How to Compose a Love Letter

Posted on in On Our Radar by Crystal Jackson

Reigniting Romance in
the Age of Texting


Sometimes, I worry that we’ve reduced our emotions to 140 characters or to the length of a text message. We’ve confined our language into abbreviations to make more room, but are the messages we convey worthy of saving?

I know in the aftermath of a breakup, it’s easy to go back and read the words we’ve written and that have been written to us. We savor them and try to read between the lines to see if the future was foreshadowed there. But once, not so long ago, there were letters. There was stationery and postage stamps and snail mail delivering messages to those we love.

Here are a few famous letters that show how much can be contained in the written word:

To: Elizabeth Taylor
From: Richard Burton

“My blind eyes are desperately waiting for the sight of you. You don’t realize of course, E.B., how fascinatingly beautiful you have always been, and how strangely you have acquired an added and special and dangerous loveliness.”

To: June Carter Cash
From: Johnny Cash

“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.”

To: Anaïs Nin
From: Henry Miller

“Here I am back and still smoldering with passion, like wine smoking. Not a passion any longer for flesh, but a complete hunger for you, a devouring hunger. . . . Anaïs, I only thought I loved you before; it was nothing like this certainty that’s in me now. Was all this so wonderful only because it was brief and stolen? Were we acting for each other, to each other? Was I less I, or more I, and you less or more you? Is it madness to believe that this could go on?”

paper and red rose

There’s something beautiful about putting pen to page and confessing one’s feelings. There’s power in words, and although we could easily fit some of our feelings into a social media post or text message, there’s something infinitely more powerful in the tactile experience of holding a letter in our hands.

So here’s a beginner’s guide to penning a romantic love letter:

» Avoid the use of slang when possible. This isn’t the time to tell “bae” you love her. Please don’t sully the lovely gesture with ridiculous abbreviations or slang. Make the words you use count.

» Say what you feel. Even if you struggle to express your feelings aloud, take the time to write them out. Speak from your heart, and be genuine. This isn’t going to win a literary prize. It just needs to be authentic.

» Avoid clichés. No one wants to read how roses are red and violets are blue. Less is more in this case.

» Consider your intentions. What do you really need to communicate? Do you want to tell your partner that you’re sorry for something you’ve done? Is your intention to express gratitude? Do you just want to share how much they mean to you? Is this a letter to someone who’s gone or who is still present in your life? Consider the letter’s intent and then speak from the heart.

» There’s nothing wrong with a rough draft. If you’re a letter-writing novice, take the time to practice what you want to say. Then just say it.

» Handwrite this letter (if your handwriting is legible). It means so much more when you write out how you feel rather than just typing it out. But if your handwriting is truly atrocious, by all means type it out and then sign it.

» Don’t worry about perfection. The best part about reading famous love letters is being able to feel how much someone was loved. We don’t read them for grammatical errors or mistakes. We read them because we want to capture the feeling of that moment and that relationship. Someone who cares about you won’t pull out a big red pen to start making corrections. This is about expressing feelings and sharing them.

» Take some advice from Vincent van Gogh: “Do you know what frees one from this captivity? It is every deep serious affection. Being friends, being brothers, love, these open the prison by supreme power, by some magic force. Where sympathy is renewed, life is restored.” Simply love someone. Then take the time to tell them in a way that doesn’t involve social media or texting.

» Avoid promises you can’t keep. Don’t make promises if you can’t keep them, so be careful with the words you use. Empty promises will take away from the message and can be hurtful later in the relationship.

» Keep it simple. Perhaps you aren’t good with words. Perhaps you don’t know exactly what to say. It doesn’t have to be flowery or poetic. Just say what you feel.

Love letters seem to have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but with a little time and effort, we can resurrect this lost art. We can take the time to let those we love know how deeply we cherish them. We can say how we feel and do it in a way that will be appreciated. We can remember that romance still exists, and it always will. Just not, perhaps, in 140 characters.

Crystal Jackson is a former family therapist who’s evolved into a spinner of stories and dreamer of dreams. A variation of her essay was published on Elephant Journal.

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