When you get an e-mail from someone you know and it wasn’t meant to go to you, remain calm. Read it if you have to, but never, ever, let on to the sender that you have read it.
Are you going, you read, to Icky Susan’s stupid birthday dinner? Fortunately, you are not Susan; unfortunately, you are her friend. You have never before heard any of your supposedly mutual friends refer to her as “Icky Susan.” Consider the list of people who were sent this message: you know some of the names, but not all of them. Does this mean that Icky Susan is known to be icky among a large circle of people, or that some of them, like you, were sent the message by mistake?
Copy the text without looking at it and paste it into Word; then (and only then) Reply to Sender thus: This seems to have been sent to me by mistake. Don’t worry, I’ve deleted it. All best, [Your name here]. Send the message and watch it being sent: the bar will fill up quickly or slowly depending on the speed of your modem and the time of day. Regret sending it for a moment, but do not exacerbate the situation by sending a second message that says By the way—I didn’t read it. Decide that that must be implicit.
Look at the message again. Look for Susan’s name among the recipients and be glad you don’t find it. Imagine how terrible she would feel if she saw this message. Realize that you have always known, deep down, that the sender doesn’t like your friend Susan but only pretends to for your sake. Try to forget you have read it; try not to imagine the ways that you, too, now that you think of it (Don’t!), find the hapless Susan icky.
Log off from your Internet Service Provider because you need a rest from e-mail, but don’t shut down your actual e-mail program in case you want to quickly type a quick message to one of your many friends and acquaintances, some of whom you would not be in touch with had they not handed you their business card at the last college reunion, the one where everyone suddenly had business cards with e-mail addresses on them. Take a deep breath. Go make yourself a cup of herbal tea.
Go back to your desk. Move the mouse so the fish stop swimming on your screen. Look at your new untitled document containing the mis-sent e-mail. Consider again how lovely it would be to work at home, not in a cubicle. (You’ve got a much better choice of tea at home.) Get back on-line and e-mail your friends this consideration, but try to phrase it more cleverly: type in I wish I could work at home… but it occurs to me that “home office” is an oxymoron. Send the message; then send another one to the same people saying: Not that he’s not a nice guy. Get off-line again. Everyone is probably at lunch, anyway. Make yourself a cup of real tea because this one has gotten cold. Do not berate yourself for the wasted teabag, or the loss of hot water. Do not think of the luxuriousness of your idle life, that you can waste tea, water and heat in this way, not to mention the milk. Do not think of the milk.
Think about Susan and why someone might find her icky. There’s the way she chews with her mouth open, there’s the way she can draw out a cup of coffee for over an hour, taking tiny sips and holding you hostage to her beverage consumption while you think, I finished my coffee ages ago, what is your problem? The last time you saw Susan you met at a place that, unfortunately, had a millennium clock ticking down the seconds on the wall behind her, and so you could time her coffee exactly: 67 minutes.
But you knew this about her, which is why you never eat lunch with her anymore—it takes four hours—and you knew, too, that for Susan this is a vicious circle: she is lonely, so she eats and drinks slowly on social occasions, which makes people not want to eat with her, which makes her more lonely. Resolve to bring a nice big bunch of daisies to her birthday party. Realize, with a shock, that though you knew it was her birthday next week, you have not yet received an invitation to her party, by e-mail, voicemail, fax or phone or answering machine, or even by old fashioned paper snail mail. Think: That bitch. Resist the temptation to “accidentally” forward the mis-sent message to the (in the end) Icky Susan. Consider yourself virtuous.
Go into Word. Open your new document. Save it as “mis-sent mail” in your “private, miscellany, to file” folder. Read it again. It’s not so bad. It makes no mention of you. In this e-mail, you do not exist; you do not exist, in these words. There is no party being plotted for you.
Regret this. False alarm, you will type later, to someone, it doesn’t matter who; and they will say, Go outside on this lovely sunny day, Go into this drizzly real world. You have friends who talk like this on-line. You would never tell them this, but sometimes they sound ridiculous. Sometimes you wonder if some of them ever do anything but e-mail; sometimes, you suspect, they wonder that of you. This, too, you would never tell them. Save again, and close.