Pen pals?
February 22, 2011 8:37 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to find pen pals in todays modern world? I find that I can go weeks without speaking to anyone in a meaningful way and my social anxiety is going through the roof. I think a pen pal would be a good way to start interacting with people again without having to worry about the social fears I have. Is there a site or place I could go to find pen pals? Especially ones gentle to shy people who would like to open up to others but take time to do so?
posted by kanata to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite is a great starting place. Even though the site isn't intended for use as a pen-pal site, I've made several friends through there and corresponded back and forth via snail mail.
posted by msbutah at 8:49 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


(this is not snark! this is not a wisecrack! this seems like a genuine and awesome place for creating these sorts of correspondences)
posted by ameliaaah at 9:03 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

my old penpal from elementary school looked me up on facebook. do you have any old penpals? maybe you can start it up again!
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:10 PM on February 22, 2011

I've met some nice folks through The Letter Exchange. I haven't found a great site for finding penpals, they all seem to be pretty sketchy. I have a few penpals now, all met within the last year or so, and it's a really interesting way to get to know someone.
posted by upatree at 9:16 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been looking for the same thing. I like writing letters and getting to know people in distant places. Postcrossing (mentioned before) is the closest thing I've come to it, except it's not really a back and forth more of a one-shot deal. Everything else appears to be a dating service in disguise.
posted by patheral at 9:17 PM on February 22, 2011

I thought these were just "online friends" in this day and age. You can meet them on any discussion site or message board. They can turn into real, in-person friends, or stay online only. I've had many of both. There's no shortage of people to talk with from all over the world online. Like ameliaaah says, you can even start right here on MetaFilter. Find someone interesting, exchange email addresses or AIM screennames. Chat.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:13 PM on February 22, 2011

I don't have a pen pal answer, but given what you're looking for, I'd like to suggest an additional possibility. Are you familiar with Second Life, the online virtual world? You create an avatar for yourself and then interact with others (or not) in a 3D world. Though most people spend at least a little money there on enhancements and upgrades and items, you can sign up and maintain an account totally for free if you like.

It strikes me that it would likely be a very helpful transitional or even long term environment for someone with social anxiety because while it is social interaction, it is very much at arm's length and you control the amount of it you want. You're sitting there in your jammies on your couch in the safe environment of your home, but you're in the virtual presence of real people. The avatars make for an actual sense of presence as opposed to just, say, a chatroom, and in that way it really does feel like you're visiting with people. But they can't see or hear the real you (there is voice chat capability but nobody I know uses it) and you can be totally anonymous if you like (people typically don't pry about your real life much at all - it's just understood that this is something else). You present whatever persona you choose, so your actual one is not at any risk of whatever you may be anxious to avoid. People just identify you as whatever you present and know you only as the combination of your avatar and your written words. Be the opposite gender if you want or be huge or small or fancy or slutty or furry or badass or silly or something you've fantasized about being. Keep a consistent look or change it all the time.

You can interact with others at the depth of your choosing, ranging from just lurking in the background to observe the chat and/or action, light chitchat in a group setting, private one-on-one chatting but still light, private one-on-one chatting but more substantial, and on through the gamut of interaction to full on friendship or even meeting in the real world. Some people even wind up getting married in real life. But baby steps here. Baby steps.

Unlike in a face to face setting, you have time to think before you say something, so there is a much lower level of anxiety and urgency there. It takes time to type something out and people know that, so the unconscious expected time limit for a response is stretched way out beyond what people expect in a face to face conversation, even more since people are often "afk" (away from keyboard) and don't respond until minutes later when they notice your message. As far as anyone standing beside your avatar knows, you're in the kitchen getting a drink in real life or are over in another browser window on your computer and that's why you haven't answered yet. So you can take your time and pick and choose what you say as carefully as you like. And your real face never betrays your thoughts. You can leave at any time without consequences, stay as short or as long as you like on a given visit, visit regularly or just when you have the urge.

I find that sometimes after a long hard week, I'm worn out and don't have the social capital to go out and interact with people. If I did go out, my face would just be blah and I wouldn't have a lot to say and people would be like "What's wrong?" I just wouldn't be good company. So instead I just want to take off my shoes and relax and have a beer on the couch and not have to be "on" or perform or be challenged. But at the same time I'd like a little bit of interaction, and Second Life is great for that. As far as they know, I'm the same me I always am, not worn out and blah and quiet. The people I hang out with there are there a lot and I'm not. But it's like Cheers - when I show up, it's a place where everybody knows my name and I'm welcome. I keep it very casual and light there and just have fun. Others are more serious, even having online relationships. There's drama and arguments and all that stuff if you go deep. And if not it's just a nice outlet sometimes.

