The lost art of the love letter
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In the era of emails and texts, handwriting your sweet nothings is a dying art. This Valentine’s Day, revive a romantic tradition with these simple steps.
“We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each other’s minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes we take each other for granted.”
“But once in a while, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.”
– Musician Johnny Cash to his wife June, 1994
Whether you’re an old-fashioned romantic who keeps a copy of Love Letters of Great Men and Women under your pillow or the most moving words you’ve heard on love come from the big speech at the end of When Harry Met Sally, there’s a style of love letter for you.
Never put your feelings into words before? Or do you gush to your other half every chance you get?
No matter your style, we’ll teach you how to write a spectacular love letter this Valentine’s Day.
The sincerest form of flattery
One of the simplest forms a love letter can take, and the perfect choice for a novice writer, is the list of things you adore about your sweetheart.
As long as you’re thoughtful and honest, you can’t go far wrong with a straightforward ‘Things I Love About You’ list – but there are ways to identify the most romantic choices.
Number one on our list of things to add to yours is what you love about your beloved that they think of as a flaw.
Maybe your other half hates their laugh but it always makes you feel good when you hear it. Maybe they’re self-conscious about the shape or size of some part of their body that you find sexy.
Putting down in words that you not only accept their perceived flaws but love them is a moving message.
Next, think about the things they do that make you smile or laugh, or that you have a good time doing together.
Maybe it’s singing along to the radio in the car, quoting your favourite film or TV programme as an in-joke or texting you memes on your lunch break. Referencing specific memories shows that they mean something to you and that you think about them when you’re apart.
Avoid a list that’s solely focused on the physical. As much as we all like to feel attractive, love, as opposed to lust, is about our minds as well as our bodies.
By all means mention how good-looking they are, but you can also list personality traits (‘You’re so kind’) and talents (‘Your drawings always amaze me’) and poke fun, as long as you know they’ll take it the right way (‘The way you always manage to make changing the duvet a two-man job’)!
Also, steer clear of lists devoted solely to the chores that they do around the house. If you want to talk about some of the things they do for you, put them in the context of how they make you feel or what they tell you about them and show your gratitude (‘Cleaning up after me (sorry!) because you know that mess makes me stressed’ or ‘Doing more than your share of the washing up because you know how much I hate it – you’re so thoughtful’).
“My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you – I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again – my Life seems to stop there – I see no further. You have absorb’d me.”
– Poet John Keats to his beloved, Fanny Brawne, 1819
Prefer your love letters more traditional? Making the list above is still a good starting point to get you thinking along the lines of what inspires and captivates you about your significant other – but there’s another element to consider.
Many of history’s great love letters were driven by necessity – long distances between lovers and lack of modern technology meant writing was the only way to stay in contact – so many are imbued with absence making the heart grow fonder.
To recapture the spirit of those yearning correspondences, think about the last time your partner went away and you found yourself alone at home without them.
How did you feel? What did you miss about them? Were there things you wanted to do reflexively – tell them something funny you heard, cuddle up next to them on the sofa or in bed – that you were sad to find you couldn’t? Little joys in your day that were missing, like the hug they normally give you when they come in from work? What did you most look forward to doing together when they got back?
For inspiration, look to legends of the love letter but also of the written word. Ludwig van Beethoven wrote some stirring pages to his anonymous ‘immortal beloved’, Dylan Thomas wrote with quirky abandon to his future wife Caitlin Macnamara and F. Scott Fitzgerald fixed a beautiful moment for all time with these words:
‘I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside of me there will always be the person I am tonight.’
For extra marks, research one of your other half’s favourite writers or lyricists to quote or for inspiration. Wedding readings are also a great source of profound thoughts on lasting love.
The classic love letter was written in ink – a fountain pen is your go-to – and lovers separated by miles often scented their pages with their perfume or aftershave, though don’t immediately spritz directly onto the paper, which could cause the ink to run.
Choose paper with an aged finish, in the style of a scroll or with rose petals pressed into it (yes, really) depending on the era you’re emulating.
A final flourish? Create your own wax seal and finish with a pressing from a coin, rubber stamp, ring or other piece of jewellery – just don’t use anything too precious or sensitive to heat since the wax may melt it or become lodged in nooks and crannies.
If your dearest is less of an old-time romantic, there are other ways to personalise your page.
They’re a lover of all things vintage? Write your message on a retro telegram in the style of sailors and their sweethearts.
You met at school? Pen it on lined paper, in an exercise book, on a paper plane or on a folded note like you used to pass back to them in class – and use the pen of your era, be it a Berol handwriting pen from junior school or a gel ink from the 1990s. If you’re going for an envelope, seal it with a loving kiss (S.W.A.L.K.)!
However you finish or compose your love note, the way to your better half’s heart is thoughtfulness and honesty.
Don’t say something you don’t mean just because it sounds good, and take the time to think about how each thing you do say will make them feel.
At its most basic, the aim here is to let them know they’re valued and to show that you took time out of your day to think about them and what would make them happy – far from being an excuse when we forget to pick up a present, that is the true meaning of ‘it’s the thought that counts’.
A public display of affection
Can’t find the words this February 14th or prefer to say it with a handful of Valentine’s chocolate hearts? Choose a message from ‘Naughty…’ to ‘You’ll Do!’ from our very own little Love Notes – or spoil them with an abundance of chocolate hearts.
Let us know how your love letter goes by tweeting @HotelChocolat