The psychology behind all our email lies


Natalie Reilly
Much has been made of late about the empty words we use to populate our emails. It appears to be a poorly kept secret that a large part of adulthood involves sending missives back and forth without ever actually achieving anything. To wit: the tweet that went viral in February of this year, earning so much fame, NYMag devoted an article to it.

“Adulthood is emailing ‘Sorry for the delayed response!” back and forth until one of you dies.”

adulthood is emailing “sorry for the delayed response!” back and forth until one of you dies
— Marissa Miller Kovac (@Marissa__Miller) February 26, 2016

A decade ago we read articles on how to clean out our inbox, or at least stay on top of it. But, in 2017 we’re at peace with such messiness – likely because we have accepted how much we hate talking on the phone – and now just need to know how to dodge, delay and ultimately decline plans in the most painless way possible, while simultaneously sending out emails asking why there is a delay with X and when can we meet to discuss it. And that’s just at work.

Our personal emails are fast becoming an exercise in Caspering, which is to say, Friendly Ghosting. If we want to gossip, we don’t have to write, we screengrab instead. If we want to laugh, we tag a meme. The only reason to ever use a personal email in these times is if we are writing a “We Need to Talk” essay to a problematic romantic interest, or a “THIS IS A MYTH” explanation to our racist grandmother who keeps forwarding on conspiracy theories about refugees. Everything else we write, both in and outside of work, is predicated on lies.

With all of this in mind, please find below the top six definitive lies we tell in emails.

Hope You’re Well

Do you really hope that? I mean, it’s not like you can open an email with a salient wish for a person’s death, so, yes, in the grand scheme of things, we all hold hope that everyone we email is well. But, really, is this question, or its follow-up “And that you enjoyed the weekend” or “and you’re having a great day” necessary? Does it come from an authentic place? Indeed, it’s been deemed so superfluous, there was an article calling for its axing. A similar article expressed the same desire for the sign-off “Best”, calling it “the worst” and reasoning that “the problem with best is that it doesn’t signal anything at all”.

Both “hope you’re well” and “best” aren’t exactly lies, but they do not have the truth in them. However, when you have to write a difficult or nagging email, or you have to write a hundred emails a day, they provide just the right amount of social lubricant to demonstrate you’re not wholly evil.

Just Checking In

“Just touching base” is also acceptable if working in a particularly corporate or cheesy environment. Either way, it matters little how exactly you express this because you are not just checking in, you are emailing because you did not receive a reply to your burning question. You waited the requisite 24 hours but no response and now you are in a rage. However, due to the fact that naked hostility is often exaggerated in the written word, you must act like some sort of timid hamster person who is merely curious about the little things, like teacups and electronic letters. It’s the email equivalent of “I was just in the neighbourhood”, which, as everyone knows is a lie from hell.

Not Sure if You …

Not sure if you received my earlier email in which I already explained this entire thing in painstaking detail, although I assume not as you now have the gall to ask me about it 10 days after it was due. Are you an idiot or a psychopath?

Not sure if you remember me but I live in the apartment directly below you and I can hear every bellowing moan every time you have sex. Not sure if you received my invoice but I still have not been paid my f—ing money that you owe me from two months ago, you piece of dog faeces.


I’m not dying, I’m not even close. This is mildly amusing and you’re my friend so I want you to know how funny you are and LOL is now something the nerds have claimed as their own so I’m left with the above. You are funny, though. I do appreciate the effort.

Sorry! Your Email Went to My Junk Folder!

It did not go anywhere near my junk folder. What happened was that I looked at your name, glanced at the subject and decided it was unimportant, and probably annoying. But then someone mentioned you and your email to me and I realised it is actually important. If this email is of a personal nature I have only this sentence: I found out you were good looking. Anyway. Basically, if you’re reading this, I deprioritised you, saw the error of my ways, realised it was not feasible to offer any other excuse because it’s been two months so pulled the junk line. Enjoy.


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