“Written words of affirmation” are not only one of the modern “Love Languages,” but they’ve long been a classic form of communication for lovers. For thousands of years, the written word has served as a means to fan the flames of long-distance love or forbidden romance. (And let’s not forget about those pages of lamented unrequited love!) There’s a lot of value in learning how to write a love letter—yes, even in the 21st century.
You develop a deeper connection to your feelings and emotions.
There’s a science behind why something handwritten sticks with us more than something typed. It’s called embodied cognition. Writing the same sentence over and over on a chalkboard was not just cruel punishment; there are sensory-motor skills engaged when you are writing something by hand. This then sparks a memory.
In their 2014 study on embodied cognition, Thea Ionescu wrote, “People who use handwriting have better letter recognition in a reading test than those who use typewriting. This supports the claim that meaningful sensory-motor experiences result in ‘stronger sensory-motor memory traces that facilitate learning.’”
Translation? When you write out your feelings, you are more likely to remember and connect to them. And when you engage in the physical act of writing, your body acts in tandem with your brain to inform what pours out on the page—deepening your mind-body-soul connection to your partner.
You can add a more personal touch.
Gone are the days of writing a love letter and waiting weeks for a response. Written words of affirmation can be sent and received between lovers across the globe in an instant—that is, if you’re not being ghosted or left on read.
But in a world ruled by digital messages that disappear into the virtual clouds, handwritten letters provide a tangible representation of love. (While you can certainly screenshot a text filled with heart-eye emojis, that’s a different sensation than receiving a handwritten love letter.)
You can also experience a handwritten love letter with your senses. Did your lover spray the envelope with their signature perfume or doodle a picture of the two of you across the paper? How does the paper feel in your hand? Is the love letter written on thick cardstock or scribbled onto a sheet of notebook paper?
And perhaps most importantly…is it sealed with a kiss? You can infuse yourself into a handwritten love letter beyond just the words on the paper. While reading a love letter, it’s easy for your partner to imagine you sitting down and taking the time to affirm and love them up with thoughtful prose.
You just might find catharsis.
William Shakespeare is thought to have written Romeo & Juliet in 1595. The story of these star-crossed lovers has resonated for centuries. If you travel to Verona, Italy, and head to 23 Via Capello, you’ll find Casa di Giulietta and Juliet’s famous balcony. Handwritten love letters cover the sides of the house, but the city of Verona receives even more love letters than those that cover the walls from visitors.
According to NPR, Verona receives more than 6,000 handwritten letters to Juliet every year. The city established the Juliet Club office to ensure that each letter receives a response (written by hand, naturally). The club’s volunteer secretaries answer letters in a variety of languages. Secretaries report that the letters often express a feeling of loneliness and relate to Juliet’s despondence.
With decades of experience responding to these letters, the secretaries say that letter writers aren’t necessarily looking for advice but rather to be witnessed. These letters represented a way to be seen.
Which bears witness to the fact that some love letters don’t necessarily need to be sent at all—they can represent closure or just be a means of putting pen to page to work out complicated feelings. (In fact, there are books and Alanis songs devoted to just that.) And you can always write a love letter to yourself, too.
That brings us to the all-important question – how to write a love letter and what you need to do it?
No need to grab your boombox to stand outside your lover’s window—all you need is a writing instrument and something to write on. You can go totally medieval and grab your quill and parchment, or keep it classic with pencil and paper. Take it up a notch by picking up some art supplies to get crafty and make your own card.
Mean Girls star Rajiv Surendra knows this well. He’s no Mathlete in real life, but rather a practicing calligrapher and letter-writing enthusiast. In 2020, Surendra teamed up with The Morgan Library & Museum to share his tips on how to write a love letter. How good is his advice? The limit does not exist!
Utilizing The Morgan’s collection as inspiration, Surendra starts by opening up a pad of paper and thinking about the letter’s recipient. He pictures the person sitting in front of him and allows the words to flow through the pen freely like a conversation.
When you reach the end of the page, Surendra recommends taking the approach that you might take if you were writing prose. Tie the contents of the letter together. Your love is the thesis and this is your closing argument. The last paragraph and—more importantly—the final sentence is where you want to leave a lasting impact.
If you need to start a second page, aim to continue through the end of that page. Surendra advises against stopping in the middle of a page, as that can signal to your recipient that you didn’t have anything else to say. While this unspoken feeling is likely an assumption not grounded in fact, it’s best to fill the page and not leave any blank space up to interpretation.
Crafting your message
While letter-writing styles are highly individual, here are four tips that can help your love letter land:
Capture the moment. Love letters often represent the passage of time and—when saved—can be a great way to revisit meaningful periods of life (like a letter given on a wedding night, before a surgery, or sent across a long distance). Sharing why you were compelled to write the letter can help add context and act as a future reference point for your partner.
Show cause and effect. Your partner may not realize the profound impact they’ve had on your life. Set the scene by drawing a contrast between your “before” and “after,” and why you’re loving the current state of your relationship so much. Did they help you believe in yourself more? Go after your dreams? Put it on the page.
Express gratitude. Amid our busy lives, we often lose sight of telling our partners what we love about them on a daily basis. Use this opportunity as a way to express what you love about your partner and why they’re so special to you.
Don’t try to fit a mold. If flowery language isn’t your thing, or if you prefer brevity over loquaciousness, don’t feel pressure to write a stereotypical love letter. Authenticity is key! Be yourself, and send the letter that feels most true to you (whether that’s a cheeky limerick or a top 10 list of reasons you adore your significant other).
Why love letters still matter
The goal of a handwritten love letter is to evoke a feeling and convey a message that you can’t express to someone verbally face-to-face. Sure, you can accomplish that same feeling through more instantaneous mediums, but there’s no replacement for a tangible handwritten note. A letter is a physical embodiment of love that you can share and pass down through generations. Love letters not only preserve memories between lovers, but as an artifact of a family’s heritage.
Famed creatives such as Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Frida Kahlo have penned some of the most romantic love letters ever written. In a letter from poet Vita Sackville-West to writer Virginia Woolf, she shows that flowery language is not necessarily needed to convey a point.
Sackville-West writes, “I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way…I miss you even more than I could have believed, and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become.”
Talk about a direct message.
There’s no one way to write a love letter, but there are some practices that make it easier. Picture the object of your affection in front of you and keep it conversational. If you are writing it out on paper, fill out the page. Tie it all together at the end. Seal it with a kiss or crack one last dad joke—that’s up to you. Trust your gut and speak from the heart, and you can’t go wrong.