The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: He deletes; she archives. Is there communications middle ground?


Dear Carolyn,

I recently found out that my boyfriend deletes all his e-mails, including ones from me. I was so surprised when I heard this because I’ve never met someone who doesn’t keep any personal e-mails!

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I was also a bit hurt and upset because we’ve had some heartfelt e-mail exchanges, especially when we did long distance for a year. I’ve poured hours of thought into our correspondence.

Admittedly, I am somewhat of a sentimentalist and enjoy reading old messages, or at least knowing they are available to be read at any time.

When I asked him the reason, he said the messages themselves don’t matter so much, it’s the feelings they bring out. He also explained that he doesn’t delete my messages immediately after reading them, but maybe a week or a month later, after the messages have exhausted their use.

I can’t believe he doesn’t value our correspondence enough to keep. Since then, I’m having a hard time writing to him at all knowing my message will eventually be deleted.

I don’t want this to be an issue, and I don’t care about his e-mail management per se, but it’s been on my mind for longer than expected. Advice?


Please don’t take this the wrong way — man, I want to be your boyfriend.

A clean e-mail queue . . . I’m just going to close my eyes and feel it for a second . . . sigh.

You do realize, I think, that what you have isn’t just an e-mail-sav(or)ing difference but a difference in the way you live your emotional lives. That’s why you haven’t been able to shake this off as you expected you would — and that’s why it is an issue, even though you don’t want it to be.

For a sentimental person to pair off happily with an emotional modernist, both need to feel gratitude for the difference, vs. pain or contempt, and neither one can harbor the goal of changing the other’s approach.

His preference is about him and yours is about you; if you remain unconvinced of that, then the path I see for this relationship is a frustrating one for you both.

So can you, Sentimental, appreciate his uncluttered emotional shelves — or will you keep buying him knickknacks and then feeling rejected when he doesn’t display them?

And can you, Modernist, regard her nostalgia as a warm place that’s available to you when you want or need it — or will it always be, in your eyes, the unholy spawn of silliness and a hoarding compulsion?

The way people show affection isn’t in itself a measure of how much affection they feel — effusive gestures can be empty, of course, and quiet ones both powerful and profound. He could be archiving emotions just as you tuck away mail. But believing this intellectually isn’t enough: The quality of his affection has to be there, as does your ability to appreciate the way he chooses to show it.

The clearest way to judge these is to see whether each of you is getting what you want and need from the other. How you measure that is up to you, with only one ground rule: You can tell someone what you want, but you can’t tell anyone what to give.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
What can babies teach students?
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Is fencing the answer to brain health?
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
How a hacker group came to Washington
The woman behind the Nats’ presidents ‘Star Wars’ makeover
How hackers can control your car from miles away
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Europe's migrant crisis, explained

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.