Nov 24, 2012

The Secret Balance of Penpals

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.


Steffelchen said...

I really like your comments about penpalling. I agree with all of them!

Julie said...

Exactly! You know that I agree with you on this topic... The "let's get married right away" attitude (before we've even had sex) makes me cringe.

Thank you for the blog + shop mentions! <3

And you haven't told me if you received my Halloween card so I hope it didn't get lost... Did it reach you? *crossing fingers*


Julie said...

Nothing related to this post, but I thought that I should add that I'm currently reading a book that makes me think of you (a little).

The title is "Selfish reasons to have more kids: why being a great parent is less work and more fun than you think" and it was written by Bryan Caplan who's a Professor of Economics.

I know that you don't want to have kids and I obviously respect that, but the author makes really good points and it's the first book I read by an economist.

Maybe you should give it a try? *wink*

Storm Bunny said...

To Steffelchen: Thank you very much for your kind words ^_^. It's good to know that there's people out there who do believe in "penpals are people too, with their own lives, and they deserve to live it", and also that "relationships must happen at their own space, and not force them to become what you want them to be". Some people indeed act like penpals are bonsai friends that they can keep in their pockets and trim to their likeness. Maybe some penpals are gentle little trees that can handle that trimming, but some of us are oaks who would burst the pot and grow uncomfortable in the middle of the livingroom.

Storm Bunny said...

To Julie: Well, of course I was going to mention your blog and your online shop! You have really pretty stuff in there, and more people should know about it.

You know, I like you very much as a person, as a penpal and also love your style, and that's what inspired me to write this post. You are the kind of person who knows her limits, who is honest, and if you get over your head you quickly adjust and rectify without making trouble around you or making drama. Those are qualities to cherish.

Regarding the book, I'll check it out. ^_^ Already got a sample on my Kindle, so I'll let you know what I think about it. :-) You see, having children makes sense for the people who have the disposition, and the means to have a child. Here "means" would be a combination of time, access to food, shelter, clothing and other supplies needed by children (and don't entail money, as you can arrange all these also by themselves), and patience. I know I don't have these requirements because I lack of time and above all, patience. Wanting to have children for a personal goal, os as means to get something, is plain wrong. Sadly not everybody is like you dear - nor is every children as perfect as your little angel, lets be honest - and as result the world is crowded with nasty kids and their even nastier parents, all of whom act as if they were entitled to everything and more.

Still, I want to see what does that writer says about children. ^_^

Julie said...

Awww, your comment just made my night! :) I think it's great when people really see you for who you are. Thank you! And I only think good things about you as well. I think it's sad that we weren't really in touch for a little while, but I'm glad that we are now!

About the book... Do let me know if you end up reading it! Of course I don't want to change your mind, if you don't feel like having kids then it's perfectly OK, but it's interesting to look at a different perspective. Especially from a guy who's an economist! ;)

Storm Bunny said...

:-) I imagine in your case you walk into a lot of people who have a preconceived image of who you are, and refuse to move away from it. You are, after all, exposed to a much larger audience, and as result to more people who would rather see what they want to see instead of what's there to be seen. (Oh you know so well who am I talking about, right?)

In my case, I have made peace with the fact that most people see me either as crazy or as "feisty" even though I'm really neither (except when I'm really crazy). Most people indeed don't take time to get to know you, and they are content with sticking the first available label on your forehead.

However I get what you say, it's so refreshing and such a joy to know that there's people out there who do take the time to try and get to know you better, to see the person behind the label pole.

As for the book, I know what you mean, and actually, as a childfree it makes me even more curious to read about this approach, and from my own field, nonetheless! It would take, however, more than a positive budget balance and socio-economical improvement on the macroeconomical level to convince me to spread my genes, but I really, really want to know what this guy has to say. Who knows? I may even impose on you, sending you a letter to exchange impressions! (If you don't mind much ^_~)

Julie said...

Well of course I would love to receive a letter from you! I actually think that it would be lovely to start writing again, if you're interested... But I'm just worried about my post not reaching you! A woman at my post office once told me that I should NOT put beautiful stamps on my envelopes going to South America and Africa because they apparently get stolen all the time. So the trick might be to not put stamps on the envelopes and instead use the ugly metered thingy - not sure what it's called! But you know what I'm talking about? The white labels that they print at the counter...

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts about the book. And come on! You should definitely spread your genes! You're a true gem so your child would definitely be a quirky, fun individual. And you'd enjoy your time with him/her. No, not trying to convince you! ;)

So you're crazy or feisty, huh? Yeah, right... A woman who has different views or who speaks her mind probably bothers a lot of people!

Yeah, I'm sure a whole lot of people see me in a different light since my blog attracts all kinds of readers. But I'm curious, were you talking about the girl who said I was a "girly girl" or are you referring to someone else?