How to Write (and Read) a Love Letter
One man’s advice for composing the perfect mash note.
A long time ago, when I was living in my favorite apartment behind a bamboo patch in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I wrote my first love letter. It was a liquid hot afternoon, and I was sitting on my screened porch, enjoying my boredom, thinking that I was full up with the very thought of her. I drew a pretty cool heart on a piece of newsprint, rolled that into a manual typewriter, and then pecked out about 15 sentences. I took more than an hour. I had to. I couldn’t edit, and I couldn’t use Wite-Out. It worked too. That woman was happy.
So happy that she stuck it on the door of her refrigerator, where it clung to a magnet-laden collage of birthday cards, Easter cards, thinking-of-you cards. This irked me. “It’s a love letter,” I told her. “It’s only for you. You’re supposed to save it. It’s supposed to be folded up in a book somewhere.” She didn’t get it. She treated it like a card.
When it comes to writing a love letter, remember: It’s not a card. It’s a letter.
First, sit. Letters take time.
Letters have a rhythm. Letters must be written, and writing takes a while. Three lines can’t do the work of three paragraphs. This is not to say your letter must be long. Three paragraphs can do the work of three pages. Just give them some time.
Be loyal to the past you share.
If your love emerged on a kayak trip, then you don’t just mention that experience — you make it. Let the river become your palette. Tell a story that only the two of you know. Or narrate a moment in which she was unaware that you were watching her. Use detail to show what you remember and that you remember.
Let the example precede sentiment.
A good love letter declares itself plainly, then illustrates particularly. “I saw you watching the men play chess in the park. So quiet. I love the way you look at things.” Show her what you love in her before you tell her what you love in her. Show, then tell.
Don’t repeat yourself.
Emotional declarations matter more if you space them a little. Even in a short letter, you must create room. With love, there’s value in scarcity. That’s why it feels like such a jackpot.
Most of all, remember that it’s private.
Say something that surprises you about yourself. Let her know that she is redefining your terms. In this way most, a love letter is like love itself. There must be risk.