How Not to Be an A-hole When…

…You’ve Totally Spaced in Responding To Your Friend’s Email

I am horrible at keeping in touch with my friends, especially those who live far away. The worst is that I often don’t end up responding to emails for a long period of time. I get an email, read it on my phone (which, side note, I hate typing emails on), plan on responding, forget, plan on responding, don’t have time at that point, forget, repeat, and then weeks go by with no reply from me. Then I reach that point where I’m so embarrassed about how long it’s been since I’ve written that I’m even more likely to take longer to write back! Any tips on getting over the reply hump so I’m not an asshole to my friends?

I feel like this one has gotten more difficult not just with the instantaneous nature of emails, but more with omnipresent smart phones. People don’t even have to find a computer and log on – our message likely caused the recipient’s phone to vibrate a mere seconds after we hit sent. Unless they are out of the country or having some sort of medical emergency, if I’ve emailed them, by the next day, they’ve seen it. In our minds, that seems to trigger an idea that receipt should equal response. Immediately, if not sooner.

Unfortunately this creates a sense of urgency that isn’t necessary. We shouldn’t feel like we must immediately respond to every text, email, or social media post within seconds. I mean, if you want to, go for it! But sometimes people are in the middle of cooking dinner, or watching a movie, or 30,000 feet above Utah, or just don’t know what they want to say. And then they find themselves in your situation.

I don’t know how to get folks to understand that we don’t all have to be at each other’s beck and call all the time, but I do have some tips for breaking the delayed response cycle. You see, I am someone lucky enough to have friends who live nearby and also friends who live far away. I wish all of them lived nearby, but visiting them is fun, too. Some live far enough away to make my bedtime their waking time and vice versa, so phone conversations are challenging (yes, some people do still talk on the phone). Others are so good at updating their social media that I feel like we’re engaging in a two-way conversation because I ‘liked’ his vacation pictures, when in reality I have no idea what’s going on.

But, I’m still in touch with most of my friends who live on the other side of the country (or world), and here are the two things that help me do this.

First:
I read the message, and if there’s something urgent requiring a response, I write back one or two sentences right away (even if it’s on my phone). And in those sentences, I respond to the urgent thing, and then say:

“I’ll write more soon, but I recognize that the decision to get bangs is a very critical one, and so I want to let you know my thoughts before your salon appointment on Friday.”

Second:
This is the crucial bit: I look at my schedule, see when I’m likely to have some free time, and then put an entry in my calendar, or whatever productivity app I’m using, or (these days) my bullet journal to “email awesome friend.” I assign a date, and maybe even a time of day. Not a day when I have to run a dozen errands, or will be in meetings, or know that I’ll be stressed out for some other reason. Instead, I pick a day and time when I know I can find 15 minutes to write a thoughtful response. I aim to make it no more than a week out from when they emailed, because that’s the (completely arbitrary) time line I think works best for me. Maybe your life is so hectic you need a couple of weeks, or even a month, to have some space to respond. That’s okay!

By turning it into a task, it’s a bit harder to avoid. Now, I can see some folks thinking that this makes what should be a pleasant, easy interaction into more of a job, but keeping up friendships long distance can be hard, as your question points out. It’s so easy to get distracted, or sucked into dealing with the people who are physically near you. But if you have a 15-minute time set aside the Saturday after you get the email and you write back, you’ll do great.

Finally:
If you don’t do the above and you find yourself with two months having passed, PLEASE STILL RESPOND! Friends want to hear from friends. Simply acknowledge the time gap, then launch into what all has been keeping you so busy, and then ask him or her some questions about what is going on with them. Mention a Facebook post of theirs you liked, or something that reminded you of them. And then next time, respond quicker. Or, better yet, email first! Friendships definitely have their rhythms; in some years I’ve got to make a lot of the effort, in other years, my friends do. But it shouldn’t be all one-sided all the time.

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