I used to be one for grand gestures, loud and boisterous acts of affection to try and win the heart of whichever poor boy I was chasing. Growing up, my local radio station had its own dating segment where someone would phone in and the radio host would call their crush and convince them to go on a date with them. On a whim I picked up the phone and then later listened with horror whilst in the back of my mum’s ’94 Ford Mondeo to the sound of my crush being asked out on my behalf.
My weakness for over-the-top declarations of love led to a lot of messy romantic escapades, many of which I wish I could go back and neaten up. There were multiple 3 am phone calls to boys after too many blue drinks professing they were my one and only, a passionate argument in a rainy Manchester street that at the time felt like something out of the ‘The Notebook’ but in hindsight makes me seem more like a crazed Eddie out of ‘Absolutely Fabulous’. The reason why I had always been so over the top was mostly due to alcohol, it was a warm fuzzy shield to protect me from any sort of real vulnerability and my words could easily be excused and dismissed as meaningless if it did all go monumentally belly up. Which it quite often did.
Letters are the perfect antidote to these brash, alcohol fueled declarations of undying love. With letters, there is a sense of permanence which wasn’t something I was used to when it came to romance. Letters are treasured, kept in memory boxes and handed down as heirlooms; they become part of our history, both personal and collective, and that’s a pretty intimidating prospect when you’re trying to put pen to paper.
For a long time, I thought vulnerability was sobbing on my ex’s doorstep – something to be regretted and avoided. But a letter offers a more considered vulnerability: it isn’t just a throwaway gesture, it’s an act of kindness, it’s a dedication of time, something real, which is why I have been drawn to writing them ever since I was a child.
There is no how-to guide for what to say but there are some things to avoid. Obviously don’t start with a threat because you can’t really gain much positive momentum after that and nobody wants to receive a missive that sounds like the beginning of a stalkerish skandi crime drama. Telling someone how you feel in a letter is always magical regardless of the outcome. After writing over 4000 letters (not all to one person as the first part of this story may have had you believe) I have learnt that a letter often breaks through where spoken words cannot.
Write a Letter: Put Pen to Paper and Put a Smile on the Face of a Stranger, a Friend or Yourself which is published by Viking (trade paperback, £12.99)
Spectator Life’s top tips for letter writing:
- When stuck for words, steal shamelessly. Shakespeare borrowed all of the plots of his plays and yet remains our most famous wordsmith. So follow the way of the bard and pilfer from the classics. For inspiration look no further than Benedick’s words to Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing – ‘I do love nothing in the world so well as you – is not that strange?’
- Use a good pen. There’s nothing that stifles the creative flow more than a dodgy biro. And, besides, quality ink and paper show a loved one you care. For posterity’s sake, include the date at the top. As Jodi says, the wonderful thing about a letter is its ability to capture permanently a moment in time.
- Be specific. Perhaps start by listing three qualities you admire in the person receiving the letter, add in a shared memory and end with a hint about the future.