The Art of the Follow-Up Email

Follow up emails
Follow up emails
If you scroll down, you’ll see why your behavior on Dec. 12 was unacceptable.

Today's contributor is Chelsee Pengal. Her piece is fantastic and I'm sure you're going to enjoy it. I'm going to make it my life's work to buy everything on her Amazon wishlist and make her say I'm “cooler than the other side of the pillow.” You've been warned. Enjoy! — Alex

If you’ve ever been dumped, you probably went through a period of time during which you felt an urge to grab the nearest electronic device, type out a—usually novella-sized—missive, and send it to the associated party. This hastily written note is what we, in the breakup industry, like to call a “follow-up email.”

The impulse to send such an email comes from the common feeling that the dumper hasn’t given you the chance to say everything. 83% of the time, it’s not because the dumper is cold-hearted; it’s simply because—wait. Go stand in front of a mirror and cry as if ice cream has suddenly become eternally unavailable. Next, try to stop crying and look like a reasonable adult. Now study what you see. This is what the dumper sees. Would you want to continue a tough conversation with someone who looked like that?

Of course, you need an outlet for all of these extra emotions that weren’t released during the breakup. Email is quick, it’s readily available, and as of yet, it doesn’t pass judgment, unless you count those ads for psychologists on the side of Gmail. So it’s only natural that you would turn to it to release your pent-up feelings of hurt (and regret and hate and love and anger and take me back and I never want to see you again. Breakups are confusing).

However, before you start furiously typing, you should take these five tips to heart.
Note: These guidelines are intended for women because they tend to be the ones with the genes that cause them to write emails for closure. But thanks to last year’s investment banker follow-up email, we all know that men, too, are capable of sending cringe-worthy letters that never should have seen the light of day. (Follow-up emails are always written at night. It’s impossible to conjure the right combination of devastation, desperation, and insomnia that defines the genre otherwise.)

5. Remember that you once loved this person.
We all make mistakes. Some of us make them daily, or even hourly. But while you can attribute an entire relationship to one huge mistake, you shouldn’t—at least not in this email. Think about what that would mean: 1.) you chose to love this guy while knowing he was a horrible person, or 2.) you loved someone who was a horrible person without knowing it. While either one may be true, both make you seem dumb, and the last thing you want to appear in your follow-up email is stupid. So refrain from saying things like, I can’t believe I ever loved you. You did, and whether it was a good or bad—or dumb—thing to do, it remains the truth.

4. Do not rehash all of the terrible things he did to you.
The point of the follow-up email is to give you a sense of closure, not to make yourself angrier than you were before you started writing. Opening up wounds that have nearly scabbed over is only going to have you running for Kleenex to clean up the mess, and you already used those up during the actual breakup.

Still, some rehashing needs to happen here, so choose wisely. You want to commit to the screen only the most grievous and unforgivable crimes your ex committed. Choose one or two events that are absolutely crucial for your ex to relive, and—in excruciating detail—go over exactly why they were so awful. If you can, include descriptions of how, at the time, you acted like a saint for not making a big deal about them.

3. Do not paint a beautiful, rosy picture of your relationship.
Just as you want to avoid crashing into a brick wall of anger, you also need to be careful about plopping down in a field of fluffy wistfulness. You broke up for a reason, even if that reason was only that he no longer wanted to be with you. If things really were as terrific as your breakup-induced nostalgia would have you believe, he wouldn’t have dumped you. So be cautious as you reminisce about all of the ways you two were great together. If you find yourself slipping too far down rose-colored memory lane, just think about the time he ate pad thai from a street vendor and spent the night on the toilet, updating you on his progress along the way. You cannot paint over that smell.

2. Try not to sound like a jilted ex.
You are a jilted ex, so you are inevitably going to sound like one. However, keeping this tip in the back of your mind should help you change a few of those You probably never even loved me’s to I will always cherish our time together’s. That’s important because later, when your heart is healed and you read over this email again, you won’t sound like such a spastic mental case. Maybe you’ll only seem slightly insane.

1. Don’t send the email.
Even if you followed these guidelines precisely, your follow-up email is going to be a work of art meant only for your eyes. Keep it. Read it over later once you’ve replenished your Kleenex supply. Do not send it. You may think sending it is the final step in the closure process—once your ex reads it, there will be no question that he never wants to get back together with you. But that will be true even if you don’t send it. It’s over. Sending the email will not save the relationship, but not sending it will at least preserve some of your dignity.***

***You know what? Dignity is overrated. Go ahead and send it if you want. You put all of that work into it, after all.

Author profile

Chelsee Pengal has written more than her fair share of follow-up emails. She is currently spending her time writing other things, which you can read at: Wordsette.blogspot.com.

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One Comment

  1. This is pure gold! I loved this article as soon as it popped into my inbox! Dignity IS overrated! =)

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