightforward in your communication with them?

Some of the items on your list of possible reasons stand out to me.

- Not a fan of e-mails

Quite possibly. If you're guessing at this, you must not know them well enough to know how they feel about email.

- Too occupied with life: be it school, work, family, love life, leisure, etc.
- Receive too many e-mails per day, and mine isn’t as important
- My e-mail was a bit too long for them


All possible, and possibly related: they receive too many emails a day and are busy with life and your email was too long.

- They have nothing to comment on my previous e-mail

If they have nothing to comment on, why should they reply? Why do you have an expectation that they should?

- They don’t know how to answer some of those questions
- I unintentionally offended them?


What on earth are you asking these people (whom you apparently don't actually know all that well) that they wouldn't know how to answer or would consider offensive?

- They (esp. younger people) think it’s okay not to answer
- Doesn't feel like replying


Again, why would it not be okay not to answer? More context, please.

- Too much pressure?

That's the bell that's going off for me. I have friends I value highly enough that I'd be willing to donate a kidney, if they needed one and we were compatible... and if they start getting all "why haven't you answered my email, huh? when are you going to email back? what's wrong? why haven't I heard from you?" it still triggers my "you don't get to demand my attention, dammit" reaction.

- When they decide give a selective response (i.e.: ignores a huge portion of my e-mail), I don’t complain or criticize. I hint and encourage. I tell them it’d be wonderful to continue our unfinished conversation. I also tell them I’m glad to hear from them or I’d like to hear more.

So they respond to the part of your email they feel is worth responding to, and in reply they get an email back from you full of "hints" and "encouragements" about how you want to continue the "unfinished conversation"? This is so passive-aggressive and indirect just reading it makes me cringe. If you were corresponding with me, this would go far in putting you on my "Do Not Interact With" list.

I’ve noticed a pattern that the more understanding I am, the more likely they will repeat this behaviour. Many of them also develop a chronic lateness problem. Some of them get really impatient/unhappy when I can’t reply right away. I clearly remember when we first met, none of the annoying behaviours existed. I think maybe I’m responsible for this.

I have a hunch you're right. The communication pattern I'm imagining from your description — multiple emails from you, asking (increasingly?) personal questions and nagging for a response, followed by an unmeant "it's perfectly all right, don't worry about it" if they acknowledge that your priorities and timetable are not theirs... Ugh.

The part that's not clear to me is "Some of them get really impatient/unhappy when I can’t reply right away." Everything else sounds like it's you having expectations and demands of them, except this. What reply from you are they expecting?
posted by Lexica at 12:53 PM on April 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Are you a dude in his 40s from Vancouver? I think you used to email me. Well, probably not, but you sound like him. Every email was paragraphs and paragraphs of very personal, meaningful stuff, and it was emotionally exhausting to reply at times. I felt guilty if I didn't respond in kind. Sometimes I didn't know what to say: "Wow, your ex-wife sounded horrible"? There was no room for lighter conversation; everything was too personal and meaningful. Sometimes he did offend me because he'd comment on some part of my life that he didn't have enough context to judge. He felt he knew me better than he actually did.

Like you, he got upset, started pinging me, wanted to know where he stood, etc. I didn't want to write someone email just because I felt obligated. I was, in all probability, never going to meet the person, so I just dropped him. It was not worth the time investment when I could meet real people nearby who would not make me feel pressured. I didn't announce my departure because I felt it would likely lead to drama (with another friend, I was right - he called for MONTHS). You seem like the kind of person that might overreact if someone ended their online friendship with you, so they just drift away instead.
posted by desjardins at 12:59 PM on April 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Whatever you do, don't start adding "receipt confirmations" to your emails. Nothing screams "I want to control this communication!" more than that.
posted by telstar at 1:17 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do email for a job. It's a lot of work. I pride myself at leaving my inbox as close to zero as I can at the end of the day. The only people I chitchat with over email are my sister and my boyfriend or neighbors/locals where we're making plans. I'll exchange long emails with friends maybe every few months. This is a non-negotiable part of how my life works and people who need something else from me are not going to get it. That said, if you were my boyfriend or family member and you wanted me to communicate with you differently, I would make an effort because I am in a relationship with you and I think relationships require a bit of give and take. Generally speaking I do not feel that I am in a relationship with my friends in the same way though I'd try to be accommodating within a certain spectrum but beyond that, they'd have to sort of understand the reality of my life.

