On formality and acting like an old person and a child simultaneously

I have this habit. I think it comes from working in nonprofit development, where every word out of one’s mouth must be vapid and obsequious. If I’m emailing or calling someone for the first time, for some reason, I feel obliged to refer to them formally, as a Mr./Ms. For example:

Dear Mr. McDonald,
I am writing with an inquiry about your delicious (if deadly) hamburgers.

When I feel many people would probably be perfectly comfortable writing:

Dear Ronald,
I have been a conflicted fan of yours for ages.

This made sense when I was young and writing strangers to ask them for money on behalf of an opera house. But now, I feel like it comes off as stiff, overly formal, or at worst immature.

It feels strange, though, to call someone whom I’ve never met by their first name. Why? No idea. Perhaps it is some old-timey idea about formality and respect. Perhaps I’ve read too much Jane Austen.*  Even now that I can easily search someone to find out they are the same age or younger than I am, and I have some credentials behind me that might (might) qualify me as a peer. I’ve embraced a semi-casual, unstilted tone in the body of my letters, letting my addressees know that I am hip, with it, and otherwise down to chat, without sounding like a crazy person. Hopefully. And once someone replies and signs their email with a first-name-only sign-off, I dig in and reply with a:

Hi, Ron!

So why not start off easy-going? For an extended-adolescent urban dweller without a stock portfolio or any property holdings, I skew formal. I used to think this made me look mature. Now I’m pretty sure it makes me sound like a 16-year-old writing her first business letter in English class.

What do y’all think?

*Ok, ok. Seen too many Jane Austen-based movies.


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