By Josh Saunders
Pen-pals who wrote to each other for over three decades years have fallen in love after flying 4,000 miles to meet one another for the very first time.
Stephanie Kraemer from Naperville, Illinois, was 13-years-old when she started penning letters to Petter Grønlien, 15, never expecting anything more than a quirky friendship.
Every three-weeks they would rush to mailbox for another letter, within the pages revealing their teenage thoughts and darkest secrets, from school dramas to parental problems and more.
They continued writing to one another through relationships, marriage and family deaths, but apart from images and videos, never saw each other ‘live’ until Skyping for the first time last year.
Apart from one moment in their 20s, when Petter asked Stephanie to marry him instead of her partner of the time, no relationship ever seemed to be on the cards.
Until this March, when the mum-of-one flew to Lillehammer, Norway, to meet her pen-pal of 32 years for the very first time.
When Stephanie, 45, met Petter, 47, she felt like they had been together for ‘100 years’ instantly falling for him and says she has left ‘half of her heart’ with him.
The couple are set to reunite later this year and hope their fairy-tale romance can become a reality with them eventually living together.
Stephanie, who works in accounting, said: “It blows me away that this amazing man has been there right in front of me my whole life and yet the timing was never right.
“We confided in one another so much and were always able to tell one another things we couldn’t tell anyone else.
“It was funny, in my early 20s before marrying my son’s dad, I told him I was getting married in a couple of weeks.
“Shortly after my phone rang he called me and said, ‘Stephanie you have to come here and marry me before you marry him.’
“It was so cute, by that point we had been writing for 12 years and after that I always wondered what would have happened if I did, and how different our lives would be.
“It never even got flirty until about eight months ago, when we both realised this was the first time we had both been single and 32-years later know each other better than anyone else.
“We had this fantasy in the back of our minds about meeting someday, but the timing was never right, everyone has been blown away that we are still talking.
“The first time we met there was no awkwardness, he ran up and hugged me, it was like being at home and like we had been together forever.
“We had never spoken about a relationship, but it was in the back of our minds, I didn’t know if maybe we both held onto the teenage fantasy.
“My biggest fear was walking back on that plane with half my heart left behind but that was exactly what happened.
“When I told Petter this he replied, you don’t have half a heart as you’re taking half of mine with you.”
Stephanie started looking for an international pen-pal with her friend in her early teens.
Her friend who was ‘obsessed’ with Norway initially spoke to Petter, while Stephanie spoke with his friend.
But after six-months their friendships fizzled-out and Stephanie started talking to her future sweetheart.
She said: “We would write about stupid teenage things, dramas at school, friends, the ‘oh my god my parents are so lame’ moments and more.
“We exchanged school pictures right away and would send each other photographs over the years, eventually switching to email.
“After years of writing, we had so much love and respect for one another that no matter what happened we were always there for one another.”
More than three decades from their first letter, the pair saw each other in the flesh for the first time in March after Stephanie took the 4,000-mile flight to Norway.
The couple believe the timing was ‘never right’ for them, until recently when they have both been single at the same time as one another in their adult lives.
Petter, a poet, said: “We both had a lot of butterflies in our stomachs before that.
“But when I saw her step-out from the train in Lillehammer, they all just flew away. We said ‘Hi,’ gave each other a big, long hug.
“After all those years, it felt more like a reunion. It was the most natural and good feeling.
“The feeling was awesome, and we just had so much fun together, but of course we both were very excited.”
Stephanie says their time together was ‘perfect’ and better than she could have imagined.
She added: “Outside of having my son, my two weeks with Petter were the best two weeks of my life, it was the most amazing thing and like a fairy tale.
“We talked and laughed until we fell asleep, we never wanted to stop talking so we hardly slept, it was as if we had been together for 100 years.
“While we have lost more 30 years together, we still have 30 more and I think realistically we can make it work now.
“It was so hard to leave him, I sat there crying, I couldn’t believe it and understand why it had taken us so long to be together.
“We are proceeding carefully as we know we are living a fairy tale, he’s coming over to stay in summer, to get to know my son and family and take it from there.”
Friends and family are ‘delighted’ by news of the romance and can’t believe the likelihood of something blossoming after so many years.
Stephanie added: “My family are on cloud nine they can’t wait to talk to him in person and my son adores Petter since skyping with him.
“My brother talks to Petter quite a lot on Facebook and I talk to Petter’s sister, niece and nephew. His dad is starting to play chess online with my son too.”
Now the couple are fundraising in a bid to cover the medical issues that Stephanie is suffering and to allow them to progress into the next chapter of their lives.
Petter believes their romance was only enhanced by their traditional form of communication that allowed them to bond more than most modern couples.
He said: “After writing to each other the old fashion way, paper and envelopes in the mailbox every five or six weeks, we established a good level of trust in each other.
“It was fun, nice, and a way to be able to tell each other’s deepest secrets, dreams and wishes for the future. Like a living diary.
“We just had the best connection, that has kept on and so it was about that time we actually met in person.
“That she was just here, it’s almost impossible to say how much that was for both of us.”
You can donate by visiting: www.gofundme.com/30-years-penpals-to-soulmates