The memories that linger the longest are those that encompass all the senses.
I recall the first time penned words tugged at my heartstrings. I was a freshman attending a Big Ten Midwest college. After a packed day of classes, I habitually went to retrieve my mail from the mailbox located on the first floor of my student building.
Expecting the usual suspects of bills, catalogs, and campus flyers, I sifted through the stack with mild annoyance. From the standard pile of mundane junk leaped a small piece of folded yellow legal paper, which fell to the floor. A twinge of intrigue ran through my veins and across my skin.
Once I read the missive, my fluttering heart refused to be silent. Just 46 words combined together made me swoon and pulse with desire I had never experienced.
Throughout that year, I was received several notes from my anonymous scribe—each one sparking a fresh new reaction of excitement. I never uncovered the identity of my talented admirer, but somehow it seemed more sacred and mysterious that way.
While the affectionate correspondence from my first college year is now aged and weathered, I still, from time to time, retrieve the letters from my equally antiqued teal Ikea storage box and relish in rereading them
We can look back to a time when sending love letters was not only a required method to communicate but also a vehicle to fuel the fire of yearning. This was time before fax machines, beepers, phones, and computers were even a glimmer in an inventor’s eye. Delayed gratification was a necessary yet delicious part of the process. Waiting eagerly in anticipation for a delivery from a loved one heightened satisfaction once an envelope was received.
To get our creative juices whirling, here is a sample feast of amorous outpourings from notable figures throughout history:
Esteemed author F. Scott Fitzgerald wooed and beguiled his muse and heartthrob, Zelda, with a plethora of heartfelt prose. It is quite reasonable to concur that she, in return, was properly smitten.
“Darling—I love these velvet nights. I’ve never been able to decide whether the night was a bitter enemie or a ‘grand patron’–or whether I love you most in the eternal classic half-lights where it blends with day or in the full religious fan-fare of mid-night or perhaps in the lux of noon. Anyway, I love you most and you ‘phoned me just because you phoned me tonight—I walked on those telephone wires for two hours after holding your love like a parasol to balance me. My dear.” ~ The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
Former United States President Barack Obama transcribed letters of love to his former girlfriend, Alexandra McNear, while he attended Columbia University. Excerpts of these letters have been released by Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library.
“I trust you know that I miss you, that my concern for you is as wide as the air, my confidence in you as deep as the sea, my love rich and plentiful, Love, Barack.” ~ Barack Obama
Prolific artist Frida Kahlo was enamored with the equally famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, and married him twice. They experienced a passionate and turbulent union, in which many plates and fragile things might have been thrown.
“Diego, my love, Remember that once you finish the fresco we will be together forever once and for all, without arguments or anything, only to love one another. I adore you more than ever. Your girl, Frida.” ~ Frida Kahlo
Johnny Cash was visibly devoted and enchanted with his second wife, June Carter Cash. The inseparable couple was married for 35 years and they both passed away within four months each other. Johnny wrote a love letter to June for her 65th birthday that was deemed the most romantic love letter in a 2015 poll by Beagle Street, a British company.
“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.” ~ Johnny Cash
Time, distance, and husbands got in the way of the love affair between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf but love letters to each other provided the glue to keep them engaged. As writers, they both fueled each other with passion and fodder for their professions.
“But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defenses. And I don’t really resent it.” ~ Vita Sackville-West
Today, with myriad digital communication options available 24/7, the handwritten word stands out as decadent retreat from the ordinary.
A personal document with our penmanship has the power to invoke, as they say, “all the feels.” The touch of the paper and size of it connects both our fingers and our eyes. The smell of the ink or lingering perfume creates an indelible memory for our minds to recapture. And the form of the words themselves reveal the sentiment of the writer—they can be interpreted as subtle as a suggestion or as strong as a demand.
Handwriting a note is in diametric opposition to sending a text or tweet. Almost magically, all the abbreviations, slang terminology, and misspellings disappear. We become forced to create parallel sentences and compose meaningful paragraphs. It requires a moderate level of effort but the effort becomes art—and art is love.
Here are a few guidelines to amplify the seduction-factor of a love letter:
Be brave. Go ahead and wear your heart on your sleeve because it’s an opportune time to do so. Let what words have been deeply buried come out of their cages and on to the pages. Carpe diem the heck out of yourself and be vulnerable. Your honesty and raw emotions will standout and ring with impression.
Make it unique. If you are an accountant, consider using ledger paper, or if you are a lawyer, break out your legal pad for your note. Fancy stationery and melted wax initial stamps aren’t necessary to initiate a love spell and probably don’t match your personality anyway. Use both your favorite and common items to create your own masterpiece—try implementing things like paint, stencils, sharpies, or pencils.
Simplify the message. Long-winded pieces from days of old don’t remain to have the same efficacy in modern times. A briefly stated message will pack more punch and stand to be better remembered than lengthy communication when it comes to matters of the heart.
Remember your intended reader. When you deeply consider the person receiving your note, fireworks can ensue. Remind yourself that your words are not meant for you and think about what kind of tone and sentiment would be most appreciated on the other end. Does humor get your loved one going or does sultry and sexy leave the best mark? Incorporate language that will you make your reader blush, or laugh, or both.
The next time we want to impress a certain someone, we might consider going the old school route with our words. Take a spoonful of inspiration from our favorite poets and authors. Trade in our screens for a slice of paper and our keyboards for carbon or ink.
Let our magic prose flow, seal the note with a kiss, and send it for a ride on the pony express with a forever stamp. The recipient may choose to cherish it for his or her eternity.
Author: Kristen Ward
Image: Brad Neathery/Unsplash
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy Editor: Emily Bartran
Social editor: Waylon Lewis