I still have pen pals at 41

I get some very curious looks when I tell people that I have pen pals.

Pen pals. You know, letters? Stamps? Taking the time to sit down and write out your thoughts to a friend you’ve never met? Yes, people still do this!

I truly love receiving letters because it means a friend took the time to write to me. There are aspects of life today that definitely make maintaining friendships easier, and social media is undeniably one. But … well, it’s really not that social is it?

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve run into someone I haven’t seen in a while and they have nothing to ask me because they’ve already gone through my Facebook posts. Our friendship remains online, unable to translate into the real world.

When my family moved from my childhood home of Montreal when I was eight, my best friend Alison and I exchanged letters almost immediately. It was a way to keep in touch, however simple our conversations were at the time.

Back when I read the teen magazines of my childhood, there was always little section in the back where you could list your name and let readers know you were looking for a pen pal, which is how I met Laura, my second pen pal – a fellow fan of New Kids On The Block and now one of my dearest friends.

My personal ‘worldwide web’ grew organically, I got to know about people I’d never have met otherwise and just became more connected to the world and the people that lived in it. Of course I’m older now and sometimes I get behind on my correspondence, but those moments when I get to sit down are priceless.

I breathe then I make a cup of coffee and put pen to paper. I read what my friend has written from Austria or California, and the world slows down for a bit.

My friend Beatrice visited from Vienna after 20 years of letter writing (Picture: Logan Dunn)

I have met a few of my pen pals over the years. My friend Beatrice visited from Vienna after 20 years of letter writing, and it was like meeting my ultra-cool Austrian twin sister. One of the most memorable occasions was finally meeting my friend Shanna – at her wedding.

We started writing to each other when we were 16 and for whatever reason, we never spoke on the phone. So when I knocked on the door that October day, I had no idea what she sounded like and vice versa.

It left me speechless! Everyone at the wedding knew me as ‘the pen pal’, and commented that I must know Shanna in a way that no one else did – which is so true!

Those letters were and are for our eyes only, giving us both a chance to let our guards down.

To me a letter is similar to a diary entry, but in this case it’s being shared with a treasured person. I really believe there is something to putting your words to paper, because we can’t always verbalise what we need or want to say.

I adore meeting my friends for a tea or an after work pint, but those conversations don’t always get to what’s deep down because time is a concern or you’re not in a place to speak frankly. Of course you can still have very meaningful conversations, but whether it’s dating or casual friendships, relationships feel quite disposable now.

There’s something very personal to letter writing, which is why my pen pal friends are so close to my heart.

Now, Shanna and I meet every few years, most recently celebrating our birthdays in Las Vegas (her 40th and my 41st).

I love to go back through old letters and soak in memories of days gone by. I’m suddenly a teenager again, back in high school dreaming of the future. Friends praying they’d be parents one day or struggling with the loss of a parent much too soon.

I’d like to believe that writing letters has made me a better friends: a better listener, more mindful of my own words and just aware of how precious time is.

As I get older, these friendships mean more to me than ever. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve all come and where have yet to go. It’s all there in our letters.

To this day, one of my favourite movies is the 1940 classic The Shop Around the Corner (you might know its remake, You’ve Got Mail). They play two bickering coworkers who, unbeknownst to them, are falling in love through their letters addressed to ‘Dear Friend’.

When Jimmy Stewart’s character finally realises what’s up, he sums my pen pal friendships perfectly with the line: ‘There might be a lot we don’t know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.’

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