Love letters? That whole wax-sealed, paper-doilied, "Oh-darling-dearest!" deal?
In the 1990s?
Oh, come on. Get real. In case you haven't noticed, that fancy-writing boy Byron's been dead for more than 150 years. We've got Ethan Hawke now. And he's too cool for words. (Literally.)
And anyway, isn't this supposed to be the age of instant gratification? All you have to do is punch "recall" on your flip phone, say something sincere-like to the person on the other end, and in the event that he/she rejects the overture, claim there's a bunch of interference and you really meant to call somebody else. Somebody you like more. A lot more.
No doubt about it: There's every reason in the world to think that love letters have had it. (Remember that knife-punctured valentine Mia Farrow sent former flame Woody Allen a few years back? Not exactly one of the high points in the history of romantic gestures.)
But--because humans are plucky that way--there are people out there who still believe in the romance of written expression. People who still jot down notes of adoration and devotion. People who insist that love letters still matter. Here's why.
Love drives people to do stuff they normally wouldn't--like fumigate their apartments with air fresheners and, on occasion, create something that makes somebody go, "Awwww."
"As long as people fall in love, people will write love letters," says British anthologist Michelle Lovric.
Lovric is the compiler of "Love Letters: An Anthology of Passion" (Marlowe & Co., 1994), a slim, handsomely illustrated volume that features the romantic flourishes of the fancy-schmancy literary famous (i.e. Nathaniel Hawthorne) to the not-so-famous (with all apologies to fans of ancient Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero).
And although most of these letters are centuries old, Lovric believes the urge to write love letters will never grow old.
Being in love, Lovric says, makes us creative. Love stimulates the brain, among other assorted body parts. Gives us energy. And what do we humans do when we have energy? (Besides that.) Well, Lovric, for one, thinks all that energy motivates us to wax sentimental.
"If love doesn't make you creative," Lovric says, "maybe it's not a good love."
After 31 years of marriage, Carolyn Gillis of Burbank says she continues to get ideas for love notes to her husband, Hank, all the time. Gillis, who started a letter-writing service, I Write Letters, out of her home two years ago, calls them "I just want you to know" messages.
"I want you to know the best part of waking up is waking up next to you," read one of her most recent dispatches to her spouse.
Ironically, Gillis, who says she's in the business of "helping somebody say something they don't know how to say," has yet to have a client who asked her to play Cyrano de Bergerac and draft a romantic love letter.
She says she thinks that's one subject people want to handle themselves.
Letters offer the extra personal touch that, say, a "love -ya -babe -gotta -go -my -cell -phone's -gonna -die -in -the -canyon" voice mail message tends to lack.
A letter, says author and professional matchmaker Alan Epstein, "shows some thought, some depth."
So, like--what?--a phone call won't do? Even long distance? Well, those things are fine, too, Epstein says. Communication is always good.
But a letter . . . a letter is different.
"It indicates a commitment to what's been said," says the Marin County-based Epstein, who penned the recently published "How to Have More Love in Your Life" (Viking).
And in an age where talk is cheap and talk shows even cheaper, heartfelt writing can only help to make a person's case clear.
In his book, Epstein advises wooers in the early stages of courting to present their woo-ees with a note or card. "We use written expression (to show) who we are and who we aspire to be," he says.
So powerful is the written word that Eileen Buchheim says a simple thank-you note she wrote a gentleman following their first date turned out to be the impetus for their subsequent marriage.
Buchheim, founder of Celebrate Romance, a Long Beach-headquartered company that helps couples plan getaways and special events, says the thank-you note wasn't even intended to be romantic.
"It was a 'Thank you for being considerate, but now don't call me again,' " Buchheim says.
But her date was so impressed that she took the time to write, Buchheim says, that he resolved to marry her. (They now have been married 10 years.)
The thing about writing, Lovric says, is that it makes sentiments real. Sweet nothings whispered into someone's ear are but fleeting moments, but when those same feelings are expressed in writing, the declarations become tangible.
Lovric says she was surprised by how moved she was by the love letters she encountered during research at London's British Library. Although the papers were quite old, the intimacy of those long-ago moments had been preserved--and made real--by people simply taking the time to put all that emotion in writing.
"It was almost like listening in on two lovers' conversation," Lovric says.
Love letters can never be rendered obsolete. They are technology-proof. Heck, unless your intended is a real stickler for quill pens and parchment paper, romance-minded e-mail messages and faxes can actually aid your cause.
"To me, a love letter is the same as a love e-mail and a love fax. You make the commitment to your love in writing," Lovric says.
Epstein says he sends his wife, Diane, love notes on the computer all the time. E-mail is, after all, another form of written expression, even if you are saying it with key strokes rather than ink splotches.
But neither Epstein nor Lovric thinks words on a screen will ever replace tender thoughts on paper, which you can touch, smell and tuck away in a special place.
"There's much more of a person's person in a letter than in e-mail," Epstein says.
Or as Andy, the missive enthusiast in A.R. Garney's enduring play "Love Letters," puts it: "I feel like a true lover when I'm writing you. This letter, which I'm writing in my own hand, with my own pen, in my own penmanship, comes from me and no one else, and is a present of myself to you."
Today's love letters have the potential to be even more romantic than anything those gallivanting, castle-dwelling poets of yesteryear ever dared dream up.
Used to be, mail was the only game in town when it came to communicating with somebody who didn't live nearby.
Since letters back then had to convey all sorts of vital news to the reading party--not just the lovey-dovey, gushy stuff--Lovric says it was not surprising for a note of lovely, dreamy prose to dissolve into the writing party inquiring about the status of his beloved's boil.
Since most of us here in the late 20th Century can take care of such questions as "How's that boil of yours today?" over computer or phone lines, we can reserve our more amorous thoughts for what Lovric calls "true love letters."
Now, granted, we modernists may be less inclined to dress up our love notes with nice ribbons and perfume (Gillis, for one, thinks it's perfectly acceptable to write a love letter on a little piece of paper and stick it on the refrigerator), but that's probably the trade-off for freedom from having to deal with written medical updates.
So, if after all this the question is still, "Love letters--why?" the only appropriate answer may be, "Because that's what we do when we're in love."
To paraphrase the brothers Gershwin, Gibraltar may tumble, the Rockies may crumble and somebody may actually invent an affordable picture-phone, but love letters are here to stay.