Hit “reply” in haste, repent at leisure
I got an email this morning from my Aunt Jackie. All that was in the email was a link to a story about a “volunteer award” given to another woman named Jackie, a woman I coincidentally know. I hit the reply button, and told my aunt how funny it was she would send me this link, as I knew the other Jackie from years back, and added that it was ironic she won an award for helping strangers, considering what a terrible job she had done with her own kids.
You can probably guess where this is going. It turns out that I saw the word “Jackie” in the address line and assumed it was from my aunt, when it in fact was from the award recipient – the person I subsequently called a bad mother -and so my reply went right to the inbox of the woman I made fun of. I’m not really friends with this woman, but I’m sick to my stomach that I sent such a hurtful email. Is there anything I can do?
Is there anything you can do? Of course: Go over to the Jackie-whom-you-hurt’s house immediately, invite yourself in under some pretense, ask if you can use her computer, and erase…wait, that was the plot of a Modern Family episode. I love that show. Do you? I suggest you watch it, in the hopes that it will take your mind off what an awful thing you did to this woman. Because my real answer is yes, there’s something you can do, but you’re not going to like it.
If you haven’t already, write another email to the woman you insulted. Don’t try to pass off what you wrote as a joke – most of us see through the “I was kidding!” defense by the time we’re 13 – and instead apologize without reservation. Tell her that you’re guilty not only of being hurtful, but of the worst form of gossip, because you’d obviously intended to trash her to someone else. Explain that you know this was wrong, and you’re ashamed. You didn’t tell me why you think she’s a bad mother…and I strongly suggest you don’t tell her that, either. That will come off as if you’re trying to defend yourself, and we’re way past self-defense, here. Focus instead on the fact that what you did was unkind and careless, and that the purpose of this second email is to say that you’re deeply sorry.
Now, having apologized thoroughly, do one more thing: learn. Take that shame you feel and recognize it as the cost of hurting someone else…even someone you don’t care for. Learn also that the “reply” button is often not your friend. And that the pesky “forward” button can get you in deep doo-doo, too. I speak from experience.
I did a favor for a colleague and he thanked me with what I have found out is a VERY expensive bottle of wine. My problem is that I don’t like wine. He has already asked me once if I enjoyed it, and I told him I was saving it for a special occasion. That seemed to annoy him, and he told me to let him know after I’d drunk it how I liked it. Now I feel like it’s hanging over my head! Can I just lie and tell him it was great? Also, can I re-gift the wine?
Dear Beer Lover,
First, of course you can lie: this would be considered a little white lie. (Or, you know, a red one.) His wine was life-changing and euphoric; it cured your back problems and made the angels weep. I mean, clearly your colleague needs to hear this kind of stuff, because why else would he have been so obnoxious as to press you on how you liked his present? So tell him how great it was…and then go ahead and re-gift it. Just make sure to re-gift it to someone that doesn’t cross paths with your colleague: for instance, how about your local advice columnist?
Philip Van Munching is a New York Times bestselling author of advice books, including Boys Will Put You on a Pedestal (so they can look up your skirt): A Dad’s Advice for Daughters and Actually, it is Your Parents’ Fault: Why Your Romantic Relationship Isn’t Working and How to Fix It. Philip, who grew up in Darien and recently moved (happily!) back to town, is also a guest teacher at St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, and was a finalist last year in the Good Morning America nationwide “advice guru” search. If you’ve got a question for his new “Ask Philip” column, email it to him at email@example.com.