My SO has an ex who likes to get involved in lengthy discussions over email. He gets sucked into these and regrets them. He tries to make short responses or otherwise not engage and she accuses him of not being serious about working out issues [child custody and other things that they're actively working on] because he doesn't want to have these long email discussions about feelings. She sees him sending short terse replies as some sort of affront, mostly [to my mind] because she feels that this is how people should relate to each other. He feels differently. He's not so good at being totally explicit about these feelings and it sounds that neither are your friends.

So, to agree with other posters, what you can expect from people varies significantly depending on what your relationship to them is. This includes even knowing or understanding or asking for an accounting of the reasons why they don't write back. Some people don't write back. You seem to have a good understanding of what the reasons are, but maybe not as good an understanding that there's not much you can do about this. Again, if the person is a partner in a committed relationship this is usually a negotiable aspect [I told my partner that I expect responses to my emails that ask him questions, this isn't something he'd always normally do but he makes an effort for me, he's nor perfect but he makes an effort]. If this person is someone you work with, this may be a negotiable aspect [talk to your manager]. If they're just a friend sometimes your options are to accept this and move on, or not accept this and move on.

It's a pain, I've definitely abandoned friendships because I perceived them as too one-sided. I've also accepted some friendships despite this one-sidedness because the person was worth it to me despite the non-reply thing. Other people just prefer other methods of communication [phone, text, IM, in person]. So you need to assess what you think is reasonable for you to expect, and after asking politely maybe once, assume that the non-answering is its own message. Sometimes you just have to go by what people are doing, not by what they're saying or what they say they're trying to do.
posted by jessamyn at 1:19 PM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was about to second the RFI on whether these were friendly emails, or work emails, or what... but now I wonder if not being able to tell that from your question is important information in itself. I had a lot of words typed up here, the first two of which were 'COMMENCE PROFILING:", but basically my impression is that you're treating the way conversations play out as a matter of simple, universal etiquette rather than part of complex individual relationships (yes, even while making them personal and meaningful), and therefore likely missing things that would illuminate these situations a little better.

Also:
I’ve noticed a pattern that the more understanding I am, the more ikely they will repeat this behaviour.
Well, yes? You say you always tell them it's okay, and it sounds like they're taking you at your word. It sounds like you may be like me, and find it hard to give up the feeling of certainty that you've done everything right, so any unpleasantness must be the other person's fault. But it doesn't work out in practice, so just tell people to cut it out once in a while if that's what you need from them. I promise it often goes better than expected, and it feels great.
posted by jinjo at 1:23 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are all your emails full of deep and meaningful questions? Sometimes people enjoy answering the first few, and then feel overwhelmed and bombarded. I don't enjoy having conversations with people who never seem satisfied. At some point, like after 2 or three heavy exchanges, wrap it up, for goodness sake. Perpetual email conversations are not fun for everyone.

- When they decide give a selective response (i.e.: ignores a huge portion of my e-mail), I don’t complain or criticize. I hint and encourage. I tell them it’d be wonderful to continue our unfinished conversation. I also tell them I’m glad to hear from them or I’d like to hear more.

Don't do this. If their answers are short and selective, that's a sign that you're expecting too much. It's not fair to demand more by hinting and encouraging. Be more receptive to degrees of intimacy, instead of expecting all or nothing all the time.

It is nice to say you're happy to hear from them.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:07 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you're falling into the trap of trying to make or sustain close friendships via email. I can tell you from years of experience, being on both sides of this, that this doesn't work. If whoever you're emailing isn't someone you spend much face-time with, someone is going to drop off eventually. And if it is someone you see in person, the emails should back way off - leave the serious stuff for in-person communication, or at least communication over the phone if you speak on the phone.

