Recently, a friend told me a very ordinary, uneventful story which felt so familiar that I found myself screaming. This friend was being kept awake by noise from the flat upstairs (a classic rental scenario), so he decided to send them a note. He drafted and redrafted it over many days, meticulously crafting every sentence. With each version he fretted, wondering if putting a comma before the “please” would seem passive-aggressive; he even tore one up on the doorstep because it said “gratefully” when he wasn’t grateful, and he thought it unethical to use words he didn’t mean.
This was the bit I recognised in myself. Not leaving a note (I’d have preferred to do it in person), but the agony of writing it, and how a seemingly small message somehow takes on a new weight.
Take the email I once sent to a journalist I admire, asking for advice. It lingered in drafts for five months as I periodically returned to tinker, trying to seem cool but not cold, in need but not needy. Or the WhatsApp invite to my birthday party, only three lines, but needing an hour of refining to say, “I don’t care if you don’t come” but also, “My validation depends on your attendance.”
I once read that millennials eschewing telephone calls and in-person conversation was down to anxiety; that written communications allowed more time to digest, and therefore a greater chance of being understood. It’s a logic I often repeat, but I’ve since realised it is no better. Indeed, the only thing that would be better is to accept that no form of communication is perfect, that there will always be an almost poetic gap between the way a message is sent and the way it is received, and trying to change that with emojis may well result in madness.
As for my friend, it’s a lesson he’s learning, too. He never did get a reply to his note.