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I recently got a very general “Happy Holidays” mass email from an acquaintance’s work email -- imagine a mail merge with “Dear MERGIE, Happy Holidays from everyone here at Acme Widget Co.” I am considering replying to the mass email, using it as an excuse to get back in touch with the sender, but am concerned about how that might be perceived.

BACKGROUND: The sender is a prominent person in our shared field and someone I like personally and professionally. We are of opposite gender and know that both of us have spouses, families, etc. Years ago, a colleague introduced us at a conference and we have since developed a pleasant friendship/acquaintanceship. e.g. Several months after we were introduced, we met for breakfast to talk about a work matter. Over the years, we have sporadically emailed back and forth only on specific professional matters of interest to both of us. In so doing, we have shared pleasantries about children, work, etc. The sender also once spoke on a panel of experts I put together at another conference, mostly as a favor although perhaps in part because the organization is prestigious and offers nice exposure, other professional contacts, etc. We have not spoken or emailed for more than a year, probably because there hasn’t been a reason to reach out. We have never been friendly enough to just “check in” without a reason.

GOAL/QUESTION: I would like to be friends with this acquaintance because I find the person interesting and I have enjoyed our interactions. Actively pursuing a friendship, however, is slightly complicated by the fact that we are different genders and that the other person is more prominent than I am in our shared field (though not the same company). I wouldn’t want any of my actions to be misconstrued as being either romantically hopeful or professional striving (the work equivalent of social climbing). Should I just hope that there will be future actual reasons to get in touch and that perhaps a friendship can develop?

I am aware that since a friendship hasn’t happened, perhaps it isn’t meant to be or would need to move that way organically. At the moment, however, I don’t have an organic reason to get in touch. So can I reply to the mass email, for which the sender might not even remember that I was on the distribution list? In addition to the other complications noted above, if I use the mass email as a jumping off point to re-engage, might it seem as if I thought the sender was actually sending me individual holiday wishes, which would be both presumptuous and make me look like I didn’t know that it was a mass email?

  • Whether or not this will be perceived as 'odd' is sadly something only your acquaintance can answer. We can't look into their head, and say whether or not this will be odd or not for them. Your other question, about further developing this friendship without coming across as romantically interested or being a social climber, is interesting though. Focusing your question on that might make it a better question for this stack. – Tinkeringbell Dec 22 '18 at 12:40
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    Thanks for the thoughts. I tried to edit this to focus it as you suggested. – Mergie Dec 23 '18 at 13:01
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The general etiquette of email communication doesn't forbid replying to mass-emails. In a more traditional sense it was very customary to send out christmas greeting cards to friends and acquintances.

You could reply to the mass-email without it seeming odd.

Your second question is not directly related to the first. The mass-email is just your incentive to contact this person again. How you communicate your wish for a non-romantic, non-work-related friendship has nothing to do with it.

I propose using the upcomming holidays as a chance to meet again. Openly invite spouse and children to make it clear that you are not intetested in romance or a tryst. Direct the invitation towards "talking about good times" or just "meeting friends again" to enshure it won't be confused with a work-related meeting.

Be prepared to receive a rejection. You can ask to postpone the meeting to a date that suits them, but they might not be interested in this friendship the way you are.

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    This is a good response, but for the love of all that's holy, please know the difference between "reply" and "reply all". – baldPrussian Dec 22 '18 at 21:20
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    I appreciate these thoughts, but I don't think I could issue an invitation for spouses and children. Our relationship is strictly professional and it probably would be both presumptuous and too forward on my part, in part because of our different levels of status within our fields. – Mergie Dec 23 '18 at 7:05

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