I was thinking of Sarah this morning when I realized how many similarities there are between the online friendships I’ve cultivated and the pen pals I used to collect as a young girl.
Sarah and I are planning to meet in real life for the first time. Despite the fact that we both are former Americans living in Israel, and only live an hour’s drive from each other, we’ve never sat to drink coffee together; have never spoken on the phone. I don’t know what Sarah’s voice sounds like even, and this is what I was thinking about when I realized that Sarah exists for me like my much-loved pen pals from childhood. The deep way one knows someone through letters. Except the letters are blogs, and Facebook chats.
When I was a girl — mostly from the ages of 12 – 16 — I exchanged letters with a few other kids my age. I vividly remember two of them, for they were strangers.
Unlike Robert, my camp friend from Texas, or Natali from Mexico, both of whom became active pen pals of mine after shared experiences in real life; Kim and Phillipa, I never met. We starting writing each other because we were subscribers of Bop! magazine. (The original Match.com for pedophiles, Bop actually published in each issue a list of names and addresses of pre-pubescent girls. Can you imagine???)
Unlike my school friends, Kim and Phillipa exist in my memory only as curvy, bubbled Ms and skinny, drooping Qs; as unevenly snipped wallet-sized portraits taken during Picture Day. I never knew their voices so I can’t hear them in my head even if I try. I never knew how tall they were. Whether or not they were skinny or fat. Pimply or clear-skinned. Popular or tortured. Smelled like Chloé or B.O.
We never got in fights over a boy. We never stopped speaking to each other in the halls. We never shared sleepovers or sundaes.
And yet, I loved them in a way. I was grateful for their showing up in my life. In my mailbox.
I knew Kim’s hobbies; Phillipa’s favorite American movie stars. I knew about their jealousies of their siblings and their crushes on the neighborhood skater boy. I imagine they told me secrets they never shared with their school friends. I know I shared with them a few of mine.
There’s something sacred and safe in living and loving only through letters.
Isn’t that what most of us with online-only friends would say about many of those friendships? There’s something sacred and safe about them?
No, we don’t ‘know’ each other in ‘real life’ … but then again, what is ‘real’ life?