The art of exchanging letters

Reviving the art of letter writing can lead to an unexpected friendship

Illustration: Maple Sukontasukkul

By: Molly Lorette, Peak Associate

Does anyone else remember when getting mail used to be exciting? Getting a birthday card in the mail with a bill tucked inside used to be the most thrilling experience as a kid. These days, while getting a package due to my unquenchable online shopping habits gives me a nice dash of serotonin, my mail mostly consists of bills, bills, flyers, and more bills. 

I’m not 100% clear on when the highly coveted art of writing letters died out, but it certainly precedes how long I’ve known how to read and write. Apart from the occasional thank you note to grandma, I was never an avid letter writer until a few years ago.

Then I started pen palling. To put it simply, pen palling has gifted me the joy of checking the mail again. Cards from grandma are certainly fun, but now that I have treasured friends sending me heartfelt letters, I have even more joy associated with my mailbox. If you’re at all interested in creating some cool friendships with people across the globe, I would highly recommend seeking out a pen pal or two.

With the internet being so expansive, I’m not clear on why it never struck me that there would be a thriving pen palling community nestled amongst its landscape. However, upon being introduced to it via Tumblr, I was intrigued.

Typically, I’ve found that social media has been a great tool for meeting new people. Currently, the Instagram hashtag #penpalswanted has 76.6k posts, and I’m certain that similar hashtags exist across Twitter and other related platforms. Personally, I sought out a Tumblr blog that permitted submissions where I could post a short description of me and my interests so I could find like-minded people. The benefit of submission was that I was able to protect my identity, and only responded to people if I genuinely felt a connection with them. Naturally, the idea of disclosing my address to a complete stranger was also quite frightening, so I emailed with a lot of them prior to actually exchanging anything. All that stuff that was drilled into our heads about internet safety? Use it. Unless you feel comfortable with someone, do NOT disclose your address. Use that coveted common sense.

I’m not going to lie and say that my experiences are 100% always positive. It’s pretty common that people might stop communicating after a while or may never send a single letter in the first place, which can be disheartening if you take the time to craft a package for them. I even had a long-distance relationship with a pen pal like the hopeless romantic that I am. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out for me and I would not recommend it. That being said, I’ve managed to build some lovely lasting friendships with a few amazing people from across the globe. 

There’s something quite special about writing a letter to someone. It’s rare to get to know someone purely through paragraphs on pages, and it creates a really intimate space between the two writers. Given that my letters tend to span several pages, I find that I end up communicating to my pen pals in a candid and vulnerable way about my life. Even though I’ve never met them in person, we’ve still managed to craft a close friendship built upon opening up to one another. Communicating socially with people face to face isn’t always smooth sailing, so there’s something truly unique about getting to know someone purely from the physical letters and trinkets that they send to you. Think I’m getting too sappy? Wait until you hear about the wall in my room I literally have dedicated to taping up the amazing things my lovely friends have sent to me.

In the modern world, returning to letter writing has been really therapeutic for me. Building lasting friendships existing purely through these exchanges has given me a very interesting outlook on the ways in which we can all communicate and build trust. 

If you’re sitting around home missing some social interaction, check out what your local pen pal network can offer you!  Establishing meaningful human connections is vital now more than ever, and now is a great time to seek it out. If pen palling doesn’t interest you, I would also suggest writing a letter to a friend. At the very least, you will bring a spark of joy into someone’s mailbox.