The Love Letter isn’t Dead
Every year around Valentine’s Day, magazines and blogs will start to post articles about how love letters have gone the way of the dodo, and how ‘kids these days’ (by this I assume they mean nearly everyone) just text their affection to their loved ones, often not using words at all but a string of emojis. And while my day is hardly complete without an affectionate string of emojis from my hubby, I don’t believe they sound the death knell for love letters.
“The ring of fire still burns around you and I, keeping our love hotter than a pepper sprout.” –Johnny Cash in a letter to June Carter Cash
Love Letter History
For one thing, they’ve simply been around too long to just go away. The earliest known love letter is written in Sanskrit in a Hindu historical text, and it dates back about 3,500 years. Basically, for as long as we’ve been writing, we’ve been using writing to express affection for one another, regardless of culture or class or language. And while the methods go through fads and cycles, putting marks on paper and delivering it to your love (or leaving it in a secret location or having your friend deliver it for you or slipping it through the vent in a locker door…) has endured throughout much of human history.
The historical notes that remain to us serve countless purposes beyond just the enjoyment of reading. They celebrate the best aspects of the human heart, they give us useful information about society and relationship norms throughout history, and they document the way wars have affected families and what those families sacrificed. We humans have an instinct for documentation, and we want the ages to know our love lasts longer than the lifespan of a hard drive.
Making a Comeback
Which is why, I think, the love letter is coming back into fashion. The cycle is shifting again. Letters in general are becoming more popular than they have been since the dawn of digital communication. Perhaps we’re starting to feel the empty space in that disconnect from our contacts and we’re learning the value in reaching out in a more tactile way. Or maybe we’re reaching the age where we’re losing our grandparents and it occurs to us just how much we treasure that birthday card tucked away in the bookshelf. We want our kids and our grandchildren to have something they can hold onto that won’t become obsolete in five years.
And maybe that’s the trick to what keeps the love letter alive—it can’t lose power or be wiped out by a virus or a computer crash. If stored safely, it can always be accessed and always be there to remind us that we’re loved, and so were those that came before us, and so will be those who come after.
“I love you because I love you, because it would be impossible for me not to love you.” –Juliette Drouet to Victor Hugo
For more inspiring love letters, look up the correspondence between Josephine and Napoleon, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas, Mary Wollstonecraft to William Godwin, or Eleanor Roosevelt to Lorena Hickok. Note: Some of these are quite steamy!
Ink it Up!