The Power of the Blank Email

When you feel nothing, respond with nothing.


A while back, I went on what seemed like a date with a guy I knew. We drank some wine in a bar and I don’t remember much except that he had a big expensive watch and tried to say he was a socialist. Upon arriving home that night, he emailed me to say that he was “currently in a relationship and thus unavailable” and offering friendship instead, “just let me know how you’d like to proceed.”

Since saying “no, I do not want to proceed” is tantamount to not proceeding, I did not believe that the email required a response. I did, however, proceed to think about his message, revisiting the email late the next night, for my ongoing analysis of the situation. And somehow, while I was reading between the lines, my hand slipped and I accidentally responded... with a blank email.

Disoriented by what at first felt like a mortifying mistake, my distress turned into relief when I realized that I hadn’t really done any damage. A blank email was actually a perfect response: an encapsulation of how I felt, which was nothing.

There are two relatively emotionless strategies for dealing with someone who undermines you: repeat the idiotic thing they just said or say nothing. Unfortunately, over email, intentional silence is hard to distinguish from regular email silence. You can’t be sure that the message was sent unless you document it in some way. Realizing the power of the blank email, it was like I’d unlocked a new feature in email correspondence — the silent response.

There is a homely old adage which runs “the disrespect is the closure.” I try to live by this every day, but sometimes you need a little more oompfh. This probably isn’t the type of technique you should deploy in any situation where your job is on the line and you would like to keep it, but it can be extremely useful to express your frustration, disgust, or disappointment with someone without really having to.

In my case, the conversation ended there, but that doesn’t always happen. If the other party actually cares, or if they’re really toxic, they might break the silence first, at which point you could negotiate some new terms, but whenever possible, I recommend closing the chapter without giving away too much of yourself in the process.