You have previously posted questions that wonder how to be more concise in your emails and generally expressing difficulty in navigating friendships. So I think you answered your own question months ago, really. Continuous, long, thought-provoking and deep email conversations can start to bog a person down, even if they don't already have similar email conversations going on with other people. With friends, try to see if you can start focusing more on in-person relationships and not rely so much on expressing your deepest thoughts over email, particularly if you're looking to start a dialogue with other people. Or, maybe channel those thoughts into a journal or post on a message board where it doesn't depend so much on one particular person responding to you.
posted by wondermouse at 2:15 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


- They (esp. younger people) think it’s okay not to answer

Maybe you're missing their cues that they want to dial down the email friendship, so they're left with no alternative but either to stop responding or to "dump" you in a way that they think would sound rude.

If someone stops responding to every single point in your long detailed email, that's probably a sign that they're looking for a less intense exchange. If they've stopped asking questions of their own - instead only answering yours - that's another sign they're not interested in continuing the email exchange much further.

If that happens, it would be polite for you to dial back considerably, or leave the whole thing for a couple of months and then try again in a low key fashion.

Should I just bluntly say, when am I going to hear from you/do I get a reply/are you gonna reply me or what? Is that too pushy? What if I asked and still have no replies from people?

People give you what they want to give you. They don't owe it to you to behave in the way you want. They don't owe you a reply to your enormous email any more than they owe you a four course dinner or a free legal consult.

All you can control is your own behaviour. If you don't want to email long emails to people who don't respond, don't send any more long emails to those people who don't respond.
posted by emilyw at 2:20 PM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hmm. I'm actually one of these people, I think. I didn't even realise it could be frustrating, to be honest - it never usually bothers me if people don't want to talk to me, so I figured it wouldn't bother them vice versa.

'scuse me, I've got a couple of emails to reply to...
posted by Fen at 2:26 PM on April 6, 2011


Thank you every one for taking the time to read and contribute. I’ll take all perspectives into consideration and change my way of communication/behaviour/action as I see fit.

So to clarify,

@arnicae, thanks. And usually not directed at anyone I know casually or I barely contact.

@iamkimiam, I like how you categorized it as a case of an overspecifier. I think maybe I should go back to talking about weathers and colors and KISS.

@ anya32, I actually had a line in my draft saying, “Some of them are friends. Some of them are friendly acquaintances.” I deleted this line while condensing. lol. So, yes, mostly are the people I know in real life that I hang out with. Yes, some of them are even long distance. I don’t see them very often every year but we arrange to meet up. And plus, I’m not always bothered at the same level. The more I value/care about them, the more thought I put into my previous e-mail, the more I’ll be expecting. In general, like I said, I start to feel frustrated after the pattern starts.

@ phunniemee, yes, thanks for reminding me those reasons. Totally forgot the forgetful part. Two or three of my friends procrastinate and they told me they meant to write me back/text me back but they forgot. I usually don’t mind. It’s just when it piles up, it gets frustrating.

@Paquda, thanks for the nice words and support. I appreciate it.

@ ripley_, I’m not sure how many is too many/unreasonable. Everyone has a different idea. I don’t do the conversation thing daily. I do it on-and-off every few months like jessamyn. Although they could run a bit longer if mixed with shorter exchanges (by short, I mean within 30 words).

@ fleacircus, very useful feedback, thanks.

@ Lexica, thanks for taking the time to reply with such detailed follow-up questions.

Who are these people you (think you) know well enough to ask "rather personal and/or meaningful" questions, but whom you don't know well enough to be straightforward in your communication with them?

Yes, I have trouble at communicating, I’m still learning. I have had serious straightforward talks (not on this issue though). Some people were defensive about it. I felt I’d be walking on egg shells if being too straightforward, so I went to the other direction which might come off passive-aggressive yet less offending. I haven’t yet found a balance point, and that is why I am asking for help.

Quite possibly. If you're guessing at this [i.e.: not a fan of e-mails], you must not know them well enough to know how they feel about email.

I know many of them don’t like talking on the phone. Some prefer chatting on MSN, many hate MSN. I can’t always be on MSN. E-mail/facebook messages are the least interruptive means. People are allowed to reply at their convenience. But I haven’t explicitly had a conversation about e-mails, so I think my next topic with them will be focused on technology and communication. Now, does anyone think this is a very intrusive topic?

