Opinion

Danny Wallace on the problem with not replying to emails

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Danny Wallace
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“There is NO WAY you are always drafting replies to me, ‘Terry’.”

There is a man who never gets back to me unless I ask him twice.

I call him Two Emails Terry. Except I just made that up, and also, his name’s not Terry.

But it’s like a rule with him. Like he just wants to let the first email settle, the way people react to ideas they don’t understand by saying, “Interesting. Let me let that percolate for a while.”

Anyway, this is highly frustrating. These are matters of great importance!

And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I doubt these are matters of great importance.” And you would be right, they are not matters of great importance.

But they are greatly important to me, and I’ll tell you what: they only become more important the longer he ignores them.

In fact, the longer I go without a reply the more convinced I become that nothing has ever mattered more than these matters of great importance.

But the most frustrating thing of all is that when I can stand the waiting no more, and I break and send a polite follow-up (“Just checking about that quote!”) he will always, always respond with something like: “Hi Dan, I was actually just writing you an email when I got this.”

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Or, “I was just drafting you a reply when I got this!”

Or, “I was right about to hit Send on an email when this arrived!”

And I fold my arms over my keyboard and internally I shout: “NO YOU WEREN’T.”

Because there is NO WAY you are always drafting replies to me, ‘Terry’.

And there isn’t, is there? Not unless this man is literally spending all day every day drafting and redrafting emails to me. Not unless I figure way higher in his life than I had ever given myself credit for. Not unless he is obsessed with me, never ever quite happy with a particular turn of phrase, agonising for days over the precise word to use, checking and re-checking his grammar before sending the draft over to friends and respected colleagues for their input and feedback.

No. It is unlikely I always email him just when he is about to email me, because I think you’d start to notice yourself doing that. You’d find it weird. You’d be like, “Dude! It happened AGAIN! Every time I go to write to you, ding! You write to me!” You would definitely mention that after the 12th or 13th time.

Furthermore, I think you would start to find it sinister. Spooky and eerie. Very disconcerting. You might think I was spying on you.

Or that we shared an inexplicable psychic connection that would eventually send you mad. You might start to think of me as an electronic version of the Candyman: type my name three times, and I email you a guilt-inducing reminder of a past email you didn’t reply to and thought might just go away.

No, the reason he does not remember that he always writes that to me is because he clearly writes it to everyone whose emails have not gone away. He’s probably got an email signature that says “I was actually just writing to you” that he just moves to the top every time he clicks Reply. It’s instinct with him. A tick. He doubtless replies to random mailouts from Domino’s in much the same way. “I was actually just drafting an email to ask you whether you’d be bringing back your World Cup Mega Mix, so I’m pleased to see you have.”

Imagine if he said almost anything else every time he replied to my emails instead. We’d think he was mad. Imagine if he always said, “Hi Dan, thanks for your email, I was just washing a potato” or “Sorry for the delayed response, I was actually just allowing two local goats to suckle from my teat.” If he wrote that every time, you wouldn’t think I was overreacting, would you?

The problem I have with it is it is such a pointless lie, designed only to trick me into thinking he’s busy but still absolutely all over things. Like I am always on his mind and that nothing matters more to him.

But then I think of my own pointless lies. And yours. Like if someone rings you very early in the morning and says, “Oh, I didn’t wake you, did I?” You shout, “NO!”, like being asleep very early in the morning is the most ludicrous or shameful thing you could possibly have been doing.

And at least he is replying, I tell myself. He is polite. Sure, it takes a chase, but the really bad thing would be if he didn’t reply at all.

I decide I am going to give this man the benefit of the doubt.

So I read his polite reply to the email and I see that he has indeed enclosed the requested quote, and it turns out that it is significantly higher than I had been expecting or indeed am willing to pay.

Oh dear.

I drum my fingers on my desk as I think about how best to reply.

On reflection, I reckon I’ll just leave it and maybe it’ll go away.

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