Remember how much fun Valentine’s Day was when you were a kid, before it became fraught with pressure and expectation and Instagram posts featuring prominently-placed engagement rings? You know, back when the holiday was just about giving out and collecting cards, receiving a tangible reminder of someone’s affection for you.
Why not return to that?
We’re so ridiculously connected to one another through smartphones and social media that it feels almost fetishistic to go back to old-fashioned pen and paper. But writing an expressive letter by hand has been shown to improve your mood, and an honest declaration of love is far more creative than a dozen red roses.
If you want to rock it old school-style this Valentine’s Day (or any day), here’s how to write a love letter.
Figure out what you want to say first
As long as your final version is handwritten, it doesn’t matter how you got there. Use a computer, or go freehand, but get your rough draft finished first. You’re (probably) not a pretentious teen, so you (probably) don’t want to give someone a love letter featuring a bunch of crossed-out words and formatted paragraphs documenting your entire creative process. Give a polished version of the finished product, instead
If you’re going to go through all the trouble of writing something heartfelt, you may as well make it look nice. Once you know exactly what it is you want to say and you have your final draft ready, it’s a nice touch to write it out by hand.
“I love you so much” is great. But “I feel loved when you start my morning by bringing me coffee” is even better. Think about the specific aspects of your relationship that bring you joy: is it the conversations that you have about movies? The long, quiet walks you take together on Saturday mornings? The care he puts in when he makes you dinner, or the way she always wants your insights on politics? The more you can get into what you love about this person, the more sincere it sounds, and the more validated your partner will feel.
Watch: Romantic messages that will keep the love alive while you’re apart. Story continues after video.
This is a good rule when it comes to dating, and a good rule when it comes to writing. Try to write in a similar way to how you speak — it will come across corny and insincere if you start writing in flowery language you would never use in conversation. Stop trying to sound like a poet if you’re not one. Being sincere and specific is all you need to do here.
If you have trouble figuring out what to say, stick to a structure
There’s no one way your love letter has to look: you should express your love in whatever way feels natural. But if you’re getting stuck, a Past/Present/Future structure is a good way to go, according to Samara O’Shea, the author of For the Love of Letters: A 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing.
She told BuzzFeed that you can start with the time you first met or first fell in love, then talk about what your partner brings to your everyday life, and finally what you want to do with them moving forward. According to O’Shea, that will indicate that “I’m here and I want to be here for a long time.”
Consider using quotes
There’s nothing wrong with a little creative “theft” in a love letter. Including song lyrics, poems, or other quotes that really capture the way you feel is a sweet romantic move, and it can make you look open-minded and well-read. Just be sure to give credit to and attribute the source of your quote — there’s nothing more unromantic than plagiarism.
Write for your partner, not for yourself
O’Shea also told BuzzFeed that it’s important to think about what your partner would want, which isn’t necessarily the same thing you would want. Focus on their communication style and love language rather than your own.
The same goes for length. Some people are big readers, others would rather you get to the point. There’s no set length a love letter should be — let it go on for as long as it feels natural. Short love notes are still super romantic.
Also, think about your partner’s taste when you think about how you want it to look. Are you writing to someone who would appreciate fancy stationery, or someone who prefers the simplicity of lined paper? Would they like crisp white paper, but with a dried flower pressed inside? Would they prefer a letter sent in the mail, or just tucked under your bedroom door? Think about what would mean the most to them.
Learn from the greats
Luckily, there’s no shortage of romantic letters out there on the internet. Here are a few good examples:
- “My blind eyes are desperately waiting for the sight of you,” Richard Burton wrote to Elizabeth Taylor. “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.”
- “I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia,” Vita Sackville-West wrote to Virginia Woolf. “I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it.”
- “I’d like to paint you, but there are no colours, because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love,” Frida Kahlo wrote to Diego Rivera.
- During her tumultuous marriage to Rivera, Kahlo had an affair with the artist Jose Bartoli. “I don’t know how to write love letters,” she wrote to him. “But I wanted to tell you that my whole being opened for you. Since I fell in love with you, everything is transformed and is full of beauty … love is like an aroma, like a current, like rain.”
- “Beautiful is the world, slow is one to take advantage,” Charlie Parker wrote to Chan Woods. “Wind up the world the other way. And at the start of the turning of the earth, lie my feelings for thou.”
- “To those who have eyes, the sight of Your beauty constitutes the complete fulfillment of their life’s purpose,” Rukimini wrote to Krishna in the Hindu scripture the Bhagavata Purana.
- “We are the only poets — and everyone else is prose,” Emily Dickinson wrote to Susan Gilbert.
- Jimi Hendrix once wrote to a girlfriend “happiness is within you....so unlock the chains from your heart and let yourself grow— like the sweet flower you are..... I know the answer— Just spread your wings and set yourself FREE.”
- “Why is there happiness and comfort and excitement where you are and nowhere else in the world?” Zelda Fitzgerald wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald
- “Once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met,” Johnny Cash wrote to June Carter. “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.”
- Before he started dating Michelle, Barack Obama wrote to a girlfriend that “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.”
- “It is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing,” Oscar Wilde wrote to Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. “Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry.”
- “I looked at the moon last night. I wondered at it,” painter Aaron Douglas wrote to Alta Sawyer Douglas. “What a beautiful thing it was. How full of mystery, how full of life. How full of love. It seemed to reek with voluptuousness. What a sensitive thing it seemed last night, how charming. But the most fascinating thing about it was that it seemed to give me an unusual sense of your presence. I could feel you. I lived in a memory of all moons.”
Good luck, and happy writing.
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