In general, do you answer personal emails?
August 6, 2013 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Not talking about spammy or long rambling missives, just the kind that says "thinking about you. Here's a little news, what's up with you these days?"

I'm not a phone talker and never have been, nor do I write personal notes any more because my hands hurt a lot. But I do want to stay in touch with a few people who live far away. Nothing more than a friendly hello email once or twice a year. But for a while now, I don't even get acknowledgements of any kind. In every case, I know the email address is still good. I realize that we all get a huge amount of non-personal email, but I still at least scan for things from friends and family. Although not everything calls for a response, for those that do I do at least say something.

Any thoughts?
posted by Gusaroo to Society & Culture (46 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I always respond to those emails - in fact, they're my favorite to respond to! My guess is that they're getting lost in overloaded email inboxes.
posted by anotheraccount at 12:50 PM on August 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

Do your emails have questions in them or are they just like "Hi, thinking of you, here is what I'm doing..."?

Honestly I like to receive personal email but about half the time I don't respond. It's either someone whom I'm out of touch with for a reason (that perhaps they're not as cognizant of), or it's so low priority that it falls down in my inbox and I forget about it until it's way too late to respond. I'm not saying it's right, but that's your banality of rudeness explanation.
posted by telegraph at 12:53 PM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

It may be that the people you are trying to stay in touch with feel the way about email that you do about the phone - it's just not their thing. I have a few people in my life that are bad emailers in this way.
posted by something something at 12:54 PM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I often leave them "until the end of the workday", then I look at them again and think "I should come up with something more than just hi before I write back." Then I see them weeks later and think, "Oh yeah... I'm pretty terrible at writing people." Then months have passed and I've forgotten about it.
posted by ODiV at 12:54 PM on August 6, 2013 [46 favorites]

I love those emails but do not always answer them the most quickly, since I want to put some thought into my replies. The correspondents with whom I have this kind of relationship tend to email me every month or two, not more frequently.
posted by mlle valentine at 12:55 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Of course, I respond to them. They're the kind of mail one should encourage.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:55 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I always respond to those emails, and in fact I send similar emails myself to stay in touch.
I would guess if you are not getting a response it's that they are getting lost in the shuffle.
I usually email again in a few weeks and often will get a response as I am guessing it clicks that they didn't respond to the first email ( I am guilty of not responding when I'm super busy).
Also, on preview, make sure you ask a question or two so there is something to respond too!
posted by Snazzy67 at 12:57 PM on August 6, 2013

I love getting those emails but yeah, they often fall down a bit by the way side, especially if there isn't a particular question or pressing issue to answer in them. Most of the people I email I do occasionally touch base with through Gchat-- "hi, sorry if you're busy, just saw your email and it's good to hear from you!" I don't know why it's easier to respond through Gchat but it is; perhaps something to do with the formality of responding and formulating things into a letter?
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:58 PM on August 6, 2013

I like to answer them, but there are some friends I have that don't - they are more fond of keeping in touch using facebook or skype. Since I'm not crazy about either of those, it can be hard to keep in regular contact with those people. We are at a point in time that there are so many different ways that people communicate, I think it's actually making it harder for us to connect - those who favour different methods can accidentally miss each other.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:00 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I definitely respond to them and in fact would love to get more of them - most people communicate with me now through Facebook private message or text. It's kinda bleh and impersonal.

I have had some, including a birthday party invite, that got lost in a bunch of crap in my Gmail though. Maybe the new Gmail filters will help with this.
posted by sweetkid at 1:01 PM on August 6, 2013

Awhile back I found a welcome email like this in my spam folder. Whether that happened automatically or accidentally, I don't know. If I hadn't bothered to look over my spam folder -- which I hardly ever do -- before deleting its contents, I never would have seen that email.

So that might be happening.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:03 PM on August 6, 2013

Nothing more than a friendly hello email once or twice a year. But for a while now, I don't even get acknowledgements of any kind.

It may be that you aren't writing often enough for them to feel like they know what to say. You may either need to be more engaging or write more often. I tend to answer emails but I don't know that I would know what the heck to do if someone wrote me once or twice a year with a friendly hello. It seems like not much to respond to.

