“Write soon! Love always.” The benefits of friendships formed through letter writing

‘Letter writing is much like keeping a diary, depending on who you are writing to’

“Write soon! Love always.” The benefits of friendships formed through letter writing

“Write soon! Love always.” The benefits of friendships formed through letter writing

I thought everybody felt the same excitement as me when checking the letterbox for mail.

But to my surprise, I discovered that many people feel stressed when opening their letterbox. This is because they expect to find bills.  My experience is different.

Over the past 38 years, I have received handwritten letters sprayed with perfume and envelopes containing newspaper clippings, presents, drawings, photos, magazines, music cassettes, you name it. I’ve not only received these items, but I have also sent them. I guess I am one of the lucky ones who doesn’t really notice if there are bills.
As a child in the 1980s, my family moved around a lot, which was fantastic because I travelled more than the average kid my age; the downside was that I kept leaving friends behind. When I was eight years old, we left our home on an idyllic tropical island to move to Europe. Leaving my friends and our dogs was hard to do. It was also challenging to move to a much colder country, where life was very different from what I was accustomed to in the Caribbean.
This was a time when we had no email, Skype, instant messaging or even SMS (Short Message Service) to stay in touch.

Connecting helps ease feelings of isolation

International phone calls were costly, and my parents wouldn’t always permit me to phone. So, my best friend from primary school and I wrote letters, which was the only way to stay in touch at the time. The shock I felt following our move was severe, but letter writing helped me stay in touch with what I was used to and, at the same time, adapt to my new life. Everything was different; my life was upside down. I missed everything about my old life and felt lost in this new reality.
Our letters would often take weeks to reach their destination. I would learn about things that happened in my friend’s life weeks or months after the event. I remember a letter she wrote me about a coup that took place, which I received weeks after the event happened. We would also ask each other for advice, which would take weeks to get, but was always invaluable.
We would send each other drawings of our bedrooms when we changed the layout and occasionally sent each other photos, but only sometimes because they were expensive to print. We recorded our favourite songs and made music cassettes for each other. During our teen years, we didn’t only write about music and boys; we also had serious conversations about what was happening in the world, like what was happening to the ozone layer and the Amazonian rainforest.

Everything is shared, as in a private diary

Through our letters, we could and would tell each other everything, about the fights we’d had with our parents or siblings, about how our dogs were doing. And our letters would always end with “Write soon! Love always.”
Thirty-eight years later, we still write letters, less than before, because we occasionally resort to modern technologies as the postal services have most certainly deteriorated over the years while becoming more expensive; but, for every birthday, special occasion, or festivity, we send each other a card or a gift.
Looking back, letter-writing is much like keeping a diary, depending on who you are writing to. I never kept a diary until recently, but in a way, I’ve always kept one without knowing it, because I told my friend everything, about how I missed her and my old life, about the difficulties I was facing in my new life; she would patiently read each of my letters, decipher my terrible handwriting, and give me advice; of course, she would write to me about what was going on ‘at home’ and keep me up to date on everything in her life, telling me how she missed me, too. I knew exactly where she lived and what her house and surroundings looked like.
On the other hand, apart from what I described in my letters, she didn’t know what my house or new country looked like. In an era before smartphones, the Internet, or computers, I would make drawings of our house and my room so she could get an idea of where I was and what my surroundings looked like.
Receiving a letter was always one of the best parts of my day.

A friendship where distance is irrelevant

Over these years, my friend and I have written to each other constantly, never missing a birthday or Christmas, although it seems harder to sit down to write a letter nowadays. We are both so busy that we can’t seem to find the time anymore; maybe it’s also in part because we have other ways of staying in touch now. We tried emailing, but it never stuck; we’ve always preferred writing letters. Instant messaging has affected our friendship more, and we often text each other. The last actual letter I wrote was eight months ago, and it is still sitting on my desk to be posted, but I did send birthday and Christmas presents in the meantime.
My penfriend and I have moved to different countries several times over the years; I don’t know how many times I’ve changed her address in my address book or how many times she has changed mine. During all this time, we have seen each other only once and briefly, but thanks to our letters, we probably know certain ‘secrets’ about each other that other friends don’t know about. We have a different kind of friendship; we might not even be friends now if I hadn’t moved away and we hadn’t kept writing letters; who knows? She is so far away but yet so close.

Encouraging sign

My daughter, Summer, who is struggling to recover from an eating disorder, has started writing letters with the daughter of a friend of mine, who had an eating disorder experience but has recovered. My friend’s daughter is the sweetest girl, and she and my daughter have become friends. Her letters give Summer strength and joy during difficult times. The funny thing is that they started their friendship by messaging each other by phone, but now they send handwritten letters! I hope the letter-writing will help Summer in some way to navigate through these troubled waters. Who knows, maybe letter-writing is coming back in fashion!

Receiving a letter that is ‘just for you’

Like Pauline, I cherished writing letters in my childhood. Living on a farm where there was no electricity until I was 11 years old, my penfriends—in places like Queensland, Rhode Island, New Guinea, and Germany—opened my mind to the world outside the valley in which I lived;  my penfriends’ descriptions of their everyday lives helped me to understand other cultures and cultivate interest in different places.
Today, much of my writing connects with others via the Internet, but I continue to handwrite letters to a young Amish woman in Missouri whom I met more than 12 years ago. We are years apart in age, and our lifestyles differ, yet through writing, we have developed a cherished friendship.
Writing by hand is more intimate and provides a sense of closeness not possible on a keyboard. Opening the mailbox and seeing a handwritten letter inside adds an extra ray of sunshine to my day. Receiving a letter that is ‘just for you’ is special. I invite you to contact me using the form below and share your letter-writing experience.  

                                                                                                                               Editor,  June Alexander

Pauline Ninck Blok

About Pauline Ninck Blok

All articles by Pauline Ninck Blok

I moved to Italy in 2001, am originally Dutch, but was born in Africa and then lived in the Caribbean; as a child, my family moved around a lot. I have a degree in Italian language and literature. I freelance as an estate agent and as a translator. I am 46 years old and have two daughters. We love doing things together, like going to concerts, and travelling when possible. We have two dogs and a hamster. Even though I like living here, moving around is in my nature, so once my daughters are older, we might decide to move somewhere else. My youngest already says she can’t wait to move abroad, so we’ll just have to wait and see!

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