Having pen pals seems like an archaic idea in our world of instant electronic connections. There's something nice about taking the time to write a letter, though, and about getting to know someone through their words. Communicating through letters can turn into a romantic connection, or just be a different kind of friend.
What Is a Pen Pal?
Back before email and free long distance, when a person wanted to communicate with someone who lived far away, they wrote a letter. Letters took time to write, and time to travel from the writer's door to the recipient's. Each letter was a little story, a snapshot of the writer's life at that moment. In pre-internet days, "pen pals" or "pen friends" were friends who kept in touch by sending letters, written with a pen (or pencil or typewriter). Writing was a way for people who lived far apart to learn about each others' lives. They might be "introduced" through a school project, a fan club, a group interested in travel, or one of many other ways. Often, they never met in person. By exchanging letters, they shared mutual interests and taught each other about different cultures, religions, and lifestyles. Some of these relationships lasted for years, decades, or lifetimes. Pen friends still exist, but these days the connection often begins online. The "letters" are usually e-mails or IM's, and the communication is instantaneous.
Pen Pals and Dating
With the popularity of online dating sites, many people are starting "pen" relationships with potential partners. Members might e-mail back and forth many times before deciding to meet. But this stage is usually brief, with an in-person meeting the definite goal.
What about more traditional pen pals? Can a relationship based on letters turn into the real thing? It certainly can. There are lovely stories from wartime about soldiers falling in love with pen-pal sweethearts. Writing long letters can help people discover how much they have in common. It's sometimes easier to share emotions on paper than in person, and a letter can fee like a safe place to express hopes and dreams. Since the idea is to make a new friend, not necessarily to get a date, there's no pressure. Writers can simply be themselves.
If you're hoping to find a partner by finding a pen pal, you do need to be careful. Just like in online dating, people are not always who they say they are. Before you get emotionally involved, consider the pitfalls.
- Letters can be lies. Taking time to write a letter also means having time to construct an elaborate lie-about what kind of work the person does, what their background is, whether or not they're married. And it can be easier to keep a lie going on paper than in person.
- Pictures aren't promises. Even if the person sends you multiple pictures, you can't be sure they're really photos of your pen friend. You also don't know if they've gained or lost weight, or if they might be older than the pics imply.
- Emotions can be ephemeral. Your pen friend may be devoted to you when he or she is writing a letter. But they might be keeping you at arm's (or pen's) length for a reason. Don't take it for granted that they would want to meet in person.
- Writing isn't real life. Sometimes, pals meet and remain fast friends. But sometimes, people who get along well in letters aren't such a good match in person. Sexual attraction might be lacking, or you're the person's social skills might be better on paper.
Also, be wary of scams. Although many people looking for pen pals are just friendly and curious about the world, some are looking for money or a free ticket to the U.S. Be careful whom you trust.
Finding a Pen Friend
You can still connect with a pen friend through some organizations, but the easiest way to start a writing relationship is by looking online. Many sites are for children and teens only, but some welcome adults who want to connect with people their own age. Some are open to people who are interested in dating. Others are strictly "friendship only."
- Pen Pals Now is a friendly-looking site that makes free connections for people from all over the world. You can post a request or search others' posts. Searches are simple, and emails and addresses are included in the requests.
- Easy Pen Pals is ad-heavy, but it does allow free searches and it's free to post a request.
- Europa Pages advertises language courses, but they also have a pen pal section. The section is divided into two sites, one for people who want to practice a language and one for people who just want to make friends from other cultures. Europa Pages does state that it is not a dating site, and ads specifically seeking dates will be removed.