In trying to figure out a reply, my internal monologue might go something like this: Um, hello back? I guess? Well, that sounds lame. Do I tell them what I am up to? I know, I can tell them (personally exciting news). Well, gee, no, I really can't tell them that. They have no context. I don't have time to give them context. And that would be weird to give them boatloads of personal detail when all they said was "hi." Well, crap, what can I say to that which doesn't sound condescending or something? I think I am back to "hello back." And that still sounds LAME. ....(etc)

I would have a hard time responding to some really shallow "hello again" email once or twice a year and I am a huge blabbermouth. So say hello more often, and/or give them more to go on, I think.
posted by Michele in California at 1:09 PM on August 6, 2013

I love getting emails like that, but I hardly ever respond. If I do it's months later and I am wracked with guilt about having put it off so long. It's really awful and I feel terrible about it, especially since I so enjoy receiving those emails.

(on the other hand I am a terrible email correspondent generally - much more likely to respond to facebook messages or texts - so anything that doesn't contain a time-sensitive important question is likely to get overlooked. There are a lot of people like me. It's not personal, we're just terrible.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:11 PM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

I love them, although I don't read them first: I save them, like dessert, to be read after 'not-for-fun' emails. And yes, all personal emails get read, and answered, as soon as possible.

Friendly hellos, just-want-to-say-hi type emails and notes are what makes the entire day brighter.
posted by easily confused at 1:11 PM on August 6, 2013

I love getting the occasional personal email from someone I haven't heard from in a while. And I always flag them with the handy new Apple Mail flagging feature so that I don't lose them in the shuffle. But if I didn't - I get a torrent of email. A cascade. A gushing firehose. Once I lose track of an email, it won't get answered, good intentions be damned.

These days, Facebook and iMessage have taken over a lot of the casual "Hi there" pings. Hit "Like" and move on, or peck out a quick text. It sucks. I used to like chatty emails. And before that, I used to *love* long handwritten letters. Oh well. Time marches on, scientific progress goes 'boink'...
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:11 PM on August 6, 2013

I love getting personal emails...they are so few and far in between though...I hardly receive any. Maybe it's the Facebook and Twitter phenomenon? When I do receive them, I always respond.
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 1:12 PM on August 6, 2013

I always intend to respond, but often space out and forget about them entirely, since I usually don't have time to respond on-the-spot. I do always appreciate getting them and my lack of response doesn't mean I don't like you, it just means I'm extremely forgetful.

Also if the whole message is something like "Hi how are you? I miss you! nothing new here!" then I usually procrastinate answering because I find it hard to think of anything to reply to that with. And the more I procrastinate, the more likely it is that it'll move off my radar completely and I'll never remember to do it.
posted by randomnity at 1:16 PM on August 6, 2013

I love emails like these and do respond within a day or two, but the exchanges either grow out of relationships that always included a lot of email chatting, or special arrangements with particular people like the woman I met overseas who started off sending me snail mail that I never got around to answering.

The rarer and more generic the emails, the harder they are to spot and respond to with anything worth saying. Can you email more often, with more specific titles and content, including a proposal to stay in touch more via email? And double check that your correspondent to be knows your email handle.
posted by bearwife at 1:16 PM on August 6, 2013

In general, do you answer personal emails? the kind that says "thinking about you. Here's a little news, what's up with you these days?"

No. Unless the email has a specific, non-generic question that requires an answer, I do not. I get more mail than I can cope with, so emails like that drop so far down the priority list I've given up pretending I'll address them. I will not.

The kind of casual keeeping in touch, checking in you're looking for is best done on Facebook, IMHO.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:18 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I always reply, but not always right away since I want to put some thought into the email.

It seems to me that with the rise of texting and social media, fewer people I know use email in that way. Even my mom takes days to reply to a personal email, but if I send her a text or a Facebook message she is right on that shit.

Personal emails are starting to seem like snail mail letters...kind of old school.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 1:19 PM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I always mean to respond to emails like that, but I often forget, and then by the time I remember to respond it's a month out and I'm too embarrassed to reply. I'm sorry, everyone who's ever contacted me.

I'm not sure there's anything you can do to improve your response rate. It helps to include a conversational hook, however mundane it may be, and to reach out via social media instead of email.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:20 PM on August 6, 2013

I'd probably just stare at them like I'd caught a bizarre and unexpected fish but I'd probably respond eventually. Honestly though if you're someone I really want to stay in touch with, you have my Twitter/Facebook/phone number (for texting, not calling, don't call me).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:22 PM on August 6, 2013

I think maybe the question you are asking is how to handle it when someone does not respond to your email. I actually had a years-long radio silence with a friend over this same issue. She was upset that I did not respond to her immediately and I was of the opinion that since I had just moved and started a new job that not responding wasn't a sign of rudeness but of forgetfulness.

Here's my rule of thumb: most people want to respond or mean to respond. That said, life gets in the way and emails get buried in inboxes and people forget. I generally will give someone a couple of weeks before I either send another quick "how's it going" or else I let it slide, understanding that these things happen. If I need a response right away, I don't mind sending another email the next day.

