The first time I met Tyler, we bonded over a shared love for books by Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin and danced around his apartment to Wilco songs. The second time we hung out, I tried to match him shot for shot as we swigged Jack Daniels at a concert; the night ended with him nursing my woozy head as I slumped miserably into his lap. Two weeks later, he had dropped his life in Omaha to find a new life in New York City. Though we barely knew each other, we promised to stay in touch, and thus began our relationship as pen pals. Our unspoken rule limited our communication solely to hand-written letters. Rarely did we call each other or send e-mails. By the end of our correspondence, one year and 400 pages of words later, we knew each other more intimately than we knew ourselves.
I believe in letters and what they can teach us. Many of history’s great loves and passions were born from slow, deliberate correspondence, where love developed in the space – the white space and the waiting space – between letters. You can edit, stop and think, and put your best self on paper. Over time, the letters transform you. You begin to pour your heart out on paper, to eagerly await the mailman. You notice the details and uniqueness of one’s handwriting. Each properly articulated thought and each nuanced faltering illuminates a wealth of subterranean personality. There is no one within immediate reach to explain what he or she wrote, so we must extract meaning out of each nested clause and colloquial phrase.
I believe letters are an exercise in patience. In a society that demands instant gratification, “snail mail” forces us to take the time to write something, mail it, and agonizingly wait for a reply. Away from the impatience of the cell phone and the icy, digital distance of the computer and its numerous “keeping in touch” utilities, writing a letter becomes an enjoyable respite from a busy world. Pen pals carve a space for one another out of their days, a space with one another and the mingling of thoughts in spite of geography. The reward for that patience is extraordinarily gratifying – there is nothing better than opening the mailbox and spying an envelope with familiar handwriting tucked inside disappointing bills and junk promotions or folded between sheets of coupons and advertisements.
My correspondence with Tyler made me realize how wonderful it is to get something in the mail. Tyler moved back to Omaha after a year in New York City, and we have been dating ever since – almost two years now. I miss receiving his letters and still eagerly await the mailman out of habit, despite repeated disappointments. I believe in hand-written letters, however old-fashioned they may be, because they will always remain the most personal, powerful form of communication between two people, and it was because of them that I fell in love.
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