There are many words to describe Mindy Kaling: hilarious, sharp, talented. She’s also famously private and protective of her personal life. “I spent my whole adult life trying to avoid situations where I had to feel vulnerable,” says the actor in a Zoom interview with TZR. That said, Kaling says the last 18 months of social distancing made her want to tap into that vulnerability, in a variety of ways. It also reinforced the value of female friendships.
What brought on these internal revelations, you ask? Well, for starters, The Mindy Project star got a pen pal. Yes, you heard that right. At the age of 42, Kaling is partaking in the pre-social-media childhood practice of making friends via written correspondence. Kaling says she first became acquainted with new friend Julisa through T.J. Maxx's The Change Exchange pen pal program, now in its fifth year, which currently runs through September 20. “It’s designed to help women connect with other women so that they feel really supported while navigating moments of change,” she says. “I’ve been through so many changes in the past two years. I had a baby during COVID. I felt more isolated than I ever had been from my support network. So, it’s been great.”
In fact, Kaling explains that her friendship with Julisa made her realize the importance of female relationships in her life. “She’s such an incredible woman,” says Kaling. “We have really different lives, but what’s been really great about that is that we’ve just been able to support and listen to each other. And I really miss that, you know? I really missed my one-on-one female friendships.”
Even without factoring in a global pandemic, the actor says it can be hard for mothers to cultivate healthy female friendships. (Kaling is mother to three-year-old daughter Katherine Swati and 10-month-old son Spencer Avu, so she knows this challenge well.) “I lean on my female friends as a form of therapy,” she continues. “So when that is taken away, it’s just a lot of bottling up of things that I’m going through.”
The beauty of a pen pal, Kaling explains, is that you essentially start at ground zero with a person, with just a “shared desire for connection” to propel the relationship forward. “I’m a really guarded person and a really private person, so to be able to shed all that feels really cathartic, like psychologically,” she says.
But how does one even begin the shedding process, moreover, with a complete stranger? “For me, [it was about] immediately diving into the personal,” says Kaling. “I find the more specific I am about my situation, the more people can relate to your issues and support you and also open up about their issues. Hearing about the challenges in other people’s lives, even if they’re completely different than the challenges in our own, I think gives really good perspective on our own problems and tends to make us feel better. Because we’re like, ‘Great, I’m not the only one who’s struggling.’”
In addition to these therapeutic pen pal letters, Kaling has also tapped into other modes of self-care over the past year. “What I’ve done fairly regularly, and have always found therapeutic, is jogging,” says the actor. “Basically up until the week of my delivery, I was like an avid slow jogger. It really puts me in a great mood and gives me a lot of clarity of thought. So, I was doing that a lot and found that incredibly useful.”
Also proving to be useful over the past year was the simple concept of asking for help. “I learned the value of like a village to help raise your child,” says Kaling. “And I don’t mean just a nanny. I’m blessed to have the resources to have a nanny, but I also mean the pitching in of friends, neighbors, and family. The monotony of just being home with one person is not natural or good for anyone. So I think I really depended on the other people in my life to help raise [my kids].”