Do you penpal? I know a few of you do because you write to me (yay! ^_^), but then who knows what comes across from the wide world of the eternal blackness of the cyberspace, right? Ah, the mistery of the forever unknown. Anyway, penpals. They are the people who write letters to each other, where one writes, the other answers and then that letter gets and answer, and that also gets an answer and on and on until penpal friendship vanished into thin air for whatever of the millions of reasons for a friendship to end. Knowning some people, I bet some of their friends would wish their friendship would be cut short by murder, but accidental death could do it too. Oh yes, you all know who am I talking too! And I should put that in the novel "Penpal from Hell", right?
A dear friend of mine and one time penpal, Julie - whose fabulous blog you should definitively read, and if you are a paper crazy, you should absolutely check out her stationary online store, I bet you there are millions of sheets in there that would be perfect into your A5 filofaxes! - has this blog I mentioned earlier, and in there people often post ads to get new penpals. There are several sites as well where you can go and check for people to become your penpal, and though I have met really good friends through it, you may want to think about it twice, as they are plagued with people who are not interested in penpalling at all. Anyway, when you check people who are actually into penpalling, basically meaning snailmail (which means regular mail sent through the post office, written in paper, in an envelop and all, very old school), certain features are highly valued, particularly loyalty, long letters and swift replies. Descriptions often include things like "I love chatting about anything", which is a good starter, but can be tricky as often chatting about "anything" equals flat, shallow letters. (This, of course, doesn't apply to MY penpals, all of whom are witty and funny in their very own, peculiar and particular manner, and whom I'm not sharing ^_^ They are My Precious!)
The process of finding penpals can be a little difficult, as you have to click with the other person, and that doesn't happen at once. Often you can't avoid becoming a one-letter penpal because it isn't until the first or second letter that you realize that the other person isn't good for you. Naturally descriptions help filter most penpal-fails, but there are things that only come across through the actual letter exchange. In this sense the "no one-letter penpal" rule seems to me a little bit off. It's like starting date with "if you are not going to marry me, don't waste my time", which, well, is the attitude of some people.
Things such as loyalty, long letters and swift replies don't really have much space in true, free penpalling, as what loyalty is expected from you towards someone you've never seen? Not to mention what I think about loyalty. However, this is normally understood as a clausule for you not to be a one-letter penpal and an implicit promise that you'll never, ever abandon the friendship and will never, ever stop writing. Let's not talk about the strain that puts on the relationship! Then again, some people do marry and they do it thinking they'll be forever and ever together. Long letters, on the other hand, depend on how much do you have to say. If you don't have much to say, extending a letter beyond what you are comfortable writing would make writing a chore and the letter to end up uninteresting, specially since there are well known tricks to fill up pages, which only render them booooring.
Swift replies... well, you have no control upon that, let's be honest. Even if you are in the right mood for writing, if the words come easily to you, if there's no job or homework or any other thing suddenly demanding your attention, or not even suddenly, just consistently demanding time and attention from you, well, even then you can't control how fast or how slowly the post office will give course to your letter.
Look, if you want loyalty, get a dog. If you want long letters, read a book about letters, and if you want swift replies... you will have to come up with something, because often not even credit card issuing companies reply swift enough.
Penpalling, like most friendships, depend of a delicate balance that needs to be stablished by the two parties. Rules and impositions kill the friendship, render it stiff and artificial, taking away precisely that spark, that spontaneity that makes it wonderful. Some penpals disappear for a while - often they get to a point in their lives where they have too many things to take care of, of they might be overwhelmed by their circumstances - and then they might pop up again with a letter that starts with "Sorry I was away for so long", and as you read you smile to yourself and you think "Are you silly? You are back and that's all I care about!". You can hardly ever get mad at your penpals, when they are true, even if they go MIA (missing in action) for decades.
But penpals aren't bullet proof friendships that will stand against anything. Penpals you can chase away just as you can chase away your friends. Self-centered letters that never reply to what your penpal wrote to you (all letters are somewhat self-centered, as you tend to write about yourself, your opinions and your experiences, BUT they are supposed to also reply to the letter of your pal), demands, snickering, accusations because your friends don't live up to your expectations (loyal, long letters, swift replies being among the most usual) and also any attempt to control your penpals and their style. Much damage can be done, often extensively, with such careless attitudes. I personally know someone - whom I love A LOT! (hey Whoian!) - who got the penpal inky spirit mamed thanks to a bad penpal (it wasn't me, I promise!).
Yes, these things happen, and sometimes the balance can be broken beyond repair. Give it time, let it go... take whatever approach you want, but above all, just let it flow. You can't put rules on friendship (and if you do, you either don't have friends or have a lot of acquintances you call "friends" who all speak of you behind your back), and penpalling is the same. The balance is there, it's delicate, and to find it, you must let it happen, and let it go when it stops working.