In general, though, I think that casual communication is just that: casual. If not getting a response bothers you, then the suggestions here to go to Facebook might be worth checking into.
posted by mrfuga0 at 1:25 PM on August 6, 2013

Yes, although it may take me a while, but yes.

As a placeholder, I may email and say, thanks for your lovely note. I'm super busy right now, but I will respond, I promise.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 1:28 PM on August 6, 2013

I love getting emails like this, and try to reply to them even if only to say "Hey it's great to hear from you! I will try and compose a proper response when I have a moment."

Sometimes, though, one will slip through the cracks and trigger a vicious cycle of guilt and further delay, compounded by "jeez I don't know if I should even respond now, they probably think I'm a jerk" neurosis.
posted by usonian at 1:35 PM on August 6, 2013

Oh god, responses like ODiV's are really good/interesting to me, because I do this ALL THE TIME and feel really guilty about it.

One thing that helps me is using gchat, or alternatively asking some answerable questions (other than "how's life") because it gives me something quick to respond to and doesn't lead in to the loop of: "I should give this some real thought and attention" -> "now I really need to write something valuable because I've delayed" -> more delay.
posted by mercredi at 1:35 PM on August 6, 2013

Here's an illustrative story that may provide an alternate perspective.

Last summer, a friend moved halfway across the country. We were hang-out-weekly sort of friends, not bosom buddies with a life's history but we really enjoyed each other's company, and my friend was very interested in staying in touch. She was worried all of her friends would just forget her once she moved. So I made a special point of dropping her a note once or twice, just saying hi and checking in.

She didn't write back.

I shrugged and moved on, and when she came back to town for a visit I told her I wanted to see her. She was super excited and went to some trouble to make lunch plans. While we were eating, she told me about all of the drama she'd been dealing with - their "perfect" house was a disaster, her boyfriend's "perfect" job was worse, and they'd ended up having to move *again* six months after moving in. She'd gotten really depressed and was tremendously apologetic for not staying in touch. But she was grateful that I tried, and she very much wanted to continue the friendship.

All of which made me really happy that I hadn't gotten upset or jumped to conclusions when she didn't reply, and doubly happy that I'd made the effort in the first place.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:38 PM on August 6, 2013 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I love these emails, but I'm horrible at responding to them. About three days ago, I finally responded to a really, really lovely email from someone I like a great deal...a full month after she sent it. Many of my friends are as bad about responding to things as I am, if not worse--I got an email recently that was a response to an email that I sent in 2012.

I've dealt with this, in part, by adopting an explicit no-stress email policy, and clearly expressing that to people I email. Like, "I'm sending this because I like you and miss you, and I wanted to say hi. If you have time and energy to respond, I would love to hear from you, but if you don't, that's also ok! Don't feel bad ignoring this for a month or three if that's when you have the mental space for it." Surprisingly, this seems to have increased the frequency with which my emails get responses--I think that it helps remove guilt from the equation, making it more likely that people will respond even if it's been "too long" since the original email was sent.
posted by MeghanC at 1:46 PM on August 6, 2013 [20 favorites]

I love and cherish them, but when I write them I often don't get responses back. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write them.
posted by koucha at 2:04 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I try to respond within ten days.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:24 PM on August 6, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, some great responses here. A few things I should clarify:
By brief emails, I don't mean just "Hi. How are you?" I always tell some news and/or story about what's going on in my life...I learned a long time ago that small specifics are much more illustrative than generalizations like "we're great!"...those are also the kind of emails I hope to get in return, especially funny ones.

Also, I'm not upset or mad with anyone about this. It's just an observation. I myself feel guilty when I fail to get back to a personal friend, and god knows, we're all overwhelmed with information coming at us 24/7. I do use FB for much of this kind of connection, but several people I know have left FB, rarely look, or never signed up to begin with. Gchat is an interesting thought.

I really like MeghanC's policy a lot. What a great way to take the stress out of the equation! I'll keep writing, and give her idea a go.
posted by Gusaroo at 2:27 PM on August 6, 2013

I am sometimes flaky, like people have mentioned, and those who I keep in touch with best and I definitely have a no stress policy.


There have been a few individuals who have popped back into my life with these kinds of emails (or variations on them) who I've decided are clearly not worth the potential drama. The guy who wrote paragraph after paragraph describing the last decade in his dating life. The girl who emails repeatedly, with messages more dripping with guilt than those I receive from either my Jewish mother or my Jewish mother-in-law.

