How do I begin this? A story about my experience of Slowly? To sum it up in a couple of words I can basically say that this app has changed my life. I won’t deny it; this is a slowly love story. One that I feel is worth telling people and hopefully showing that there is magic in letters and love stories.
I stumbled across 'Slowly' completely by accident towards the end of 2018. My life was falling apart at the time and I initially went on the app store to find anything that I could to take me away from my current predicament. Initially I was looking for a game to play but as I was looking through the apps of the year section it just caught my eye. A wave of nostalgia hit me, remembering the pen friends I had growing up and the excitement of receiving a letter in the post. My own parents were pen friends when they met and to cut a long story short, they have been married over 30 years and here I am. So I tentatively downloaded it and wrote my profile and sent my first letter to some random guy in Turkey talking about computer games (In excessive detail!) I probably sounded crazy to them. I got a reply and boom, my essay was replied to. I opening my first reply up with great excitement and boom. 2 lines of reply. Not even a question back or anything I could actually reply to. I was a little gutted, I’ll admit it. I nearly deleted the app there and then. But I felt compelled to try again and give it another chance. I kept my letters short and sweet as a way of an introduction and added a random question on the end in hope that the person would feel compelled to write to me back and so my love the app started. I sent three random letters out every single day the auto match reset and the replies started to flow in. It’s quite tough juggling 30 odd letters and replying and I tried my best to reply to everyone! It took over my free time completely for a while and so I stopped auto matching and gradually the letters slowed down as the other people stopped replying or deleted the app. Some of my new found friends who I had sent several letters to stopped replying just as things were getting interesting and I guess I was starting to burn out from writing trying to start again with new people and not maintaining friends. My life was taking over at the time with it being Christmas and due to things happening in my life I started feeling down and out about life again.
Then something happened. Something new.
I received my first letter from someone that I had not initially sent a letter to! My first random match! This was something new! I looked at the writer’s origin and it said Syria. This is not exactly somewhere I expected to get a letter from but I guess that is the joy of Slowly, it hits you with the unexpected. After being brainwashed like everyone else by the western media, you don’t look at that part of the world very favourably. But hey, this was my first random letter from someone and I was excited. On the 30th December 2018, I received a letter, from Syria, not knowing then how much it would change my life the following year. The girl who sent it was called Jenny.
The letter was short and sweet, a normal introduction with the usual "I am looking for friends around the world" tagline at the end. So, I replied, usual stuff, bit about myself, commenting on how well the letter was written and a few questions in the hope of a reply. The reply came and the conversation flowed. It just worked. Gradually, we built up more topics of conversation and after several letters we spoke more about ourselves, asking each other more personal questions and curiosity about each other’s lives. The only information you ever heard about Syria in England was about war and terrorism. It was nice to get a view about it all from someone who was there and living it. A lot of perceptions of mine were changed. This was a pen friend whom I could talk to and it felt so natural and the genuine excitement I felt about hearing from them and reading the next letter shone through. Eventually we shared a few photos of things like pets and where we were from. Then I took a risk and sent a picture of myself saying it might be nice to put a face to all the writing. This was the first time this had happened on the app, I WANTED to share a bit more about myself. I was always apprehensive that sharing pictures would ruin the magic of just writing and turn it into something else. But it enhanced it, it built a little more trust and words flowed easily between us. We always had something to talk about and the letters continued regularly. I dreaded the moment that it would eventually stop or just die out. But it didn’t.
Then comes the dreaded "do you want to talk on an instant messaging app?" I don’t know why I dreaded this so much. I didn’t want to lose the magic and how the letters made me feel. The fact I had something in my life I looked forward to and cherished.
I really wanted to say no! I loved the letters and felt that this would ruin it. Eventually, I tentatively agreed to it but vowed to myself and told Jenny that I am still sending letters regardless. And so I did.
The letters were starting to get longer and longer, we were learning more and more about each other. It was communication I was thankful for. I wasn't in the best of states in my life and this gave me an opportunity to lose myself in writing and forget what was going on. By February, we were talking regularly both in letters and instant messages. The next step was here, Jenny asked if she could call me one night to talk. Again, instant dread! Now, I am one of them people who find it hard to talk on the phone. I speak to my mum a bit, but I generally just avoid calls and let them go to the answerphone if I can help it. So again, I tried putting it off and made excuses until I eventually caved in and we spoke. It was only for 40 minutes. I was nervous as hell and thinking about how much I would understand, say something wrong that would offend or basically embarrass myself. From the second I heard her voice, the nerves were gone. Conversation flowed easily, I was nervous and started talking about camels and some other random topics. But it flowed. Her voice just calmed me and it was like we were just long-time friends catching up. We slowly got closer. We sent letters, messaged and occasionally called.
Now then, It’s not my greatest moment in life to admit this, But I was keeping a lot from her during this time. I had split from my wife and didn’t see my kids much just before I started on slowly. I was lonely and depressed and that was what compelled me to join in the first place. She spoke a lot about her life and how people close to her had lied to her. I decided to tell her everything in a letter, how I was still married and my situation. Giving her the chance to make up her own mind if she still wanted to talk to me as we were getting closer and closer, every letter and every call and I couldn’t hide it anymore. I put a lot of faith in the hope that we had a friendship and it would endure. But only if I told her now. She understood and I guess it took our friendship to the next level. I really trusted her and during our conversations we always advised and comforted each other. It allowed me to talk about things I haven’t spoken to anyone about. We had each other and my life was crying out for a person like this. We were there to cheer each other up on the bad days. We gave each other a shoulder to cry on and a person to vent to in life and it worked. I randomly broke down on the phone one night purely out of appreciation that I had this person to talk to. We started relying on each other and a friendship developed beyond what we had. We continued writing letters and talking. We had a lot more in common than we ever thought possible. We even explored options of writing a real letter to each other which was quickly squashed when we realised you just can’t send mail to Syria. Slowly was always our thing. We kept sending letters and they were hitting essay proportions now. It was right and it was a major part of my life. Due to the effect of slowly, I started writing real letters to give to her if ever I got the chance to deliver them in person.
