There has never been a better time to have a pen pal!

Pen pal

Here’s a modest proposal that’s going to come off a tad old-school: As we make our way through the hellscape that is 2020, go find yourself a pen pal.

We know it sounds more 1920 than 2020. But in these days of DM-ing, there’s something therapeutic about sitting down with just some paper and a pen (and any other cute stationery thingamajigs you can find in your junk drawer at home) and writing to a friend or a perfect stranger.

Because of the pandemic, we’re all collectively grieving the usual ways we engage in human connection: dinner dates with friends, happy hours with co-workers, family birthday parties. Having a pen pal is an opportunity to get personal again, said Michelle Mouhtis, a therapist and relationship coach in Clifton, New Jersey.

“It really makes you feel connected to the person in a way that talking on the phone, texting, FaceTiming, or even seeing them in person can’t achieve,” she told HuffPost. “It’s a lot easier to be vulnerable when you’re writing a letter. It’s one of the most non-judgmental spaces to be in, because you don’t see the other person’s immediate reactions.”

And if you’re still quarantined and bored out of your gourd, getting creative with your letters ― etching a cute detailed border around the edge of the paper, adding a little watercolor, or trying out new gel pens ― is surprisingly entertaining.

Mouhtis gives pen-palling her stamp of approval (so cheesy, sorry) because the hobby introduced her to her best friend: In 2006, Mouhtis’ eighth grade teacher asked the class if they wanted to be matched up with international pen pals. A then-14-year-old Mouhtis was paired up with Rachel, a teen from England she continued to write to throughout her teen and college years. Now, the two are best friends. (They met in person for the first time in 2015 and have continued to meet up ever since.)

“I think having a pen pal is more than just having a friend,” Mouhtis said. “It’s seeing how people in other parts of the country live, what their opinions and views are on global issues, how they spend their time working as well as their leisure activities, and getting an inside view of what it’s like to live in another region of the USA or another country.”

You can find global pen pals with similar interests through sites like Geek Girl Pen Pals (a group which, in spite of the name, welcomes all gender identities) or Worldwide Snail Mail Pen Pals, an active Facebook group with almost 30,000 members.

If you want to forge a cross-generational bond, reach out to an assisted living center and ask if they’re in need of pen pals. Many retirement communities have started pen pal programs to keep residents connected to the community and combat loneliness during the pandemic.

Like journaling, letter-writing can help alleviate stress and help manage anxiety and depression, says Pegah Moghaddam, a psychotherapist in Atlanta.

“The process of writing our emotional experiences has many benefits; it can be cathartic, build awareness, and give us insight into how to take care of ourselves,” Moghaddam said.

As the therapist sees it, creating space in our lives for journaling or pen-palling is akin to making time for a yoga or meditation practice.

“The process becomes intentional and it invites us to tune in to our experience and express it to another while developing the ability to tolerate our own vulnerability,” she said. “When we write, we allow our ideas to flow easily and freely, opening up the possibility to be vulnerable with ourselves and others.”

(Story by Brittany Wong for Huffington Post)