Such relationships have been a fixture of my life, beginning when I initiated my first "pen pal" correspondence at the age of three.* This was in 1984 and while computers were a thing in the world, Internet access for the commonfolk was not. (Actual paper and writing implements were used, and my personal papers will hopefully make some future historians weep with joy in that several major life relationships are documented almost entirely in analog.)
I'm a person with limited in-person social energy -- at the end of the workday I generally want to come home to my wife and my two cats and curl up on the couch with a book, a cup of hot cocoa, my laptop, my handwork, whatever, and just be.
We get home around six and retire to bed around nine. Weekends are for chores, recuperation and for being together as a family. There's not a lot of time for social activity in our lives right now -- it was a major achievement this fall that we managed to see two of our friends on Thanksgiving, and finally have breakfast with a friend and mentor with which we'd been trying to schedule a date for three months.
But conversation doesn't take it out of me the way getting together in person does. So email conversations are a brilliant way for me to bridge the gap between my limited energy for social interactions and my boundless energy for relational connection, for intellectual and emotional engagement and sustenance.
Sometimes, these relationships have been long-distance by necessity: I was politically and culturally isolated in my conservative hometown and finding kindred spirits genuinely took a lot of patience and a search without geographical boundaries. Yes, I had (still have) a handful of friends who happened to live in geographical proximity -- but that was the exception rather than the rule.
And while we generally privilege those next-door-neighbor relationships in our culture over long-distance/virtual ones, I've often found those long-distance connections just as (and at times more) meaningful than the "people in my neighborhood" ones.
So thank you, Elise and Joseph and Molly and Anne and Stephanie and Fannie for your willingness to put energy into creating and sustaining a friendship with me across the miles and time zones. It takes mindfulness to be present with a person when they are not there before you in your day-to-day life of hectic, well, living, and I'm grateful that all of you have, over the years, been willing to commit to connecting with me.
I look forward to years of friendship to come.
*to be fair, at three years old my fellow correspondent and I mostly exchanged drawings and dictated random text to our parents to forward on. But that relationship developed into a sustaining friendship that lasted well into my teens, and we remain in occasional contact today.