How to write a love letter
Courtney Phelan | Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Couples on Valentine’s Day are expected to exchange gifts. I don’t want to spend a lot of space in this column arguing that roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are unnecessary, so here: those cliché roses are unsustainably farmed and shipped in from 3000 miles away, those cliché greeting cards are overpriced and impersonal, and no one enjoys those cliché boxes of assorted chocolates in that cliché heart-shaped box.
Even though Valentine’s Day can so often go off the rails and become a celebration of excess, I do believe it should be celebrated. All kinds of love — friendship, family love, community and romantic love — are needed in this world, and all kinds of love should be celebrated. Romantic love can be contorted in some people’s minds and in the media as a series of opportunities to give and receive gifts. But romantic love is a gift in itself, and should be celebrated as such.
The most romantic gifts I have ever received have been love letters. My letters from my current boyfriend are a wonderful gesture, and the words in them give me happiness and hope on every re-read. I cherish them. A simple letter, written to the person you love, is a tremendous gift, and if you are in a couple, it’s what I recommend instead of those cliché Valentine’s gifts. No matter how long you’ve been together, if you are indeed together, a love letter is a great Valentine’s Day gift. A love letter can be given on its own, or in conjunction with the rest of a Valentine’s Day present. While flowers are cliché, if your significant other loves flowers and dark chocolate, get them flowers and dark chocolate. But I recommend writing out some kind of letter, or even a note, as well.
I know the task can be daunting, especially for those who are non-humanities or writing majors, or those who struggle to appropriately express their emotions. So, for those people, here is a real-life English major and person-in-a-happy-relationship’s advice to write a love letter.
First, ensure that your recipient would appreciate a love letter. Don’t make any first pronouncements through this letter, like asking them out or saying “I love you,” for the first time; those types of things should really be said in person. And please, please, please don’t use this column to write some kind of creepy secret-admirer letter.
Like all good writing, a good love letter needs to be planned. Think about why you love this person — I know, I know, this can be very hard, but if you truly love someone, there must be a reason you do. Good writing is based on evidence, and a good love letter needs some evidence that the recipient is loved.
Ask yourself why you love this person more than you love others. Do you spend time on the same activities? Do you feel more comfortable or more like yourself with them? When you’re with this person, do you smile more than normal? Why do you smile with them? Be sure to find specifics.
Answer these questions. Write out their answers. Start your letter with a paragraph of some of these answers, and integrate them throughout your letter. While your significant other is of course the most attractive person on the planet, move beyond complimenting their appearance or body. A lust letter is different from a love letter, and I’m not teaching you how to write those today.
Another recommended addition to your love letter is the story of your relationship. Of course you both know the story of your time together, but you don’t know the story from the other side. Write out how you’ve felt during your time together — were you nervous at first? Were you anxious that you would jinx or ruin things? Has your relationship changed you or your thoughts about things like graduation or marriage? Do you have any little moments that stick out to you in particular, like that time you met up at the Grotto in the snow, a day at the beach together, meeting their family, a conversation that you’ll always remember? Write those out. It might seem strange, writing out the things they surely remember, but they’ll be nice from your perspective.
Finally, I recommend looking forward to the future. I’m not saying to propose marriage in this love letter, but a good relationship should make you hopeful about the future. If you are, mention that. If there are things that worry you coming up — graduation, the job search study abroad, tough courses — mention those as well, but frame it so you both know you’ll be in things together.
In general, keep love letters simple and from your heart. Add in glimpses of your past and your future with specific details about why you love them right now. Present it as simply or elaborately as you want, with or without other gifts. Take your time — if you start now, you’ll have a great letter by Valentine’s Day. If this letter comes from the heart, I guarantee it will be a very loved letter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.