On the Lost Art of Writing Love Letters

In today’s world, our loved ones are often only a click of a button away. We are increasingly connected in many ways, as smartphones, tablets, and laptops become increasingly ubiquitous.  In airports, it is not uncommon to see a bedraggled, working-parent face-timing with an infant they’ve left at home with their significant other or nanny and indeed, these are the images utilized to sell even more smartphones. And undoubtedly, we are buying into this idea more and more: that love is being constantly in touch.

For all that we gain in our instant-messaging world, there is something intangible that is also lost. Remember the feeling of waiting for a piece of mail to arrive, the excitement when it shows up weeks or months later, with the faint smell of a far-away place. There is an undeniable magic in receiving a hand-written card from a loved-one, tearing into the sealed envelope you’ve been waiting for to be greeted by words that were written especially and just for you.

“For as long as people could write, it seems,” Linda Rodriguez for Mental Floss writes, “the more romantic and less self-conscious have been penning love letters.” She cites examples from as early as the 12th century, when the ill-fated couple Pierre Abelard and Héloïse wrote to each other passionately, although their “illicit” love affair ultimately led them to tragedy.

Love letters span different cultures and historical moments. One of the earliest recorded instances of love letters dates back more than 5000 years ago, which was written by Rukmini and addressed to Krishna, appearing in the Bhagavata Purana.

Through the first half of the twentieth-century, the love letter continued to be a common means of communication between couples who were separated by circumstances; some speculate that its use may have even been increased by the global wars of this time. Soldiers who were sent around the world would exchange letters with their sweethearts during their absence.

Love letters can also make for extraordinary literature. Take Gabriela Mistral, Chilean poet, who won a Nobel prize in 1945. It wasn’t until 2010, nearly 53 years after Mistral’s death, that her love letters with Doris Dana were published, first in Spanish and later a translation into English.

But love letters aren’t just for romantic love. Mothers and daughters, grandparents, dear friends: the people we love in our lives are worth taking the time of putting the pen to the paper. As eternal-believers in the written form, we challenge you, reader—the next time you need a writing prompt, try writing a love letter.