Army 101 / Deployment / Relationship advice

How (not) to communicate with your deployed soldier via email

Jonathan and I may have our communication mishaps when he’s stateside, but I’d like to think, with his last deployment under our belts, we’re starting to get the hang of communicating successfully through the distance. Which just goes to show you how often I prove myself wrong.

Anybody who has worked in an office is likely familiar with the “high importance” flag that can be used to tag urgent or priority outgoing emails (i.e. “The company president is flying in from Texas tomorrow, so try not to come to work in cutoff jean shorts, and make sure the desk drawer where you keep your flask of vodka is locked.”*) The high-importance message is marked with that urgent red exclamation point! so that you know whoever sent it needs to chill the f*** out have your urgent attention for this important matter.

High importance

Although I’m fluent in the high importance! notification at work, this feature doesn’t seem to exist traditionally in Gmail. So Jonathan is left without the stark visual clue to help him sort through which of my emails are Very Important, and which are just links to pictures of baby animals and floral arrangements.

At first, I was dedicated to providing level-of-importance clues in my email subject lines. Jonathan hasn’t had as much internet time this deployment to catch up on his emails, so I’ve developed a capitalization and punctuation strategy to help him immediately identify which items need his prompt attention (“URGENT! Vehicle Registration Renewal”), and which items could probably wait (“catering update”).

But as this deployment stretches on, that stretching has seemed only to decrease Jonathan’s available time to catch up on emails. There’s no blame to place, of course, but that hasn’t stopped my frustration from sort of…taking over. And in my weaker moments, the frustration has led to subject lines like “JONATHAN LOOK!!!!! (at these puppies)” And, sometimes, an email boasting the subject line “URGENT! READ FIRST!” opens up to a description of a particularly great sandwich I had for lunch.

In my defense, that's a grilled cheese sandwich I made with soft cheese, and cranberries I reduced in honey. If that sandwich isn't worth an email, then I don't know what is.

In my defense, that’s a grilled goat cheese sandwich topped with honey-reduced cranberries that I made around Thanksgiving. If that sandwich isn’t worth a high-importance email, I don’t know what is.

This soothed my frustration initially, but now we’re at the point where I’ve turned into the boy who cried wolf/girl who emailed sandwich. So, instead of my urgent emails catching Jonathan’s eye in their urgency, they fade unceremoniously into the mundane, sandwich-filled background. He sees capslock and exclamation points and, instead of thinking “this could be about finalizing the wedding guest list so Aileen can order enough invitations,” he probably thinks “I don’t like cranberries or goat cheese, so stop emailing me pictures of your lunch.”

And in the “things that should help but actually don’t” category, Gmail has recently released their spin on the high-importance flag. Except, instead of the sender imposing the importance, the email attempts to read the recipient’s mind. Gmail now uses its Google powers to track your habits (SEE? The government is watching me. Get the tin foil hats ready.) and flags emails it believes are important, mostly (from what I can tell) based on your past interactions with the sender. Unfortunately for Jonathan, this means that at any given moment when he can stop by the MWR to check his email, his inbox is filled with 36 new messages, all flagged by Gmail as “important,” with various CAPITALIZATIONS and surges of exclamation points!!!!!!!!!! that correlate sometimes to level of importance, and sometimes to level of PUPPIES!

So I guess I can’t get too upset that he still hasn’t responded to my email with the subject line “Will you be really upset if I put this tea kettle on our registry?”

Lessons learned: Life as an army wife will require me to chill the f*** out channel my frustration in a more constructive manner. Maybe an understood email-subject-line system is in order for us; number of exclamation points could signify level of importance; a subject line in all caps could signify an impending deadline that I need Jonathan’s help to complete; and an empty subject line could mean it’s an email about cats.

Question for military significant others, or anybody who sends emails to one person on a regular basis (it doesn’t count if that person is whoever opens Rupert Grint’s fan mail, Jacki): In this email-centric age, how do you signify level of importance to combat urgent emails being lost in a sea of puppy links?

