Pondering love letter etiquette

The French have a lovely name for a love letter – a billet doux. The translation literally means sweet letter and I guess they are, penned in past times to show an adoration or a longing for the arms of another. The soldiers who battled in wars no doubt clung to their love letters, reading and rereading them, folding them gently and carefully to hold in a pocket next to their heart. They provided comfort and a future to look forward to in the bleakest of times.

Do you keep old love letters from former partners or even current ones?

A friend confessed the other day that she had kept all her love letters spanning decades and that she had had a day of rereading them and contemplating sliding door moments. I was quite astonished by her actions and it led me to think about my own reactions.

I confess to destroying any and all letters from past beaus once I had started a new relationship, thinking that in doing so it was a sign of letting go and moving on. Somehow keeping those letters would have felt like a betrayal to the new man in my life. But was that a good thing to do? I have no past words to look back on, not even the handwriting of a past love.

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Clearly my friend had a different view, cherishing those sweet words and seeing the past letters as a record of her life, her transition from adolescence through to adulthood, with all the pitfalls that life has brought. They made her smile and they made her weep. They made her feel the transitory nature of our lives and sometimes our emotions, realising that it was hard to reconcile how she felt now, as opposed to the younger version of herself that the letters portrayed.

My friend also had love letters that her father had written to various women. He, too, had kept many of his own letters and those of lovers. It certainly gave her a deeper insight into her father’s life than any other means. And, of course, historians over the centuries have welcomed with open arms the chance to read the correspondence of famous and not-so-famous people, revelling in the social insights of the times and the character of the correspondents. They have given us a chance to understand that human nature has changed little over time – that most people hanker for a connection, an intimacy with another that gives them meaning and joy.

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A love letter especially took time to compose and craft and spoke often in such endearing terms and high emotions. Some were written on beautiful, crisp, embossed paper, others on thin blue aerogram paper sealed and sent to far flung places on the globe, declaring love to the absent one. Lovers waited eagerly for the post to arrive, pining for a missive from their beloved.

However, letter writing has apparently gone the way of the dinosaur, obsolete and dead. And as for emails, well, what can I say? How many people have realised the difficulties of expressing the right tone in an email or have in anger or haste sent a poor reply that is later regretted?

What do the young do now? I (heart) U – sent as a text message just doesn’t seem to cut the mustard in romantic gestures. Let’s not even explore some of the photos sent as messages that border on pornography. Perhaps they now substitute for words of romance?  Horror of horror though, what happens when your phone dies? There is no message to reread and provide you joy in the dark night of the soul.

Where do you stand on love letters? Have you kept any? If so, do you reread them?

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Written by Dianne Motton



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