If they have nothing to comment on, why should they reply? Why do you have an expectation that they should?

Reciprocating? Simple social norm. Or, they could simply say, “k, I read it, but I have no comment.” Would that really hurt?

What on earth are you asking these people (whom you apparently don't actually know all that well) that they wouldn't know how to answer or would consider offensive?

Now, chill. All I talk about are literature, arts, philosophy, psychology, traveling, belief, point of views or anything but religion/sex/politics unless they want to discuss themselves. The more personal questions would be related to what they’ve said instead of randomly thrown at them. For example, I could ask, if given the chance, would you go back being 15 again? Do you like the concept of time traveling? Is there anything that is too serious to be joked about? Again, I don’t ever open a conversation with those topics, only if they are relevant, and that’s after a few short correspondences and one-liners.

Offensive? Some people are insecure and socially awkward, they might take things the wrong way.

Again, why would it not be okay not to answer? More context, please.

I’ve done some researches (non-academic, non-scientific, just good ol’ google with people’s opinions) and younger generation seem to be more prone to a no-reply.

So they respond to the part of your email they feel is worth responding to, and in reply they get an email back from you full of "hints" and "encouragements" about how you want to continue the "unfinished conversation"? This is so passive-aggressive and indirect just reading it makes me cringe. If you were corresponding with me, this would go far in putting you on my "Do Not Interact With" list.

Have to point out this is the latest approach I just started experimenting. I decided to try the approach after reading many online wikihows/ehows/forum entries. Before, like I said, I don’t ever bring up the fact they didn’t reply me, I don’t ask them to call me or write me back. Thus, I’m hurt when you accuse me of “nagging”. Plus, in my dictionary, don’t-worry-about-it means I’m willing to cut you some slack because you had reason that is valid to you, and I’m not going to hold grudges against you. However, if this becomes a pattern, you bet I’m going to feel a bit neglected.

The part that's not clear to me is "Some of them get really impatient/unhappy when I can’t reply right away." Everything else sounds like it's you having expectations and demands of them, except this. What reply from you are they expecting?

This happened a few times with different friends and aquaintances. They have the habit not replying me. So when they want to ask me some information, usually they send me facebook messages, texts and calling me at the same time (within a span of a few hours) maybe they are worried I wouldn’t answer them just like them. Some even keep sending me until I reply. Sometimes I don’t notice they are contacting me in everyway, and while I always helped I am more hurt in this situation because that’s not how I wanted to be treated.

@desjardins, allow me to point out some ironies in your response. I understand your frustration with your chain-calling Vancouver dude and I’m sorry to hear that. However, I’m curious if you ever wondered how I might feel, when you, a perfect stranger, think I function the same way as he does? The mocking comparison is uncalled for. No hard feelings though.

“Sometimes he did offend me because he'd comment on some part of my life that he didn't have enough context to judge. He felt he knew me better than he actually did.”

“You seem like the kind of person that might overreact if someone ended their online friendship with you, so they just drift away instead.”


@ jessamyn, thanks for sharing your point of view. I’ll have to think about it.

@ jinjo, thanks for the input. Will try to be more direct and assertive.

@oneirodynia, not all of them. I’m practicing active listening and be more caring/interested.

@ wondermouse, good suggestion with the journal entries. Thanks so much. I’m already drafting every time I send out e-mails and decide what should better left for future discussion, if not, unsaid. And I agree it takes a lot of effort to sustain friendship via e-mail. I gave it up all online friends a few years ago realizing it was impossible unless we lived in the same city and had real face time. And yes, need to schedule more face time, definitely.

