Listen to the episode here. Love is an ambitious topic to cover. Though Rilke recommended that poets (and likely blogs) should wait a little before talking about love, it’s a topic that I love, so we’re going there today. I want to share with you some of my favorite historical love letters, and give you advice for writing your own.
You don’t have to be in a relationship to write love letters. You may be in the early stages of a relationship, or single; newly married or going on many years—but there’s still a place for love letters. They help us to connect with our own feelings, and create a space to understand them.
Using the Five Love Languages in Letters
Love letters are deeply tied to the five languages. These are ways that we communicate love, with most people focusing on one or two. These five languages are Touch, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Quality Time, and Acts of Service. Writing a love letter can allow you to express affection in all of those ways:
Touch—Your recipient is holding something you made, that has your handwriting, and possible your scent. It’s a primal experience to touch the paper.
Words of affirmation—Letters are filled with both words and affirmation. If you’re writing a love letter, we can assume you’re going to tell the person you love them!
Gifts—A letter is a gift as well, one that surprises you in the mail. Even if you’re writing a letter to someone in your house, you could surprise them by putting it on their pillow.
Quality time—When we think of the ubiquity of cell phones and devices, we realize it takes concentrated time to sit down and write a letter. It requires us to turn off our technology, be still, and write. This is reflected in the letter, and expresses to the person how much quality time you spent creating it.
Acts of Service—Just as with Quality Time, stopping to write a letter is stopping to do something for the other person, finding an opportunity to serve them with this letter.
Regardless of what your love language is, you’ll be able to speak it through letter writing. I encourage you, wherever you are, in any relationship status, to jump in and start writing some love letters. William Wordsworth once wrote, “fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” Whatever else I may tell you today, always remember to speak from the heart.
As you do, I have some general guidelines outlined to help you.
Create Closeness Through Reminiscing
When you’re writing a letter, you want to create closeness. You’re trying to close the gap between you and the person you’re writing. In a love letter by Lord Byron, he wrote that “after all, one mile is as bad as a thousand.” It doesn’t matter how far away they are—you still feel separated. With a letter, you’re trying to close that distance.
But what does it mean to create closeness? Often, we think of proximity, the actual distance between people. You could write about your physical surroundings—but that’s not very romantic. Instead, create the closeness of intimacy. One easy way to create this intimacy and closeness is through reminiscing about specific things. For example, in Rupert Brooke’s love letters, he mentions specific memories he had with his beloved, ones others wouldn’t know about:
I have a thousand images of you in an hour; all different and all coming back to the same… And we love. And we’ve got the most amazing secrets and understandings. Noel, whom I love, who is so beautiful and wonderful. I think of you eating omlette on the ground. I think of you once against a sky line: and on the hill that Sunday morning.
And that night was wonderfullest of all. The light and the shadow and quietness and the rain and the wood. And you. You are so beautiful and wonderful that I daren’t write to you… And kinder than God. Your arms and lips and hair and shoulders and voice – you.
He makes several specific references, of the omelet, the skyline, the hill that Sunday morning—we don’t know what he’s talking about, but it’s specific, and it’s an amazing secret. He’s bringing in specific details, and reminiscing about things that only they two understand. That’s helping create intimacy.
If I were to write a love letter to my husband about one of our first dates, I would talk about the moment that weird man came behind him and whisper in his ear! I could even just say what the man had whispered to him—and he would understand, because it’s our secret. I could talk about the way the tables we were sitting at were, or the weather that day. Those specific details are nice when you’re reminiscing, because it brings the reader back, and creates that closeness.
There’s an element of intimacy in secret and details that don’t mean much to someone else, but creates closeness with your love.
You can also make reminiscing more personal. Mention what first drew you to the person you’re writing. You may like them for different reasons now, but that first reason is likely still there too. Bring in what you noticed, even the smallest details of what they were wearing, what the weather was like, and what struck you about their personality.
Another practical tip is to turn that reminiscing into a compliment or a way to express gratitude. Share what you like most about the person now. Let them know what you’re grateful for.
Having the Bravery to Be Vulnerable
Some other key things are vulnerability and authenticity. You don’t want a love letter to sound schmaltzy. Be real about your emotions, even if it means that you write more simply. Share from your heart how you’re actually feeling and doing.
