roamin' catholic: karin rosner

Facebook Friendships and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Posted on: March 3, 2011

Waterman Fairy Fountain Pen Advertisement 1919

Gerry pulled the slim  envelope out of her handbag with deliberate, delicate carefulness. “Make sure your hands are clean!” she warned me.

We were sitting across from each other in a Chinese Restaurant off Gramercy Park.  She had told me about this letter. I was as excited as she was. Gerry is a journalist, specializing in tracking down Hollywood stars from the Golden and Silver age, film stars of faded glory. Gerry and I share a bond of faith, and a love of early 20th century music and movies. (Gerry refuses to join Facebook. She has a blog and email. And that’s it.)

This envelope, containing a letter with a signature, came from a Grande Dame of Hollywood. She was a supporting actress in one of my favorite films.  The fine bond paper, the crispness of linen stationary, the blue and gilt edge, every detail proclaimed importance and elegance. What would this important Lady have to say?I had always thought of her as being thoughtful, an artist.

I pushed my plate aside, wiped my hands in my napkin, and carefully took the envelope. I withdrew the single small sheet from its wrapper and opened it. Weave bond. Typed? She’s probably dictating to an assistant. There’s her signature. I read eagerly.

The Lady wrote a few lines about looking out the window and eating her lunch. I remember that she had eaten roast beef. That was all.

I carefully placed the letter back in it’s envelope  with a scowl, and picked up my chopsticks again.

Gerry was beaming at me with joy. “Isn’t it great?”

“She wrote about LUNCH, Geraldine.” I poised my chopsticks dismissively in the air. “I do that on Twitter and Facebook!”

“She is old and in her nineties! I’m grateful that she answered my letter!”


There’s a dying literary tradition of letter writing. Letters from famous people fill libraries, form the basis of biographies, and some of those relationships between letter writers are famous in themselves. Some of those correspondences involve people who have never met in person, but their minds met across a written page. Written conversations on any topic draw out for months or years.

I was a letter writer, once upon a time. My fascination with people in far away places began when I signed up for pen pals in grade school, and this carried over into high school. Some of my most significant real-life relationships were born on the page. When email became a reality, the written quantity of my conversations increased, but I didn’t save them like I did those hand-scrawled letters from my friends. I tried backing them up on diskettes, eventually burned some to CD, but I don’t know if those exist anywhere. I may have tossed them, along with all of those old letters saved in shoe boxes. Now, I routinely delete emails.

Lately, most of my conversations and friend-making happen on Facebook. I’m developing significant friendships through Social Networking. Out of the 480-plus people in my social network, about 10 people have become real-life friends, if we have not already met in person.  Our Facebook, our threads and messages take on some of the character of the glory days of fountain pen and fine linen bond, but they’re subject to the delete button as well.

One of these classic long-distance friends I’ve never met sent me a request the other day, asking me to please delete her message thread because what she had written about one of my more unfortunate Facebook friendships, now twisted, maimed, dead and in “unfriend” status, was not worthy of her better self.  I deleted it, with regrets. If it had been on paper, I would have burned them in the fireplace with a dramatic flourish; written words lost to time and flame.

I’m still thinking about the online relationships that I’m forming. I treasure my friendships, even though I’m the last one to pick up a phone or write a note. I still try to reach out every once in a while. I scan the walls, and let friendships develop. While Facebook conversations have replaced the hours I used to spend on the phone with my friends, I still really want to meet up for a cup of coffee or a shopping trip with my nearest and dearest. I’ve met several of my online friends, and want to meet more of them. Each one of my online friendships can be more than a snarky comment and a click of “like”.

Go deeper, friends. Online friendships are worth the energy and time investment.


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