Writing Love Letters in the Modern Age

As I write this, POI, in London for work, is reading a long email I wrote him late last night.

“I’m assuming you’ll read this in the morning, hence the subject line – and indeed the sun should be showing her face in your part of the world soon.”

“You call everything ‘her’,” he texts, “I don’t think the sun is so equipped.” 

I type a single question mark and wait patiently for the wiseacre remark, sure to come. 

“No sungina,” he responds. 

My mother would call this, “Playing piano to a cow.” 

Nearly a year ago,  POI and I had our fifth date. We had dinner, then went back to his apartment where I met the rest of his roommates and visited the rooftop. It was the second New York rooftop I’d visited thus far – the first had been a swanky lounge/club called PhD to which POI invited me on our second date.

“Meet some peeps,” he had said, when really he meant nearly twenty of his closest friends in New York City.

“Will they let me in if I only have my bachelor’s?” I joked.

We were texting, but he had slapped his head, groaned. A few months later he would bring it up again and I smiled, knowing I had crafted a really good terrible joke.

We said goodbye a few days later, the fifth date. What is this obsession with numbering the dates, you wonder. Not an obsession – just a statement of what to me, seemed at the time to be crucial facts. Prior to POI I had never gone on more than three dates with anyone.

So that night, to be walking by the giant post office on 8th Ave., a massive reminder of a dying art – seemed a marvel in itself. We strolled alongside the steps and I recall thinking how odd and quiet that street was. I felt too, a light feeling – it’s called “hope,” I think. I thought about his rooftop from where the bright red sign of the New Yorker hotel could be seen.

I could, I said to him, not would – could – write to him when he was in London. But of course I would.

“I haven’t written a letter in…probably twenty years,” he said.

This was the expected answer. I was already doing that thing where I lowered expectations because I was beginning to like someone.

“I’ll write,” I offered, “You email.”

“No no,” he said, “I can pop out a few letters,” (or something to that effect).

A few days later he left. As he was boarding the plane, I sat at my desk – my large white New York desk, still relatively unused – and wrote a few, carefully balanced lines to him on a hideous New York post card I’d bought at a tourist shop. Uncharacteristically, I added a feminine touch and sprayed it with perfume (though looking back this step was unnecessary and most likely exacerbated the myriads of odors – especially that emitted by the crazy crazy homeless man who hangs around the particular letterbox – that were sure to infuse the postcard along its journey). I mailed it that same hour, before his feet even touched British land.

It’s in his possession now, perched precariously at the edge of his dresser along with the rest of my notecards and letters, sent steadily over the four months he lived in London. There are letter-pressed New York greeting cards with a few lines – “I miss you! See you soon!” – and stuck in between, multi-pagers on lined notebook paper, some written in cafes, others in spurts during tedious lectures and seminars- “I am sitting in my Spy Novel class and some girl is droning on and on about feminism. The professor is trying very hard to look engaged….” etc. etc. Even when I write, I like to hear myself talk. But that’s beside the point.

He never wrote me back – not longhand – but there were phone calls, text messages and short, practical emails, mostly logistics regarding my trips to London. Though once, when I had not heard from him via text or email for two days and despaired that his affections were waning, I found in my inbox later that night a sonnet written to near perfect iambic pentameter.

It was one of those things; you’re supposed to read it quietly and go to bed with a wan, wide smile while keeping certain cards close to your chest – but I told him immediately that I was speechless. Which, if you think of it, is an outright lie.

Edward Hopper,  “Hotel Room”   1931 Oil on Canvas 

Despite his never writing back, despite his never responding outright to anything I wrote in my letters (this is fine because I don’t ask questions in my letters. I show and tell), not once did I suspect him of casting my lengthy epistles aside (as some of my best friends have admitted to doing so). This is the modern letter writer’s entitled presumption. Like psychopaths and greasers, we are an uncommon breed (says the blogger too). A handwritten note is not only rare, it’s more thoughtful; to write by hand is to use a different part of the brain, a part closer to the heart. Thus to receive a handwritten letter, when the writer in question could very well be writing other things to other people… that’s equivalent to saying, You’re welcome. I made you feel special. 

But that’s not why I did it. For the most part – and accomplished letter writers adhere to this rule lest we waste precious time and costly, fancy stationery: know your audience. I knew POI to be a reader. And I knew him to be “into me,” as the lingo goes.


When I visited London, I saw that he had propped the greeting cards up on a shelf. I asked where he kept the letters.

“The ten pagers?”

I laughed.

He pulled open his bedside drawer. I saw them there, scattered like old friends at a slumber party.

“What did you think,” I said, “‘Whoa this Betty blathers on and on?'”

“No,” he said. We were not there yet – the stage of being honest. “I mean, you can get really serious sometimes (POI code for ‘sappy’) but some parts of certain letters were pretty funny.”

He sat down at the edge of the bed to look for the excerpts and I left the room – not because I wasn’t interested but because the “replies” I was looking for I found. He had kept my letters.

“Letters are just pieces of paper. Burn them and what stays in your heart will stay; keep them, and what vanishes will vanish.” 

                                                   –Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood 

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