My inbox is not your private Pinterest board

Here's how you deal with a friend who's window-shopping online on your behalf.


Jess Zimmerman

Internet Culture

Published Sep 11, 2013   Updated Jun 1, 2021, 6:49 am CDT

Thanks to the Internet, we now have a host of new ways to offend, enrage, misinterpret, creep out, or alienate people. In Tangled Web, we field your questions about how to be a decent human online. Have a question? Ask [email protected].

My friend is constantly emailing me links to clothes, shoes, and household items she thinks I would like. I honestly don’t know how she has time to do so much online shopping, but I don’t —and more to the point, I don’t have the money for it. I don’t know if she expects me to buy all these things or what, but I can’t afford new stuff right now, and she knows enough about my financial situation to put that together. How do I make her stop without having to do a pathetic monologue about how little spare money I have?

I am actually this friend. I mean, I’m probably not YOUR friend, but I’m the friend who sends everyone pictures of dresses I think they might like, so let me give you what I think may be some insight into her thought process. Likelier than not, she doesn’t expect you to buy these things at all; in fact, she may be sending them to you because she knows you can’t actually buy them. Not as a means of gloating, but because she assumes you find window-shopping as pleasant as she does and that you find contemplating pretty things online to be relaxing, rather than a painful reminder of all the things you can’t afford.

When I send clothing and shoes links back and forth with my friends, the implicit (and often explicit) point is, “Oh man this costs so much and I don’t need it at all but look how PRETTY it is.” It’s similar to the instinct that drives us to look at gallery art that we don’t care we can’t buy. That’s something we experience, appreciate, and express mutually.

In other words, she’s probably not malicious or trying to rub it in that you don’t have extra funds. She may also just be trying to signal to you that she “gets” you. If she’s a design or fashion person or just a particularly aesthetics-motivated one, understanding someone’s style and visual self-presentation may serve as an important inroad for understanding who they are.

So, these are all kindly motives, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it if it stresses you out. If you’re not responding enthusiastically, then she should have noticed and backed off. Just tell her that you appreciate that she’s thinking of you while on her online window-shopping adventures but that it makes you kind of tense to think about all the stuff you can’t afford right now. Maybe instead she can make a Pinterest board for stuff she thinks you’d like, and you can check in if you want DIY ideas—or at some point in the future when you have more disposable income.

Jess Zimmerman has been making social blunders on the Internet since 1994. Most of her current interpersonal drama takes place on Twitter (@j_zimms).

Photo via Koen Dries/Flickr

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*First Published: Sep 11, 2013, 12:00 pm CDT