Jenny was the person who brought me back from the brink of giving up on life. With her to back me up and encourage me, I started turning things in my life around. I got a really nice teaching job and started feeling happy again. My life was improving. Jenny became my best friend. Through all the letters and conversations, we found some kind of happiness and nothing got me more excited than a notification from slowly saying a letter would be arriving from Syria in 14 hours time. We were worlds apart yet so close.
During Easter we had a laugh about the places she could go in the world on her passport. Due to the sanctions that hit Syria from the rest of the world, her and the Syrian people were pretty hard done by due to things that were happening out of her control. A lot of her friends had fled and were refugees. We talked about meeting one day, maybe at the time, not really believing it would happen. But a trip to Lebanon for a few days to see the sites and Jenny being able to translate. It was a nice dream and we both vowed to start saving money. We both actually did.
Months started to pass. We went from strength to strength. Our time talking and friendship was defined by different moments. Our letters were in so much detail, playing games, asking questions and sharing music. Talking on the phone was for hours upon end. We had the chance to video chat and something changed. We just got lost with each other. Our friendship progressed to something more. We talked for about 5 hours, seeing each other, laughing, joking…… falling. We fell asleep talking to each other. We used our letters on slowly to talk about things we were too shy to talk about normally. We both wrote about that chat and how it went. It was like a date without being on a date. A lot of things from our growing friendship were discussed using the letters. Slowly gave us an outlet in which to talk about things we maybe didn’t want to breach over the phone.
The weeks passed again and we talked more and more. Several hours a night. We video chatted as often as we could and the butterflies were starting to hit me whenever I saw her face or looked into her eyes. I had to go away with work for a week which meant we couldn’t talk on the phone for a week. We sent letters. I realised how much I missed her. It dawned on me just how I was feeling. I was falling for her. On my way home on a plane from Barcelona, I took the opportunity to admit my feelings to her, I couldn’t keep them in anymore. I did it how I knew I could do it. I sent her a letter. I said I was falling in love with her and being away made me realise. It was probably the most important letter I have ever sent in my life. Just like the letter where I told her everything about my life and situation I sent her a letter and prayed she would be there to talk to me the next day.
She felt the same! It was a magical moment for me reading the reply. So our relationship hit a new level. We started planning a way to see each other. It’s a strange thing learning everything about someone via letters but that’s how it worked for us. The letters made us. We talked a lot and video chatted a lot but the letters were how we found out so much about each other. We planned a holiday in Lebanon in October and spent the summer exchanging ideas and planning. Then finally in August it was booked.
Our relationship went from strength to strength and we were excited. A week before we were going to go, Lebanon decided to erupt in government protests and our trip looked doubtful. We decided to leave things until the last moment to decide if the trip was happening or if we would cancel. It was on a knife edge.
Love is a strange thing. A simple letter led me to talking to someone and falling for someone half the world away. Now I was teetering on traveling to a country about to erupt into civil unrest just to see if it was real. I needed this in my life, I needed to know if all the butterflies in my stomach and my heart skipping a beat were real. So I went……….and so did she.
This is going to sound cheesy as hell but it was love at first sight. The fact that we learnt so much about each other through our letters meant this was not a first date. It was just two people, meant to be together, finally getting to be with each other in what was one of the most volatile places in the world at the time. Well for a week at least.
Two people, from two totally different places on earth, different cultures, different race, meeting in a place that could erupt at any second and basically falling in love in person after falling in love through letters and phone calls. I’d love to say I made all of this up but it’s the gods honest truth. People’s lives are defined by different moments and this was one of mine. On our penultimate day in Lebanon I proposed in a way which defined our relationship up until then. I wrote her a letter. As she was reading it, I knelt down behind her and waited until she turned around which I asked her to do on the final line and I proposed. She said yes. Jenny from Syria is now Chris from England’s Fiancé, planning how they can be together and spend their life together, looking to the future, planning more trips and having a family. Things aren’t easy due to our origins and there are still many hurdles to cross until these moments can happen. But what started as a simple letter turned into my future and happiness. We will fight until we are together again.
Slowly introduced us, allowed us to build a friendship and then fall in love. A love that would have been impossible otherwise. We are engaged and still worlds apart and writing to each other until we are together again, hopefully permanently. Even when we are together, I will write to her now and again just to keep that same excited feeling about receiving a letter and seeing what treasured words will adorn it.
Me and Jenny have been writing to each other since the 30th December 2018. We are just about to hit 200 letters to each other. 200 letters in 350 days with a 14 hour wait time is pretty impressive I feel and shows the effect of slowly in my life. Remembering that this 200 letters was just to one person and not counting the multitudes I have sent talking to other people as well. 200 letters to find a friend, a best friend, a lover, a soulmate and a fiancé. Our story hasn’t ended yet; it has just begun. But It would never have happened without slowly. Thank you.
Chris aka I3irKy