So sometimes it's purposeful. I doubt you're projecting any crazy, but just something to keep in mind. Light and breezy is really the way to go unless you've engaged in something deeper than occasional emails.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:46 PM on August 6, 2013

I send out and respond to emails like this. Sometimes, depending on how good friends I am with the recipient, if they don't respond I may send a "Rene, are you mad at me???" Which usually gets a really lengthy response.

There's nothing more exciting than getting a "catching up" email amidst all the boring work, school, financial, and visa ones.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 2:48 PM on August 6, 2013

I've done the same thing you do - a quick update or anecdote and ask the other person about something I knew they were doing way back when. Most of these are ignored, so I stopped sending them. I've had better luck with Facebook messages, but I kind of hate Facebook, so there's that. I think it's a combination of apathy, overstuffed mailboxes and good intentions without following through.

I try to answer these, but sometimes fail, especially when it's a family member who regularly sends me lots and lots of messages.
posted by cnc at 2:50 PM on August 6, 2013

I send out these emails fairly frequently, and always respond when I get them from others. I rarely get responses :(
posted by town of cats at 2:53 PM on August 6, 2013

I love these emails and I try to be good about responding. When I don't, my problem usually is that I read them on my phone, and want to respond somewhat at length so I decide to wait until I'm at a computer. Then when I'm at a computer I'm usually at work and then I get caught up in that and forget to respond. It's a horrible cycle.

These days I read them and then mark them as unread so the notification of unread email will remind me. Of course this only works for me because I hate having unaddressed notifications and unread email so having them in my inbox will actually prompt me to do something. If you are like my mother and literally have 85,887 unread emails (I'm house sitting and borrowing her computer so that number is completely accurate), this strategy may not work for you.
posted by Kimberly at 2:53 PM on August 6, 2013

After 13 years or so of forgetting to or otherwise neglecting to respond to a lot of those sort of emails, I have lost contact with a bunch of people. I'm not very good at replying to personal emails, but I certainly regret losing contact with so many acquaintances over the years.
posted by tacgnol at 3:23 PM on August 6, 2013

Response by poster: Maybe the deeper question is how do we stay connected to each other when we're far apart? It sounds like it's something most of us value, but the fact that Kimberly's mom has 85,887 unread emails (!!!) makes me think that a lot of us aren't getting it.

Facebook is the way to go for a great many people, but I get itchy about using it for this kind of thing. They've messed with privacy settings to the point where I limit my postings to the most innocuous and superficial of news. And that suffices for a lot of acquaintances.

Add to this that every commercial venture on earth wants to make that "personal" connection with us (OK, I exaggerate a bit to make a point) so I look for ways to get even further off the radar.

All of this begs the question of course...why am I posting this to the green?!
posted by Gusaroo at 3:23 PM on August 6, 2013

I send personal emails, and I respond promptly to personal emails. I never use Facebook or Twitter. Nor do I ever send out bulk "Dear Friends" type emails because I find those very impersonal, and in fact almost offensive because they seem to be saying "you are not important enough to me for me to take the time to write you a personal note". I'm actually surprised by how many people in this thread have said they don't always or usually reply to personal emails, and I'm wondering if there is any other reason except being too busy.
posted by Dansaman at 3:55 PM on August 6, 2013

I always tell some news and/or story about what's going on in my life... those are also the kind of emails I hope to get in return, especially funny ones.

Just as another data point, I could not in a million years find the time to do that. (I have not even posted my Christmas cards, which is less time commitment.) The higher you set the bar and the more time and effort I have to put into responding, the less likely I am to do it.

Maybe the deeper question is how do we stay connected to each other when we're far apart?

Phone calls? They're more time efficient certainly. I send very brief emails to my sisters, but we really reconnect by phone. I can't send email whilst doing anything else; I can chat on the phone while making dinner so that works for me.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:33 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who is very angry at me for not answering instantly some longform emails she has sent in the past, and does not understand that it is due to life/thoughtlessness/unhappiness can prevent one from giving a longform email the attention/reply it deserves in that instantaneous way that the internet has conditioned us to expect. I also can get a bit thingy when some other friends don't reply to my missives, but thanks to the former situation am pretty good now at understanding!

