By Kari Jenkins
Most people's experiences with pen pals are limited to just a few letters exchanged at school age. But some pen pals write to each other for years, even decades - one pair of pen pals ended up writing to each other for 80 years. Some may think that relationships build on letter-writing are relics of another time, but technology and social media haven't gotten rid of them. People still keep pen pals to connect with people across the globe, learn new languages, and in the case of those who send snail mail, take a break from technology. But what can pen pals do to strengthen their friendships and help their correspondences last?
Even if you and your pen pal usually communicate via email, occasionally sending letters via snail mail can make your correspondence even more special.
Because we're so used to sending and receiving emails, getting a handwritten letter in the most is an instant way to brighten someone's day.
The simplest of handwritten letters can feel more personal than words typed on a screen.
Sending snail mail takes a little more effort than sending out an email. But technology has made even this old-fashioned exercise a little more convenient. For instance, you can easily bulk buy stamps online to save time, as well as order your stationery online. As for the deliberate nature of traditional mail, it's precisely this that gives this medium of communication its charm. People tend to put more thought into what they write on paper. They can also benefit the sender, as they give the opportunity to pause and reflect, allowing the writer to process thoughts and experiences better.
Writing letters is all about giving someone else glimpses into your life. And to effectively do this, you have to be yourself.
Don't get caught up trying to impress your pen pal. If you want to strengthen your relationship with your pen pal, pretending to be someone you're not won't get you anywhere.
Only by being true to yourself will your pen pal sense your openness and respond in kind.
However, it's also important that you give your pen pal something to work with. Instead of going into drawn-out paragraphs about your likes, dislikes, and what you did recently, include questions for your pen pal and respond to things they mentioned in their previous letters. Remember that you're essentially conversing with each other, so that requires some give-and-take.
Any relationship requires plenty of thoughtfulness to flourish. When it comes to pen-pals, thoughtfulness could mean greeting them on holidays and special events like their birthdays,
even sending the occasional small gift. Just putting in that extra effort to show that you care - even if it's simply using attractive stationery instead of just a legal pad - can make a big impression.
Thoughtfulness also translates to simply being respectful of your pen pal's time. We all live busy lives, and you can't expect to be the top priority. You don't want to overwhelm them with daily emails, nor leave them waiting too long for a response.
Early on in your correspondence, it's a good idea to touch base with your pen pal and talk about expectations and boundaries.
How long would they prefer your letters to be? How frequently should you be writing to each other? Which topics are off-limits?
You don't have to make it an incredibly serious conversation or give them a long list of do's and do not's - just make sure that you're on the same page to prevent miscommunication later on.
There will probably be instances when your pen pal will take longer than usual to respond. In these cases, be patient. Don't overreact, and understand that sometimes, life just gets in the way of letter-writing. If they still don't get back to you after a long time, send them a quick email or postcard to check-in. In cases when you're the one who hasn't responded in a while, just send your pen pal a quick message to let them know that you're still interested in maintaining your correspondence.
If you don't hear from your pen pal again, don't take it personally. Remember that it happens to everyone, and don't give up. Look for another one and start again. Hopefully, you'll have better luck with your next one.