*I don’t actually keep a flask of vodka in my desk drawer at work. What kind of an employee do you think I am?*^

*^I keep the whole bottle in there.*^^

*^^I’m kidding. Geez. I just keep an entire bag of peanut M&Ms and two cans of V8. I’ve had so many bloody marys at this point that, if I try hard enough, the V8 sort of tastes like vodka. And that’s how I get through my afternoons.

20 thoughts on “How (not) to communicate with your deployed soldier via email

  1. HEY I SAW THAT. I KNOW RUPERT GRINT IS READING ALL MY LETTERS- HE’S JUST WAITING FOR THE RIGHT TIME TO RESPOND.

    WAIT HOLD THE PHONE YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO USE CAPS LOCK CONSTANTLY IN LIFE TO MAKE ALL YOUR POINTS LOUDER AND MORE EMPHATIC?

  2. That goat cheese cranberry sandwhich is ABSOLUTELY worth an urgent exclamation point email. Adorable cat emails also merit CAPS (well, I think so anyway).

    That is an awesome girafe tea kettle. I saw this the other day and immediately thought of you (that was, if you like tea, and judging by your tea kettle you might).
    http://img3.etsystatic.com/003/0/6534908/il_fullxfull.357238255_kuih.jpg

    Maybe you could start using question marks for urgent emails that need his input. Then he can be all like “whoa! This intense line of question marks from my amazing fiance clearly means that there is an important matter with a question that I must address immediately.” Just don’t use them for puppies and kittens emails since their adorableness is never a question.

  3. This post. Gold.

    That said, I’m pretty notorious for abusing caps lock myself, sooooo I’m not sure I have any advice to give. And Sean never responds to my emails anyway (and oftentimes, my texts… grrr) so I definitely don’t have any USEFUL advice to give. Except sometimes when I send emails that I deem super important to my family I put, in the subject line, “THIS IS LEGITIMATELY IMPORTANT DON’T…” something or other and Gmail cuts off the rest of the subject line but they usually click it open at that point.

    Also, at work, I get these emails that say “ACTION REQUIRED:” and I know they mean business.

    • Jonathan and Sean should form a club called “our significant others should stop emailing/texting us so much, and then maybe we’d respond, but still probably we wouldn’t.” Luckily the club name is too long to fit on a t-shirt, because they probably don’t want t-shirts anyway.

  4. Aileen. I don’t even know where to start on this one.

    1. I want that giraffe tea kettle. I am not messing around here. Where did you find that?!
    2. “our significant others should stop emailing/texting us so much, and then maybe we’d respond, but still probably we wouldn’t” -Story of my life.
    3. I go the harassment route. Every email/text after the first one goes like this: “Did you get my email? Did you read it? Did you? Did you get it? You should consider answering it then answer it. Remember that email? Did you get it?
    4. See #2

    I love this blog.

    • Katie, click the giraffe teakettle picture. It will take you to that teakettle on Amazon, where I am conveniently registered for my wedding.

      Here’s an idea for us: every time our military men don’t respond to our emails, we purchase something giraffe print and display it publicly in said military man’s house. My plan is for Jonathan to come home from Afghanistan to a safari. At which point I’ll feel like a total asshole, because it’s not really his *fault* that he can’t respond to the emails. But then I’ll stop feeling like an asshole because, screw it, *my house is a safari*.

      • I already sent the link for the tea kettle to Nick. Complete with !!!!!!!! Also I’m gifting it to you for your wedding, so you may as well take it off the registry now. I have a fairly outrageous collection to giraffe items already, and I think it’s been silently agreed that it will only get bigger. Also, great point, it’s not actually his fault, which we know, but we retaliate with safaris anyway to feel like we’ve somehow come out on top. Which brings us back to #2.

  5. I am notorious for sending a shit-ton of emails to my honey. He complains about it all the time – however, I have it on good authority that when he complains about something, it means he’s happy. (And they say women are confusing!) Thankfully I never really have anything important to say, so when I do get a response, I’m all giddy. Maybe we should petition Gmail for a high priority tag.

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