I think we could all encourage some understanding and courtesy on both sides of this equation. MeghanC's no stress email policy is wonderful. On the flip side, email recipients can respond with a short interim email of thanks for the communication, and a promise that they will write with the attention it deserves and some later date. Maybe that time won't come in a hurry, or ever, but at least they acknowledge the thoughtful gesture.
posted by scuza at 6:15 PM on August 6, 2013

I guess I don't understand all the people who say they use Gchat instead. Don't you have to invite people to chat with, like it's a whole separate social network? I don't really have anyone on my chat list, so it has never seemed useful to me. I usually have chat turned off these days because it makes Gmail much slower to leave it on. And even when it is on, I would have to leave Gmail up all the time to be able to chat anyway. With my iPhone and iPad, I don't really have much reason to use Gmail on a desktop at all, and if it were up on a computer, the odds are good that I wouldn't be at the computer.
posted by stopgap at 6:16 PM on August 6, 2013

Facebook is kind of where it's at for me with the random keeping-in-touch chit chat, despite the privacy issues. News for me these days has bifurcated into the very private and the very public, so if you aren't one of the best friends with whom I could exchange things like house appraisals or medical test results, then almost anything I can tell you, I can post publicly.

The other problem is I don't know what to say. I don't really want to summarize my life in a class reunion way, and I assume that sharing daily details of my work or hobbies would probably bore you, so I put off a reply until I have the time to be more creative and personable, referring back to our shared history, rereading your old emails to ask better questions and have more insight... a day which never exactly arrives.

The only practical suggestion I have to possibly increase your returns is to either ask about their family (as it's easier to give one line snippets of others' lives) or to express admiration and interest in something you know they're up to, essentially pre-reassuring them that they're not boring you or bragging if they talk about something random they enjoy. "I saw on Facebook that you're still doing collages. The one on your son's football season captured the spirit of football so well. What inspires you when you pick photos?" There are about three topics I could blather on about happily, so if you lucked onto one, it'd be easier to reply. "Hey Joe, I saw this article about sick whales and thought of you. You still volunteering at the Marine Rescue Center?"

Anyway, if they're like me, they love your notes and feel bad for not keeping in better touch. Sorry!
posted by salvia at 8:19 PM on August 6, 2013

stopgap: "Don't you have to invite people to chat with, like it's a whole separate social network?"

There's a setting (pretty sure it's the default) where people you email with regularly will start to appear automatically in your chat list. They do have to be GMail users, though.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:25 PM on August 6, 2013

I do most of my personal communication that isn't face-to-face over email. I reply to all personal emails that have any sort of "I am trying to have a conversation" tone to them (i.e. not just clearly informational or the end of a back and forth conversation that is now over) and once in a while, maybe one out of every 100, one falls through the cracks. What makes them fall through the cracks is

- they are very long and I want to save it for when I have time
- there isn't really a hook to compose a reply to/around (no questions, nothing I can easily sort of inline reply to)
- their tone is really heavy so I want to save it til when I can respond appropriately
- I was waiting for some reason and now it's really late. I'm sure there are some MeFites who have gotten months-later emails from me.

I've been trying to get better at "Hey long time no email, here's what's up..." replies that don't start with castigating myself for being a poor communicator. And I have some friends and family for whom my email is unidirectional, they don't or rarely reply. For those people I make phone calls, text, use facebook, write postcards or otherwise try to communicate. Not everyone views email as "real" communication for whatever reason and I communicate with a lot of people who are only sort of partially on email. They'll ignore it for a week or they don't quite understand it or my landlady who will always ask if I got her email but it's always stuck in her "drafts" folder and I don't know how she does it.

There's also what I call the grandma effect. My grandma was a great lady and would call every few weeks. I wrote her letters as often as I could. She rarely wrote back, mostly because she was just chilling, being a grandma and didn't always have newsy stuff to include and it was sort of understood that I, who was a kid with a lot going on mostly wrote to her. Not everyone has those sorts of relationships with people, but it's usually helpful to try to assess what your goal state is (being in communication with people? being in email communication with people? receiving email from people? having reciprocal relationships with people?) and then trying to assess how to go about that in a way that is satisfactory to you but doesn't require other people to be different form how they are.
posted by jessamyn at 9:14 PM on August 6, 2013

I try to answer all personal emails as long as I didn't forget about them! To avoid this, I will usually try to email back asap than put it off for later.

It also depends who I am writing to. For real life friends, I would probably write a very short email back asking for the best time to catch up with a phone call. With long distance pen pals, I would obviously write longer ones. I do let them know that I am just not in a position to get too frequent with them and thankfully, people have been very understanding. It takes the pressure off of everyone.

I wouldn't respond with a longer fun email because I just don't have the time or energy for it. If someone asks or expects that then they are just out of touch with the reality of my work-life situation. So, the solution has to work for both parties.
posted by xm at 9:27 PM on August 6, 2013

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