• Fri, Feb 11 2011

Love Letters in the Digital Age

So it turns out that as much as everyone’s inner romantic loves the idea of a handwritten love letter, only one in eleven people have actually written one to somebody. Depressing? Well, yes and no.

I agree, there’s something about getting an actual letter, written on actual paper, in actual human handwriting, that makes my stomach do the butterfly thing. But at the same time, I don’t think that love letters have to be limited to longhand. Can they still retain their romanticism in the digital age? Well, why the hell not?

I don’t know about you, but I have really shitty handwriting. Really. It’s atrocious. So as much as I would LIKE to pen a beautiful, hand-written love letter, odds are the effect would be somewhat spoiled by my five-year-old-on-crack scrawl. There are probably a variety of reasons for this: the lack of emphasis on penmanship in schools; the rise of the computer; the need to get things down quickly; and so on. I do still like to take notes and jot things down in longhand, but those notes aren’t usually meant for anybody but me, so if I’m the only person who can read them, no big deal. But the fact remains that I, like many, have terrible handwriting, and as such, handwritten love letters from me look about as romantic as a dying fish. Digitally, though? Let the romance flow forth!

I met my boyfriend online. Trust me – no one is more surprised about this than me; but something about it seems to work, and has been working for a year and a half, so whatever. But I bring this up because when you first meet someone online, guess how you do it? Yep: through writing.

I’ve always been a little wary of the meeting-up-with-a-stranger-from-the-internet thing, and furthermore, there’s nothing weirder than a first date with someone you don’t know– I mean really, REALLY don’t know– so we did what any reasonably cautious person would do: we corresponded. And by corresponded, I don’t just mean short, one-sentence, “What’s up?” messages; I mean full-fledged letters, sent via the interwebs. And we did this for several months.

Now, I realize that corresponding for several months before even meeting might be a little excessive. But the plus side was that we got to know a lot about each other before we finally met, and not just in terms of interests, likes, dislikes, and all that. I strongly believe that one can tell a TON about a person based on the way they write. This may make me sound like a writing snob, but it’s really just that a message that reads “omg u r sooooo cute wat’s ur name” will cause me to run away in horror, whereas a well-worded version of that (or at least a version with some punctuation) probably won’t. So for a couple of months, my now-boyfriend and I traded wittily-written letters, getting to know each others’ voices and personalities as well as interests and occupations in the process. Then when we finally had our first date, we had already gotten all the awkward “Who the hell are you?” shit out of the way, allowing us to talk like normal people (nervous people, granted, but normal). Not a bad way to do it, right?

My mother, who’s a historian, gets a kick out of our initial correspondence because it was in essence so quintessentially Victorian. And she’s right; it was, and it was a sweetly and digitally romantic way to get to know someone. Now that we’ve been together for a while, we don’t feel the need to send those lengthy missives back and forth anymore, but we do the equivalent in shorter forms. In some ways a text can be even more romantic than a letter; a carefully composed “thinking of you” tidbit has a certain elegance and beauty contained within its own tiny perfection that more expansive (and sometimes overblown) letters can miss.

Are handwritten love letters still more romantic than email? Probably. But those of us who don’t have the skills to calligraph a work of art can still be artful in our way– as long as we don’t have to rely on the five-year-olds hidden in our fingertips to do so.

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  • K

    My partner and I also met online and were pen pals for a few months. Some deem it weird (our families still think we met at a bar), but in hindsight I think it helped us develop a more rewarding relationship. Handwriting had nothing to do with it, but his ability to channel his voice into a 2-paragraph email (and spell everything correctly) was more than enough. Though, once we drew me a picture of a unicorn doing blow. That was sweet.

    • Lucia Peters

      Love the unicorn– I got a Photoshopped biplane flying through an apocalyptic sky once; looks like our partners came from the same school of love letter writing.

  • Patrick Star

    One day I found a well hidden box full of old love letters, from various lovers spanning years. Some were explicit, others were sweet. Some were scrawled misspelled notes passed between us filled with inside jokes that I had long forgotten. I realized with one letter that I had badly broken someone’s heart, I had forgotten how much he cared. He had called us soul mates in that letter. I remembered us being friends with benefits.

    This wasn’t some kind of ‘High Fidelity’ nostalgia fest, I am very securely and happily in a relationship. It was serendipity that I found them, and a great pick me up to hear a little love.

    Some advise- Don’t let that correspondence get winked away into digital nothingness. It’s the best primary source for what you have between you.