- Michael Thompson
Gave yourself a home haircut? Started drinking more water? Fixed the creaky garage door? No life update is too mundane.
Two of my childhood friends and I maintain an email thread that’s both active and aggressively boring. In one recent message, my buddy Josh told us about the progress he’s made on his deck; in response, I informed the group that my son Luc threw a Lego at my eye. Over the past several months, we’ve briefed each other on the family board games we played, the meals we’ve consumed, and the loads of laundry we’ve ignored.
These quick life updates couldn’t be more mundane, and yet I’ve come to value them. I’ve become a proponent of the boring weekly email update.
I first heard the idea of starting a boring email chain with friends or family on the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. Rubin was talking about an observation made by her mother, which was that “when you’re in touch with a person all the time, you have a lot to say to each other, but when you see a person rarely, you have a hard time coming up with things to say.”
Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard summed up this social phenomenon in his memoir series My Struggle. In a somber passage, he writes about his fear that he and his brother would lose touch once he moved away:
That’s what distance does; when the time between conversations gets longer, intimacy diminishes, the little things connected to one’s daily life lose their place, it seems odd to talk about a shirt you just bought or to mention you’re thinking of leaving the dishes until morning when you haven’t spoken to a person for two weeks or a month, that absence would seem instead to call for more important topics, and once they begin to determine the conversation there’s no turning back, because then it’s two diplomats exchanging information about their respective realms in a conversation that needs to be started up from scratch, in a sense, every time, which gradually becomes tedious, and eventually it’s easier not to bother phoning at all, in which case it’s even harder the next time, and then suddenly it’s been a half a year of silence.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this before. I certainly have: If you bump into a friend who you haven’t seen in a while, it can be a struggle to get the conversation off the ground. So much has happened since the last time you talked that it’s hard to know where to pick up. You probably aren’t going to bring up the dynamite salad you made the other day or the fact that you finally beat your kid in Uno. And so you fall into a dance of “What’s up with you?” “Not much. What’s up with you?”
That’s why, even if you can’t be together physically, it’s important to maintain your relationships with frequent communication — even if that communication is low-stakes. Pitch the idea of a boring weekly email update thread to your friends or family members as an invitation to stay connected. Encourage them to take just two minutes a week to drop in mundane details about their lives. You can even make the subject line “boring updates” to take away any pressure of sharing something exciting.
You may find that by embracing email small talk, you’ll feel closer to the people you love. And when the world opens up again, it will be that much easier to launch into more meaningful conversations. You’ll start right where you left off last week.