Getting to know people through their writing.
I met my husband, Andrew Horsfall, in September 1993 while we were students at West Sussex Institute of Higher Education (now University of Chichester) and we lived on campus at Bishop Otter College, Chichester, in a small 1930s block of student accommodation called New Hall (now, I believe, converted into administrative offices).
I lived with four other women on the top floor and Andrew lived in a room on the floor below. The first time I ever saw him was as we were walking between floors on the wide, stone, communal staircase which ran through the building and, for this reason, I’ve always included a drawing of stairs in Valentine’s Day cards to my husband…
…but I digress.
Andrew used to visit the top floor to borrow our iron and ironing board and frequently cadged a sandwich or a cup of tea while he pressed his shirts. Over time, he and I started going out.
Everything should have continued swimmingly except that he was nearing the end of his degree course and I was only starting mine. By late May, 1994 he’d handed in his dissertation and finished his final exams whereas I still had several assignments to complete. A friend of his in Huddersfield offered a place to stay and the possibility of work so, with no offers of anywhere else to live and his bank balance as unhealthy as most people’s after three years of being a student, Andrew left for Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, over 200 miles away from Sussex, leaving me with a seldom-used ironing board (to this day, he uses it more than I ever do) and plenty of teabags…. and then the letters started to arrive.
Andrew wrote to me from Huddersfield to tell me about his job-hunting, his new accommodation, his post-student life. There were jokes, anecdotes, stickmen pictures. I wrote back and we began to learn more about each other through our letters. I looked forward to the arrival of his envelopes which grew fatter as the chances of him finding a job in Huddersfield seemed to grow slimmer. I’m not sure that he was really trying. I like to think his focus was elsewhere…but he was out of work and had time on his hands so perhaps he was grateful for the chance to write and receive correspondence from someone.
Letters were delivered to pigeon-holes in a college corridor and I met one of my lecturers there one day who said to me “I couldn’t go out with anyone if I didn’t like the way they wrote,” and I knew what she meant. It wasn’t as if either of us had an amazing writing style but I felt that I really came to know Andrew through his letter-writing and I cared more and more about our relationship.
But this isn’t a post about falling in love with a man who disdained the crumpled look but who didn’t own an iron. Reader, by the end of the summer I’d driven up to Huddersfield to fetch him. We set up home in several rented houses in West Sussex while I finished my degree, married in 1997 and we’re still together today, still sending each other Valentine’s. But if it hadn’t been for those letters… who knows? and it’s made me think that, although I write and receive very few postal letters these days, I do, still, become acquainted with people through written communications.
Tweets are like postcards..
In the last few years I’ve become friends with people I’ve met through social media. I don’t mean that they’ve remained as virtual friends – although that’s still true for many of my Twitter and Facebook mates but I’m sure this will change over time – I mean that we’ve met up in real life and become friends.
Facebook statuses are little notes..
At first real life meetings, I’ve felt that I already know people quite well, the introductions long out of the way, much of the small-talk already done and dusted.
Emails are letters..
I suppose a shared interest has already been established. I wouldn’t have found my new friends if hashtags hadn’t guided us towards each other or their name hadn’t showed up while running a Google search. I’ve been attracted by their blogposts, by their tastes in poetry or prose or by work they’ve written themselves and by interesting articles they’ve directed my attention to. Their tweets, retweets, favourites and post-sharings have usually given me some idea of their interests and feelings about politics, culture, religion and life and while we might not completely agree about EVERYTHING (wouldn’t that be rather boring, in any case?) it seems unlikely that we’d suddenly discover uncomfortable and dramatic differences of opinion about what matters to us.
Everything takes time, of course. It wouldn’t be wise or possible to rush off to the pub with every new person you meet through social media. But gradually, like me and Andrew getting to know each other through our letters, you learn which tweets, statuses and blogposts you look forward to finding on your virtual doormat.