@emilyw, thanks a lot for the tips. Sometimes, I’m really puzzled when they really asked about me with specific (personal) questions, I replied with follow-ups and bam, my questions weren’t unanswered. But well, guess that’s just the way things are.
posted by easilyconfused at 2:51 PM on April 6, 2011


Have you considered that your approach may be profoundly orthogonal to the way many people use email? I'm 25, having grown up with computers, and I never really thought of email as a medium for extended conversation. In my mind, that was always what chat or (if feasible) phone calls were for. I keep emails and paper letters brief, and would find lengthy correspondence off-putting, unless I fell madly in love with you, or you had something truly amazing to share. (If so, I'd likely invite you to join me on Skype, haha.)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 3:59 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think people like conversations that give the impression that they are the dog and you are the master asking them to perform for a treat. "Answer this question! Answer it! Good boy!" (I am not saying your conversations are like that, but some in-depth conversations can devolve that way.)

All I talk about are literature, arts, philosophy, psychology, traveling, belief, point of views or anything but religion/sex/politics unless they want to discuss themselves. ... For example, I could ask, if given the chance, would you go back being 15 again? Do you like the concept of time traveling? Is there anything that is too serious to be joked about?

These are the sorts of topics that beg endless reply with (pardon) no real point. A person might say ... masturbatory. You are, in effect, asking for them to put forth effort in composing something for you to play off of for no simple payoff on their end. People like helping. It makes them feel good. You ask for a travel recommendation, for instance, and they accommodate, and may be willing to discuss at length because they feel there is an end goal (helping you have a good experience).

But not everyone wants to discuss the concept of time traveling or if they could be 15 again, because there's no clear point to be achieved after an initial toss at the question. If you want to engage in discussions like this one-on-one, you may have to accept they will lose interest and drop the thread. You may feel denied the end goal, but what is that? An endless loop of interaction?

I, too, like discussing open ended topics that pique my curiosity. (I once exchanged very long emails with a penpal about once a week for six months, and then we met in person.) I have learned when the replies slow and get less eager, that is my cue to shove the old aside and bring up a fresh topic. My friend has humored me, and I should try to entertain them, as well, lest they associate me with their boredom. Sometimes they perk up, sometimes they are just busy. And if things get dropped, assume it's not personal and let it go. Sometimes the person is worn out on the subject right then, but it may pop back up in the future if they have more to say.
posted by griselda at 4:22 PM on April 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


>>I’ve noticed a pattern that the more understanding I am, the more likely they will repeat this behaviour. Many of them also develop a chronic lateness problem. Some of them get really impatient/unhappy when I can’t reply right away. I clearly remember when we first met, none of the annoying behaviours existed. I think maybe I’m responsible for this. I feel helpless and frustrated.<>
You feel helpless and frustrated because you're too accommodating and understanding and your needs aren't being met.

I am not saying you need to go all hardcore and demand a response by a particular time but you need to set some kind of internal interpersonal ground rules within yourself and not just go along for the ride in relationships simply because you don't want to be lonely.

I cannot, unfortunately, give you a blow by blow of how to go about this - it's something that you're going to have to develop yourself by trying things out. But, ultimately, what do you want from relationships with others/what kinds of relationships do you want?

You will note that they get impatient and unhappy when you don't reply right away - they are telling you what they want from you. You need to tell them what you expect from them. If you articulate to them that you have no relationship expectations on their part, they will use you/think you're not interested in them/forget about you/leave.
posted by mleigh at 5:23 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think my next topic with them will be focused on technology and communication. Now, does anyone think this is a very intrusive topic?

It's not intrusive, but it still sounds like you're focusing too much on e-communication and being kind of manipulative about it aside from that. Maybe it is because you keep thinking that you're not good at communicating and that you must practice to get better at it.

You may find it refreshing and perhaps illuminating to focus less on trying to analyze all these people and more on developing other hobbies that you enjoy and take up more of your time. By "illuminating" I mean that you may finally truly understand why it is that so many of your friends/acquaintances just don't have the time/energy/interest to reply to all of your emails even if they think of you as a friend. I mean, it sounds like you still have friends otherwise, and that you'll still have these friends even if you're not emailing them so often.

