You don’t need a luxurious dinner, diamonds or flowers to fan the flames of love on Valentine’s Day. All you really need is a pen and a piece of paper. Heck, even a Post-it note or e-mail will do.
A love letter is a great way to keep amore at the center of a relationship.
It’s also the most sought-after romantic gift, according to a national survey of women ages 18 to 70. Roughly two-thirds of women polled said their "most cherished gift on Valentine’s Day would be a letter in the handwriting of their beloved, sealed in an envelope and mailed or delivered."
Ronald Reagan was a famously faithful writer of love letters to wife Nancy over their 52 years of marriage. Read them in, "I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan," 2002; Random House.
» Writing tips: www.writeexpress.com
» Famous love letters: www.theromantic.com
» Romantic poetry: famouspoetsandpoems.com/
» Love quotes:
Judging from John and Abigail Adams, who exchanged more than 1,100 letters during the course of their 54-year marriage, love letters helped to keep the flame alive in their union.
Letters held tangible significance well into the 20th century, before telephones became ubiquitous.
The missives were also physical mementos of the author, making love letters especially important, explained Margaret Hogan, managing editor of The Adams Papers, a project of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
That’s why, even today, people often save love letters — or destroy them out of fear that private matters could become public. Martha Washington burned nearly all of her letters to George Washington, Hogan said.
But love letters from the past aren’t just precious to the recipient. Like most correspondence, they, too, can be important historical documents.
"They can tell us about how two people came to know one another, built a relationship, and sustained it over the course of time," Hogan explained. "Some love letters have as their backdrop important historical events; others reveal the more day-to-day challenges of ordinary people. … They reflect the times in which they were written (through language, through what is said directly and what can only be implied) and can tell us about what mattered to people at a specific time and place."
Promises from a regular guy
Curious about how a regular Joe — or Lou, in this case — might write a love letter? Susi Pinto, who teaches how to write love letters, shared her favorite one from her husband, Lou. He wrote his vows to her in a letter as a wedding present in 1999:
I promise to love & cherish you.
I promise to be there when you need me.
I promise to let you know when I need you.
I promise to keep you in my heart.
I promise to always consider you & remember that you are my partner, my love, the one I adore.
I promise to include you in my thoughts & actions & to remember our partnership in the decisions that we will face throughout our lives.
I promise that our love will grow as our relationship evolves & matures.
I promise that my mind, body, soul & heart will be yours as we grow old & that my love for you will continue through all of this life & the next.
I LOVE YOU
Seven easy steps …
1. Set the mood. Go somewhere you won’t be interrupted. Turn off the television and cell phone.
2. Put some thought into what you’re going to say. It can be a reminder of how you met, experiences you’ve enjoyed, what you’re looking forward to in the future, said Susi Pinto, who, along with husband Lou Pinto, teaches marriage workshops and love-letter writing classes through the Relationships Skills Center in Sacramento, Calif. "I love you" isn’t enough. Write "I love you because …" and finish the thought.
3. Practice makes perfect (and the heart grow fonder). Don’t expect your first draft to be the letter you send. Practice on scrap paper before using stationery. Revise, then leave it for a few hours, and revise again, professional writer Larry Barkdull advised on www.writeexpress.com.
4. Borrow and steal, but only so much. Look to famous historical love letters, poetry and music for inspiration. Quote your beloved’s favorite author or song lyrics. Don’t try to be someone else, however. Use your own words and make sure the letter is sincere.
5. Details, details. Write down juicy details for your love letter. What did you see, hear, feel, taste or touch? Use a thesaurus and dictionary to find word alternatives.
6. The end. Carefully word the ending, Barkdull wrote. Don’t just end with "Love, Marie." Try "Dream of me, my love" or "With unyielding affection."
7. Write it or type it; it doesn’t matter. While a handwritten note is supposedly best, go ahead and type it if your handwriting is poor.
… and a suggestion
Make a habit out of writing love letters. They get easier and help keep passions burning. "If (President Harry Truman) can take time out to write his wife, I think the rest of us can take a few minutes to write our loved ones," Pinto said. (Truman wrote 1,300 love letters to wife Bess over 53 years of marriage.)