Since the late 1990's, I have maintained an ongoing "conversation" through e-mail with a friend. We call it a "conversation" because it is conducted like a conversation. We "talk" back and forth several times a week and sometimes several times a day. It is a fun experience with many benefits. It is very cathartic in many ways, newsy in other ways, and it keeps an ongoing friendship without having to live near each other. We live on opposite sides of the U.S. and over the years, we have kept in touch through many geographic regions.
We first met in 1968 when the husbands were in graduate school together. Our children were born around the same time and we kept in touch over the years through several moves but they have moved around the country more than we. As the children grew older, and we were busy with careers, we lost contact for years except through Christmas cards. Due to a family illness in the late 1990's, the "conversation" began as a way to keep updated on the circumstances. In order to respect the privacy of both parties, the details are being glossed over with superficial information.
When stressful situations enter the lives of people, it is hard to know what to do, how to help, and saying a few words are helpful, but we always want to do more. Years ago, I read an article in the old Reader's Digest about a situation where one person wanted to help another but the traditional cards and flowers just didn't seem to be quite enough. The main idea of the article was that people can be there for each other, not just for a crisis, but over "the long haul", through thick and thin, to also share the good times with people. I have read that widows have a continuing problem through their circumstances whereby people are there during the crisis and slowly fade away. The ensuing loneliness of being a widow can become problematic. No longer part of a couple, the widow experiences the loss of friendships as well as the loss of the spouse. My take away from the article was that if people really want to do something for others, just being there for the long haul is the most meaningful thing one can do for others. The author of the article talked about sending cards to the other person and keeping in touch over many, many years.
The circumstances of my pen pal and myself find us beyond the initial illness that was treated successfully with families intact and the addition of several grandchildren. The conversation has continued over the years and could have produced quite a few books, but we have not attempted to produce hard copies. It is like a conversation because it covers many topics and through thick and thin, we are there as a sounding board for each other. It is certainly cheaper than therapy but it is very effective in that respect.
The conversation always respects boundaries because with a long friendship, we know the areas where we agree and the topics about which we disagree. So we just avoid the hot button topics and "agree to disagree". We tend to agree about politics and religion but seldom discuss either. Mostly, we discuss families, hobbies, the day's events, weather, day-to-day life such as clothes we like, shopping we have done, recipes we like and so it goes on and on--like any other conversation. When we discuss decisions we need to make, it is helpful to type about ambivalence on a subject to clarify how we feel about it. However, when we offer how we might handle the other person's situation, we make sure it is just a comment that respects the fact that the other person's decision will be their own. We are very careful to respect the boundaries of the other and just say, "Let me know how you work out that one." Even if we might feel strongly about certain issues, it is necessary to let it go in respect for the friendship and recognize that the other person may need to handle something differently. The give and take of a long friendship can be very rewarding, but respecting those boundaries will allow it to thrive. We don't feel the need to be "right" at the expense of the friendship. People have the right to independence in their choices.
I have a family member who is 94 and maintains a friendship with another lady she met around 1940. I have read that siblings are the longest relationship a person can have. When a person is an only child, that relationship isn't possible and it takes special effort to maintain long-time friendships. Years ago, there was a song sung by Dionne Warwick called "That's What Friends are For".
"Knowing you can always count on me for sure
That's what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I'll be on your side forever more
That's what friends are for"