I’m finally writing back to someone who sent a long chatty e-mail six months ago. Do I start with effusive apologies for not replying sooner (I have no good reason)? Saying I hadn’t seen it (I have no problem with lying)? Or should I just launch right in? It’s not the first time this has happened.
H.B. / Somerville
Don’t lie or apologize. For one thing, you’re not going to change your behavior, and an apology (or excuse) is an implicit promise to do that. For another, you haven’t done anything wrong! People who send long letters, either through the USPS or the Internet, realize — or should — that they they’re not going to receive immediate in-kind responses. It’s a more leisurely, slow-paced kind of correspondence, and ought to be savored that way.
And listen to yourself! What is this “I had no good reason” business? There’s only been a global pandemic, a new civil rights movement, mass unemployment, a high-stakes election, an attempted insurrection, a presidential impeachment, and however many new vaccines and new mutations of the virus in the past six months! Write more than a paragraph and by the time you’re finished, the first sentence is no longer relevant. If you’ve found a moment in which to catch your breath, I bet you’ll find the process of composing a letter in reply to be helpful to you, too, in giving you a chance to reflect on the past year.
But also? You don’t have to. You could write back in a series of shorter texts, over days, if that works better — you could have done that six months ago, too. Responding in the same medium and style is the etiquette standard for business and more formal relationships, but close friends don’t need to feel bound by that.
I received a beautiful quilt from my mother’s friend and immediately sent a thank-you card. It was forwarded to me through my mother because the giver didn’t have my address. However, it’s come to light that the quilt was meant to be a wedding gift after receiving a save the date card. My wedding was over two years ago, with fewer than 30 people, and I’m certain I did not send this woman a save the date. Should I let it go, as she has seemingly come to terms with the mystery, or contact her to express my bewilderment and regret for any ill feelings?
A.T. / Madison, Connecticut
Unpack “it’s come to light” for me, will you? How exactly did you find out that Ms. Quiltgiver had gotten a save the date? Ancient runes? Chicken entrails? There’s a narrative link missing here, and to repurpose a classic insult from my ’70s childhood: Your mom looks like the Missing Link. Ask her how she knows Ms. Quiltgiver received a save the date, and where she might have gotten one. Also ask the shedder of the light, if those are actually two different people. Mrs. Quiltgiver has clearly been misinformed by someone, and that someone isn’t you. Write back, will you? Ms. Quiltgiver may have come to terms with the mystery, but I haven’t!
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.