Facebook and Twitter have made it easy for people to connect instantly—your friends are just a click away and you don't even need to message them to know what is going on in their lives. But live updates only give the illusion that we know them. Posts that are designed to be shared to a big audience do not capture the complexity of the person's thoughts and certainly do not lend themselves for intimate conversations.
From my experiences, the best way of maintaining close relationships with your family and friends has been in the form of writing letters. The fact that it's neither easy nor convenient to handwrite a page or two and drop it off at the mailbox is what makes the letters intrinsically valuable and special. The people receiving your letters know upon receiving them the time and effort that you spent thinking about them and know that their relationship with you goes beyond the surface. Without even having read the letters, they understand the clear message that you care about them much more than the average acquaintance in your life.
Writing letters is not just happy occasion for the receiver. The activity has a sort of therapeutic effect on the writer and naturally puts you in a thoughtful and peaceful mood. I tend to reserve at least a 30-minute block of time when I can just think about the special someone whom I'm writing for and reference his or her latest letter to me if available. This mindset urges me to dig through the happy memories and reflect on the shared experiences I had with the person. When else are you going to be filled with so many positive thoughts, let alone about a specific individual?
Inspired by an abundance of emotions, you start formulating a narrative. In just a page or two, what stories do you want to tell the person? You get so excited the first few paragraphs seem like a breeze. You've already picked out the type of paper or card you're going to write on as well as an assortment of colored pens, maybe even in the person's favorite colors. Now your whole world is just you and the soothing sensation of your pen gliding across the page to record your feelings and thoughts. But because there is a lag between what you're thinking and how fast you're writing, you have time to search for the right words and phrasing before you permanently ink the paper.
There can also be many brief periods of indecision. Should I really write down my honest thoughts? What if they're too embarrassing to tell? But you end up writing about them anyway because you want your letters to be as real as possible. You imagine telling the person your thoughts face-to-face: the expected facial expressions, the sound of laughter, and the excitement of having thought of yet another story to tell. Letters can bring those imagined conversations to life without the need for immediate response because the person is so real to you.
You undoubtedly formulate some questions about the other person. There are limits to your imaginings because your idea of him or her is not entirely "up to date." What is he or she doing now? The previous letters said something about interesting classes, a new internship, a family trip...
Then the realization hits you. You and your special person are living in two different worlds. As much as you try to put yourself in the other's position, you're so far that the letter you send will take a few days to arrive. As you jot down your closing remarks and hopes for a reunion in the near future, you think about what stories you can better tell in person. Would my imaginations be so off from reality? Maybe the person dyed his or her hair, grew an inch, and picked up odd vocabulary.
Those are questions to be asked at a later time, you think as you sign your name on the bottom of the page and maybe put some stickers in the empty areas of the page. As you seal off the envelope you already start anticipating when the letter will arrive and how fast the reply letter would come. As the letter slides down the familiar blue mailbox you feel a sense of closure and get carried back to the reality of your life. Your thoughts of that person will be safely put away until you open your mailbox to find a letter with your name.