And if you don't think someone is being a good friend to you and you don't like the way they treat you, you don't have to respond to them, either.
posted by wondermouse at 5:24 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


It seems like you're relying too much on email for entertainment, and most people don't use email the way that you do. The example questions you posted aren't so much questions as they are creative writing prompts - and it's unreasonable to expect people to write out essays on command. I also hope you can stop feeling rejected when an email correspondence comes to an end - that's normal! Often people will exchange a bunch of emails over a workday or an evening or a couple of days... but someone is always going to send The Last Email before both people move on. It's not a rejection, and I certainly "end" a chain of correspondence without sending a bulletin that says "I read your last email and will send nothing further". And people do the same to me and I don't think anything of it. Finally, and I know you mean well and I'm sure your friends do, too: if I had a friend who I knew wanted me to email them more often - and they then broached the topic of My Thoughts About Best Email Practices - I would think they were being sulky and challenging me to justify the way I use email. I can tell that this isn't what you want to do, but it could well seem that way. It's fun to email with people - so don't ruin the fun by giving Email Homework or by (even inadvertently) guilt-tripping people for not emailing more often.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:44 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I haven't read everything here yet, but I have two cents to add.
I seem to see the same thing as the OP from the originally posed question.
Everyone uses the communications channels differently. And it means different things to each of them.

(Every time I send something to my cousin he replies with a "It sure is good to get news from you." message, but he never writes to me. Whatever.)
posted by Drasher at 8:14 PM on April 6, 2011


I am like jessamyn in some ways. I email all the time for work; I must to my best of abilities deal with all my emails. I try to identify "what is the action needed here?" do it, file or delete the email, and be done.

But AFTER work, things like "I don't feel like it" are relevant. And I usually don't feel like email. I can usually manage to treat vacation-planning and friend-hangout-scheduling emails in a professional manner. But to schedule time to sit down alone in front of a computer and type a response to a friend's email, after doing that all day--not all that likely to happen. Email isn't really even a forum for discussing feelings anymore. (It's all "Dear Committee: I am writing to confirm that we will meet on Tuesday, April 12...") And the air of obligation makes it worse, not better. AskMe is easy, do it if you feel like it. Emails that hang out on your to do list? Ugh. I'd rather just schedule phone time. Even if you're a very valued friend, if it's email or nothing, we might lose touch.
posted by salvia at 11:34 PM on April 6, 2011


i like iamkimiam's response and arnicae's second response very much.

i think the easiest, shortest advice, is that you don't control other people. the harsh reality of a two-way conversation is that the other side reserves the right to unilaterally end the conversation for whatever reason at all.

you need to realize that you also have this right, understand that it is a pretty valid right to have, and then be graceful when others exercise it.

basically, you need to not care so much. say, "oh, too bad", and let it go. you are not owed an explanation. because the ending of the conversation is, in itself, an explanation: one side of the conversation wasn't really so into it. instead of saying "oh god, why!? please continue this correspondence with me!" you should just move on and spend your time in mutually beneficial communication. allow people their boundaries.
posted by molecicco at 3:09 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I’m practicing active listening and be more caring/interested.

After reading your question and especially your response, I think you are overdoing the active listening and certainly overdoing the caring/interested bit. You need to adjust your expectations since the vast majority of folks you email with don't view email communication with the same importance you do. You are setting yourself up with unrealistic expectations. Don't do that to yourself anymore.
posted by crankylex at 7:43 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just as a data point, I am 30 and there isn't a single person in my life that I have this kind of correspondence with. Not a one. Even when I tried my hand at online dating (which is the only thing I could think of when I tried to imagine caring about receiving a reply as much as you seem to), I took it off email and into face-to-face conversations as quickly as possible.

Your post and (especially) your reply comes off as pretty intense. If someone I know tried to prod me into an extended email conversation in this way, I'd just stop responding too, because it seems kinder or at least easier than writing up a "dude you are so weird" explanation.
posted by miskatonic at 10:56 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to preface this by saying I used to have someone that I *would* have these long, drawn-out email conversations with for weeks or months at a time. We both worked jobs where we were at computers with very few tasks during the day, and it passed the time (chat wasn't as much an option due to time zones). We got different jobs. The email naturally ceased.