If you can dream it, somebody's probably doing it in Second Life. But there are also lots of "normal" kind of activities going on. For example there are lots of clubs, catering to every musical style. People take turns DJing, streaming music from their home collection. It sounds silly, but one thing a lot of people do is go to clubs and put their avatar on an automatic dance animation. So the little person dances there with other people doing other dances and you listen to music together while having chit chatty conversations in the chat window and/or IM window. Maybe you're very active and chatty and maybe you just pipe in now and then. And some people will show up, set their avatar dancing or just sitting on a couch or something, and then not say much. Maybe in the real world they're on the phone or multitasking watching tv or browsing or are in IM with someone. Yet they are "there".

You can see live music in the sense that you're at a place set up to look like a real life music venue and somebody at home is actually playing music live into a microphone (singing and playing guitar, for example), while their avatar sits on stage doing a singing-and-playing-guitar animation. Or you can go to an author's book reading or a discussion group or an artist's gallery event. Or you can do various kinds of combat or casual group games or build things alone or with others. You can participate in a sailboat race or go to church or go group skydiving. You can take a class or go shopping or design a building or clothes or an avatar or a landscape or a vehicle or a virtual prototype of some real world object. You can open a store or roleplay or put on a show or sit in a theater and watch a real movie with others. You can go to charity events or attend a support group - I bet there's even a social anxiety support group. It's unlimited and you can always go solo or find people.

Lots of people go to Second LIfe for the first time and get frustrated that they don't have the hang of the controls right away or some idiot said something dumb to them or they can't wrap their heads around the fact that it's a place not a game and therefore doesn't have an objective like a game does. Those people quit and never come back. So if you do do it, I recommend you go through the initial tutorials and then spend some time in the welcome/help area to get your sea legs. That can be your home base for a good while as you venture out and explore and then come back to ask questions. You can take some time to customize your avatar the way you want it and do a bit of shopping for it (stuff is cheap, like pennies cheap). There's also a place called The Shelter that's sort of a halfway house for new avatars, with some mentors, other noobs, freebie stuff, info, etc. If you go to a populated place regularly for a while, you'll start to get to know a group of people who will function as a sort of temporary group, kind of like when you first got to college and loosely gathered with other randos from the dorm to go to the dining hall together and stuff. Maybe that becomes your long term group and maybe you find another one around some other interest area elsewhere in world.

What you want to do with a pen pal, I think you could do via Second Life and exactly at the pace of your choosing. Good luck either way.
posted by Askr at 10:36 PM on February 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Yeah! This is possible!

Check out The site isn't explicitly for pen pals, but is definitely a place you can make them. People write up a short profile/blurb and there's a place for their address. You can search users and profiles with keywords (country, state, topic, interest, name, etc.) Thanks to this site I've exchanged mail, postcards, even packages, with people in the States, Canada, and other countries.

It's great to come home and be surprised with a letter or postcard, or surprise someone in kind!
posted by Korou at 12:22 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Interpals is well-established. On Interpals, you have the option of choosing whether or not to accept messages from people of a specific gender or from specific parts of the world. You can also specify which genders/regions can see your information. Some people use Interpals like Facebook but many just use it to find people to email (or snail mail) with.
posted by AugieAugustus at 6:49 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

International Pen Friends, which I used as a child to get pen pals from around the world, still seems to exist.
posted by Melismata at 7:09 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you like to play computer games? I enjoy chatting (or just listening in) with other mefites on our minecraft server. It can be a non-confrontational way to find out which people you like before committing to chatting with them. Plus you can build fun stuff together.
posted by Terheyden at 2:16 PM on February 23, 2011


Are you serious?

This site seems to be operated in a manner designed to discourage that sort of interaction. The slightest opportunity for people to discuss something and you see "ooh chatfilter!" [stomp].
posted by HiroProtagonist at 2:21 PM on February 24, 2011

Seconding The Letter Exchange. I have a handful of friends that I've been writing to for 20 years that I met through LEX. My life wouldn't be the same without them....
posted by Leah at 5:37 PM on February 24, 2011

I've had great success with some of your answers. Received already some wonderful postcards from (and planning to send some myself), subscribed to The Letter Exchange and placed some ads and waiting for them to send me an issue to read, and found an e-mail penpal on Interpals (warning tho - a lot of scams and men wanting to marry you but I just delete those msg) that I'm enjoying getting to know as we send mail about every two days.

The one that I have already received mail from is on Ravelry. It is my go-to group for crafts and I searched and found a penpal board that hadn't been used for awhile but decided to risk it and give a little post and so far have had a plethora of responses and a letter or two. So if your crafty look to Ravelry (as if you aren't already there!)

It was the missing of actual written mail that I was going for with this post as believe it or not I explain myself better that way and like exploring other worlds/lives that way so thank you.
posted by kanata at 2:49 PM on March 12, 2011

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