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Put It in Writing

Why the Love Letter Still Matters

By Natasha Burton

Thanks to technology, courtship has become nearly effortless. I've witnessed grown men ask my girlfriends out via text, seen relationships that consist almost entirely of swapped Facebook pokes, and watched couples' fates hang by a click of their online "relationship status." These are just a handful of impersonal examples, all of which have led me to advocate a return to some rather old-fashioned romance tactics that somehow feel new again. In other words: Let's bring back the love letter!

1. Love letters affirm — what else? — your love. Actions speak louder than words, according to the adage, but that's just the appeal of love letters: They're words plus action. Imagine for a moment what provokes a man to pen such a document: He's presumably alone, thinking of you (specifically, how great you are), and finds himself compelled to jot down his feelings. Not because you've asked him “What are you thinking?” Not because he'd like to woo you into bed (though, surely that's part of it). But just because.

The written word has substance. (There's a reason for the common legal question, “Can I get that in writing?”) Margaret Shepherd, author of The Art of the Personal Letter, believes that letters "carry thoughts and feelings that don't come through as clearly any other way ... [they] send your reader unmistakable proof that you care."

Perhaps love letters' tangibility makes them so meaningful — you can literally hold onto them. Letters can be tucked in a drawer or pasted into a scrapbook, saved to revisit when you're having a not-so-great day. They can also be used during fights, when you want hard evidence that your man really did say he loves everything about you. And, yes, that includes your nagging about the leaky faucet he was supposed to fix six months ago.

2. Love letters strengthen your bond. As with many things in life, it may actually be just as rewarding to write a love letter as it is to receive one. Feel-good aspect aside, writing to your partner can actually ensure a lasting bond. ELLE reported in January 2010 that writing about your relationship boosts the chances it will last by twenty percent, because expressing your love on paper leads to “partners using more positive language when they speak to each other, leading to a healthier and happier relationship.”

Shepherd also believes that "love letters showcase your willingness to go to extra trouble for your loved one." When writing one, she recommends: "Whether you fell in love twenty-four hours or twenty-four years ago, always take the time to greet with warmth, spell with care, write with good grammar, and sign with affection."

3. Love letters spice up your relationship. Elaborate or even eloquent prose isn't necessary. In whatever form they take, love letters are little surprises that can keep both partners excited about, and engaged in, their relationship. For those of us with little time, writing a love letter may be as simple as sticking a Post-It inside a sock drawer or leaving a lipstick kiss on the bathroom mirror. You can even draft an e-love letter — just be sure it's got more words than emoticons.

In fact, of the romantic gestures I've been lucky enough to receive over my dating career, one stands out from the others: a completely unwarranted, old-fashioned email from my boyfriend in which he declared his love for me in a handful of sentences. Maybe I'm just a total cheeseball, but I swear my heart totally fluttered as I read “All my love” typed with his name at the end of the note.

One thing I know for sure — that email was a heck of a lot more romantic than a Facebook poke.

Tell us: Have you ever written a love letter?

  • Screen siren Marlene Dietrich's love letters

    REUTERS/Corbis
Put It in Writing
Why the Love Letter Still Matters
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