Other than that one person in that one job, I have never done the equivalent of "creative writing homework" in any email conversation. I answer specific questions (like "What time are you getting off work on Thursday?" or "Do you remember what the book was called you were talking about?") but I most certainly do not do any sorts of these "Would you be 15 again?" questions. I mean, the answer may be interesting, honestly, but there is just not enough time or desire in my life to do the equivalent of friend-assigned homework. Especially if they then started following up my lack of completing the assignment in a prompt and timely fashion. You don't have to have a focus-topic for your email. If you don't have anything to say to the person, it's perfectly reasonable to just not send email. That's most likely what your friends are doing. If you have something in your life to share or something in their life that you're curious about (like "How was that movie the other night?" not "What are your deepest hopes and dreams?"), then send email. That seems to be how the majority of people that I know use email. There is just too much email at work and school to be taken care of to actively desire more.
posted by wending my way at 3:25 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


But I haven’t explicitly had a conversation about e-mails, so I think my next topic with them will be focused on technology and communication. Now, does anyone think this is a very intrusive topic?

It's not an intrusive topic, but it sounds as you are using your friends and email as research subjects for your own information. I'm not saying using personal interactions for information gathering is bad (it's actually important), but it seems like you are trying to steer conversations to a subject to get what you want out of them. Then when you aren't getting responses, you're trying to figure out why and how to get responses.

From this and your other questions, you give the impression that you would like to figure out ways to get other people to behave the way you would like them to. When they don't, you need to know why. In doing so, you're coming across as too intense and high maintenance. I know communication is hard, but you need to stop trying to figure everything and everyone out. It's tiring to be friends with people who seem demanding of one's time or information. I know you try to back off, but even if you don't demand responses to a specific email, but then hit people up with more questions in the next one, that means that every interaction with you, you want something. That makes a lot of people avoid getting involved with conversations in order to not have to maintain such a high degree of response to your needs.

You cannot control other people. You cannot always find out why they behave like they do. It would help you to become more self sustaining. Write blog posts instead of emails, where there's no expectation of interaction unless people really feel compelled to respond to what you write. Instead of asking questions, invite interaction by talking about the way you think and feel about things, ie: instead of "what do you think about technology?" say "I'm starting to feel that people use communication tools in wildly varying ways." Do NOT follow with "what do you think?" People who want to talk to you will, without feeling forced to respond. They may not engage you immediately, but weeks later might say, "I read your comment about communication, and I've been thinking that...blah blah blah..."

Plus, in my dictionary, don’t-worry-about-it means I’m willing to cut you some slack because you had reason that is valid to you, and I’m not going to hold grudges against you. However, if this becomes a pattern, you bet I’m going to feel a bit neglected.


OK, you realize this is dictating how people must interact with you? You've decided that in certain cases it's okay for them to behave a certain way, but in others, it's not. It is not up to you to set rules for how other people should behave. You can only decide how you want to react. This may sound like splitting hairs, but it is not. I don't think to myself "I'm going to cut my friend slack because they had a valid excuse to not talk to me"; I think "huh, this is the fifteenth email they have not responded to, I'm not going to expect a response if I write again."
The first is me pretending to allow my friend to behave a certain way if I judge their excuse "valid" or not -something I really have no agency over. The second response is something I can actually control: my behavior and expectations.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:44 AM on April 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh, and I really should say: you're trying to figure out this communication stuff: your friends are too. Cut them some slack. Very few people emerge fully formed with excellent communication skills. The people who are most successful at bumbling through tend to be people who are willing to be receptive to cues from other people, and go from there.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:02 PM on April 8, 2011


I think you're trying to use e-mail for something that most people don't use e-mail for. Even back in the days of letters, most people didn't use them for this kind of thing. There is a genre of letter writing that's almost like shared journaling and there are some lovely published collections of old correspondences, but you can bet that the vast majority of letters were more along the lines of "Cold winter, hope you're keeping warm, sending/please send money, love you".

You need to find penpals who specifically want to to do the kind of writing you want to do, and you'll be pretty lucky if you find even one or two among your existing friend set. Don't try to force them into this correspondence style - as you've found out, it just won't work. Go find penpals specifically for this, possibly privately and possibly even pitching it as a group blog.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:12 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


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