Brene Browns’ books or TED talks, share about how vulnerability is the vanguard of intimacy. Without being vulnerable, you don’t have a way to create meaningful connections in your lives. She also talks about how people who are the happiest embrace the discomfort. They lean into the moments where it is uncertain. And there’s nothing that feels more vulnerable than sharing your heart.
It takes incredible courage—but it’s also what creates the opportunity for that relationship. Vulnerability will look different for different people, but I recommend you take a moment to sit with yourself, feeling your emotions, and then share from that place.
Some people might feel self-conscious about their writing. I have always had a strange fear that I’m illiterate, which holds me back from writing, because I don’t think I have the ability to write. But once you start writing the words start to flow. So if you have any fears about writing itself, just give yourself permission to write. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
Sometimes handwriting is something people are insecure about as well. Understand that your handwriting is a special print from you—just like your thumbprint, it’s something that’s totally unique to you. I found a great letter from Duff Cooper from 1914:
Don’t write too legibly or intelligibly, as I have no occupation so pleasant as pondering for hours over your hieroglyphics, and for hours more trying to interpret your dark sayings. A clearly written, simply expressed letter is too like the lightening.
Give yourself permission to write in a way that is somewhat illegible. It just means that they’ll take more time reading your letter—and who doesn’t want to savor that time?
You can always have something new to share in love letters, because relationships continue to evolve over time. Whether it’s a new relationship or an established one, there is something unique about this chapter. Here’s a letter from Tolstoy that expresses this:
I already love in you your beauty, but I am only beginning to love in you that which is eternal and ever precious – your heart, your soul. Beauty one could get to know and fall in love with in one hour and cease to love it as speedily; but the soul one must learn to know. Believe me, nothing on earth is given without labour, even love, the most beautiful and natural of feelings.
He was sharing from a relationship that was just starting to grow, but he saw how much more there was to love.
How Passionate Should I Be in My Love Letters?
When writing love letters, the question also rises: how much passion do you share? That depends on how comfortable you are with normally sharing. If you’re like me, a little more old-fashioned and puritanical, you probably would only hint at passion. That’s not to say you can’t write something incredibly passionate though! Here’s an example from Gustave Flaubert:
August 15, 1846
I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy. I want to gorge you with all the joys of the flesh, so that you faint and die. I want you to be amazed by me, and to confess to yourself that you had never even dreamed of such transports… When you are old, I want you to recall those few hours, I want your dry bones to quiver with joy when you think of them.
famous French writer, to his wife Louise Colet.
That’s incredibly steamy! But passion can be about more than just physical pleasures. George Bernard Shaw wrote this to his love:
To ‘Stella’ Beatrice Campbell
I want my rapscallionly fellow vagabond.
I want my dark lady. I want my angel –
I want my tempter.
I want my Freia with her apples.
I want the lighter of my seven lamps of beauty, honour,
laughter, music, love, life and immortality … I want
my inspiration, my folly, my happiness,
my divinity, my madness, my selfishness,
my final sanity and sanctification,
my transfiguration, my purification,
my light across the sea,
my palm across the desert,
my garden of lovely flowers,
my million nameless joys,
my day’s wage,
my night’s dream,
my darling and
This is obviously beautifully written, but you get a sense of his passion and longing.
Love Letters You Don’t Send
There’s one more kind of love letter—ones you don’t send. You can write these for cathartic reasons, when you feel like something was unfinished. Maybe the relationship ended in such a hostile way that you don’t feel like you can interact with that person any longer.
All my breakups have been amicable, but there have been times when I wrote one of these letters—simply to put words to the things unsaid. My first love ended up passing away. I wrote a letter after he died; I was able to speak my piece and it was good.
It will never hurt to write a letter you will never send. Burn it, rip it up once you’re done. Take the emotions out of your heart, and put them on the page so you don’t need to hold them anymore.
Of course, there are many types of unsent letters—it doesn’t have to be romantic. Any relationship you feel is incomplete, where you feel it is impossible or unproductive to write that person, the unsent letter can be a great solution.
As we close out, let’s summarize our tips to write beautiful love letters.