It’s admirable when someone will respond to every letter they receive, but I am a firm believer in quality over quantity. If someone can keep every person who writes them straight, more power to them, but sometimes it’s good to keep your pen pals at a number that is manageable for you.
You may be thinking, But Kate! These people were nice enough to write me. I owe them something in return!
And I’d say fair enough, and tell you about the “Thanks but No Thanks” letter. In these letters (or postcards if you can fit your thoughts onto it) you can tell the person how grateful you are that they wanted to write you, but that you just can’t take on another pen pal right now, or that you don’t think you have very much in common, or that you’re uncomfortable writing to someone of the opposite sex, or whatever reason you have for not wanting to keep that mail cycle going. When I send one of these letters, I will answer the questions they’ve asked since I feel like it’s the polite thing to do, and I avoid asking any questions of my own so they don’t have anything to necessarily respond to.
Prior to joining the LEP, this isn’t something that I did. If I got a letter from someone I wasn’t feeling a vibe towards I just wouldn’t respond to it. Now that I’m in a group where people are about as obsessed with this hobby as I am, it feels like such a nice courtesy– like something that should be a protocol. It’s impossible to hit it off with every single member– there’s 400+ of ’em– but because of the sanctity of the group there is an integrity that needs to remain, and sending a letter instead of leaving someone hanging, even if it’s to tell them you’re not feeling it, could do just that.
You may be thinking it’s a bit rude to tell someone that you’re not interested in writing them, but what’s more rude? Telling them the truth, or letting them think they will be getting a letter that is just not going to come? One of my pen friends says that her feelings get hurt when someone says they want to write her and then don’t respond to her intro letter, and though a letter or even a postcard saying “thanks but no thanks” may hurt them too, she’d prefer that over not knowing. Someone actually told her once that her handwriting was too hard to read, and so she offered to type her responses. Sometimes the “thanks but no thanks” letter could actually result in a compromise. If, for example, someone was way too personal in the very first letter, saying that that’s why you think it’s not going to work could have them reevaluate how much they say until they’ve gotten to know someone better.
Again, you may be thinking, Kate, don’t you think you’re judging a book by its cover?
And I would say no. Just like I have my preferences when it comes to the books I read, I have preferences when it comes to those I write to. There is nothing wrong with wanting to write someone who is around your age, or from the country that you live in, or from any country but yours. If you know what you prefer in a pen pal, you won’t be writing to someone you’re uncomfortable talking to– if you wouldn’t ever hang out with someone in person (provided you were given the opportunity), why should you feel obligated to write them? Pen palling is supposed to be fun, so do yourself a favor and remember this post when you stumble upon a letter that feels like it’d be a chore to respond to.
And should you get one of these letters, dear bleaders, please don’t take it personally that you don’t fit someone’s preferences. With one less pen pal, you’ll be open to finding someone who fits your own preferences.
All the best!
Sincerely, Kate ~!~