Love Letters

Whenever I’m waiting for a woman I like to text me back, I start thinking about how it would be much less stressful to just exchange love letters.

I’m 31, which means I got my first cell phone before I got my first girlfriend, but many of my significant relationships have still progressed via love letter. Whenever I’m with someone I try to find an excuse to write them one as soon as I can. There’s just something inherently romantic about a love letter, even when it’s delivered over email, as mine usually have been: the commitment required to write one, their permanence, the fact that you’re forced to really stop and think about what you want to say.

When you send someone a long email you might end up waiting weeks or even months for their reply, but it isn’t like waiting for a text. There’s no expectation of immediacy, no animated ellipses that let you know when the other person is typing. In fact, the waiting is an essential part of the romance. To exchange love letters with someone is to give them the gift of savoring the anticipation.

I had one girlfriend who was my not-girlfriend before she was my girlfriend, and during the not-girlfriend years we stayed in touch mostly via long, digressive emails exchanged every few months. They weren’t love letters, really, since we weren’t in love, but they were at least love letter-adjacent. Sometimes I wouldn’t be sure whether I was driven by the desire to communicate with her or just the desire to work things through for myself, like a diary entry with an audience. Of course, that’s part of the point of relationships—you make better decisions, think things through more clearly, when you have to explain them to someone else. Love is really just a form of highly concentrated attention.

It’s hard to know when a relationship has progressed far enough that sending a love letter is appropriate. I once slept with a woman who sent me a hand-written thank you note afterwards, and at the time I was quite charmed, even though she turned out to be trouble down the road. I still saved the letter, though. It’s nice when a relationship generates artifacts, even when it was a brief one. When I’m ninety, I’ll have forgotten many women I dated for much longer, but I’ll remember her.

Yours in having successfully avoided drawing any of the obvious parallels between the act of writing love letters and the act of writing this newsletter,

Max