My best friend is someone I've never met

Whenever I hear the letterbox clank I feel a twinge of excitement, hoping that there’s a envelope from my pen pal waiting for me.

Filled with everything she’s been up to, words of encouragement and random details about her life – her letters bring me so much joy and I always feel a sense of gratitude to have her as my friend when I read what she has written.

In the summer of 2018, after a tricky first year at university, I put a call out on Instagram for a pen pal.

Having moved around a lot, I had people I wrote to in the past – one from when I was just six and leaving Cornwall for London – but I wanted a pen pal again, somebody to share everything with and something to focus my attention on.

It was the holidays, I didn’t really have any ‘in real life mates’ and being the sentimental person that I am, I wanted to do something meaningful and hopefully cultivate a friendship through the art of letter writing.

A girl named Hannah replied to my Instagram story explaining that she’d like to be my pen pal. Hannah and I had connected briefly on the photo-sharing app after Megan Jayne Crabbe, formerly known as ‘bodyposipanda’, did one of her famous ‘comment trains’.

This is where she asked her followers to comment below her photo with something that they didn’t like about themselves, after replying with a compliment to the comment of the person above.

Hannah and I connected by chance and just so happened to follow each other. We followed each other for around a fortnight before she popped up in my inbox and said she’d love to write to me and me to her.

When Hannah originally replied to my call-out, I was a little reluctant because she lived in America while I’m based in England. Deciding to forget about location, I asked for her address and put pen to paper, asking her about her life while sharing snippets about my own.

The initial note felt strange as I knew nothing about her – I probably babbled a little too much. But nonetheless, I sat down with some floral writing paper and introduced myself.

I started off with what I was studying at university, my hopes and dreams; I mentioned my mum and how close we are, and I told her about my cat, too. It began to flow and before I knew it, it was complete, covered in airmail stickers and sent off to Maine.

For me, the process is cathartic – something that allows me to take my mind off of things and express myself through words. As a writer who spends her days typing on a laptop, the act of putting pen to paper is a refreshing break away from tapping the keyboard and looking at a screen.

I sent my first letter to Hannah in June 2018 and the rest is history. Although the first exchanges were a little awkward, as we knew nothing about each other, the correspondence that followed just flowed and it was like we’d been in each other’s lives forever.

Our exchanges soon went from being two sides to eight sides of A5 paper, gradually getting more expensive to send each time due to their weight.

It was so easy to just open up to Hannah. I felt as though I could tell her anything and everything, and that’s exactly what I did.

Chatting about everything from the boys I fancied to the way I’d never kissed anybody, my hopeless romantic tendencies and the DIY projects I was working on.

Hannah had and still does have a keen interest in what I get up to and I feel exactly the same about her – so it’s incredibly refreshing for us to both confide in each other, share our successes, failures and snippets of our lives.

In 2018 and 2019 we wrote each other once a month and I have them filed away in a shoebox, packaged in sun-damaged wrapping paper to prove it. With a postage mark from Maine and a date at the top, I have a bundle of letters that I will treasure forever – from my best friend in the world, someone I’ve never even met.

We’ve never had a formal discussion about becoming best friends, but I truly class Hannah as my closest, most trusted confidant in the world. I talk about her all the time – literally every day!

Whether it be ‘Hannah would love this’ or ‘I’m getting this for Hannah for Christmas’ or ‘I wish Hannah could see this’ – she is the best friend I never had and I’m so grateful for our relationship.

Last year saw us send less, with the Covid-19 pandemic meaning that I didn’t leave the house from March until August – although I did once give a delivery driver a £20 note, as I asked him to post a letter for me.

Pen pals really can be a lifeline to people.

Suffering from exacerbated depression in 2018 meant that Hannah really did become a saviour for me, saving me in more ways than she could ever know.

Hearing about Hannah’s life, everything she was getting up to, and having the knowledge that somebody had my back and was rooting for me meant the world – and still does. She encouraged me to follow my dreams, offered advice and knowing a letter would dropping onto my doormat gave me something to look forward to.

Although she’s in Maine and I’m in London, we have maintained a close and loyal friendship in the three years that we have been writing to each other.

I’m 23 and Hannah is 29 and yes, we have completely different lives – Hannah is engaged and has just bought her own house and I’m living with my mum in a tower block flat – but we still have so much in common.

Both of us love autumn, even though I am desperately jealous of the leafy fall seasons she gets to experience in New England. We both love to write; I share my articles with her and she has sent me her self-published book. We both love baking, reading, nature and cats – and we even send presents to each other’s cats!

We’ve never video called or spoken on the phone and we try to keep messaging online to a minimum. We both really appreciate putting pen to paper and letting our emotions run wild on the pages.

One day I hope I can meet Hannah in real life – I would love her to come to London to stay with me, or I would love to visit her in the autumn so we could go to ‘fall fayres’ and to her local pumpkin patch.

Being able to sit down with some pretty writing paper, letting my pen spill out all of my deepest thoughts before sealing them in an envelope (and plastering it with way too many airmail stickers) is the most rewarding and magical thing in the world.

Having a pen pal is criminally underrated and, if you’re sentimental like I am, I’m urging you to embrace the beautiful art of it.

In hundreds of years, I really hope the letters that Hannah and I have shared are uncovered – it would be so weird yet wonderful to know that someone, somewhere, could be reading about the guy who wouldn’t buy me a coffee, my cat, Carnaby, wetting himself on my lap when I moved house, or Hannah’s magical Christmas with her fiancé and fluffy ginger cat, Roman.

And of course the post shared between us that talk about staying at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They would certainly make a brilliant book one day…

I feel as though I have a true friend in Hannah and I think I’ll always write to her. I can see us in our 80s writing to each other with our cats on our laps and a box full of hundreds of letters by our sides.

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