I’m out of work due to health issues, and I have been for a while. Although I have friends, I do get lonely during the day when pretty much all of them are working, a problem exacerbated by the fact that I have clinical depression. I reached out online to some friends who live out of town and reconnected with some of them, but that still didn’t stop me from feeling disconnected from human contact until my husband came home from work. My only interactions were on Facebook or with my dog, who isn’t much of a conversationalist.
I got the idea to start looking for penpals after reviewing the offbeat hobbies post. Someone said they wrote to the Amish. That is likely rewarding as well, but since I wanted the immediate gratification that only the Internet can bring (and the Amish are not known for being too talkative online), I pulled up Google and asked “how can I make penpals worldwide?” Boom. That easy.
Finding a service
There are several options for websites to make connections, but I found one called interpals to be the easiest to use. They don’t pay me, and they aren’t perfect; I just really liked their layout and several of their features, including but not limited to privacy settings and the fact that it’s free, which fit my budget perfectly. You may find another website works better for you. Sign up for your site of choice, and you can make your profile.
Making a profile
I’ve never made a dating profile, but I imagine it’s a safe comparison for making a penpals profile. You want people to be interested in you at a quick glance. Tell what’s your most standout feature. The main biography section of my profile reads:
“I have a Masters degree in Mental Health Counseling, but am currently out of work due to health issues. I am happily married with no children (except my dog). I live in the small city where I grew up, and I love it here, though I do wish I could travel more. I consider myself a non-traditional homemaker, sort of a wannabe June Cleaver with ear piercings and tattoos. I’d like to make lasting friendships.”
I filled in the other sections, added my Facebook user picture, and waited. It didn’t take long. In less than a week I had made penpal arrangements all over, from places I could drive to for a day-trip, to places I’d never imagined visiting. I was able to search people by language to make sure we were on the same page there.
Creepers gonna creep and scammers gonna scam
It’s an unfair truth of the Internet, but some people are going to be gross and skeeve you out. Also beware that there may be people who try to scam you for money or a green card. Use your common sense, and realize if something sounds fishy, it probably is. Oh, and some people might look for help with their English (or other language) homework. That’s at your own discretion.
Cast a wide net
Some of the people you contact may end up falling by the wayside in their communication, so it’s probably better to have more rather than fewer options. Also don’t rule out people who are from places you never thought of, or people who are not native speakers of your language. Keep an open mind!
But don’t overwhelm yourself
Do be prepared for all of these people to be loyal penpals. Don’t take on more than you can reasonably handle. I had a lot of free time, and I felt confident that I could keep up with several penpals at one time. Still, at times I had to double check usernames and profiles to make sure I wasn’t confusing someone for somebody else. I made a sort of address book out of a little notebook with a few notes jotted about the person, just to make sure I got everything right.
Have an idea of what you want
On the website I use, you can make snail mail penpals, email penpals, or both. There are people I chat with online who will never write me an actual letter, and that’s okay. Some people only want a postcard from a stranger and no other interaction past that, and that wasn’t for me. Some people, myself included, want to make lifelong friends. I had one person ask me if it was okay if they typed the letter they sent me, as they had a hand injury — I guess some people prefer handwritten only. Try to be clear in your bio about what sorts of interactions you would like.
Put yourself out there
When you contact someone, say more than just “hi, how are you?” Tell them why their profile caught your eye. “Hey, I saw you’re a Pagan and you like Mystery Science Theater — me too!” Just like the post about how to make friends as a grown up says, there is a certain degree of saying “I think you’re cool, and want to be your friend,” more or less. Ask questions. “Hi, I saw your username is AgainstEnnui — how do you like to fight ennui?” I am an introvert, so this is sometimes hard for me, but I get better every time I try. Some people will talk with you, others won’t. Just like in real life!
Work on your handwriting or typing
I have terrible penmanship, always have. I made sure to tell my penpals that I would not be offended if they’d prefer I type my letters up. Still, I made an effort to make sure they were legible.
Potential rewards (besides letters and friendship)
As for myself, I learned to be optimistic. My depression makes this very difficult at times, but I know when first getting to know people, they usually don’t want to hear me be a Debbie Downer. As a result, I’d end up expressing an optimism I didn’t necessarily feel — until I did. You know the old adage “fake it till you make it?” Well, penpalling helped me do just that.
It also helped me appreciate myself more. Frequently I would think to myself how boring my life was, how no one would want to hear about my days. My experience with penpals is that they love to hear about little things you may take for granted. It has a way of making one feel a lot more special. “You care about my day? Even the days where I just read and play with my dog? Neat!”
Penpalling can be such a rewarding experience. Don’t you get a little thrill when you get something in the mail that’s NOT a bill or junk? I get that excitement every time I check my mail! And if you give it a whirl, that joy can be yours too. Just be prepared to give your hand a rest when you need it.