My oldest daughter has attended an all-girl’s middle school for the past three years, and I think it’s fair to say she is ready to the point of bursting to start a co-ed high school next fall. All signs that her romantic clock is approaching High Noon are there, including last year’s unceremonious breakup with horses and her recent inability to talk about anything else besides Louis from the band “One Direction.” (Admittedly – he is the cute one.)
Which is why I am suddenly sad that our kids will not have love letters to save and read through when they are having a low day.
My own high school love letters earn the title only through a technicality, in that they were written by boys to me and saved carefully in the same box with actual love letters from later on. They were more like “Like” letters.
But the days those letters fell out of my locker, where they’d been shoved between classes, or were passed into my hand furtively as we passed in the hall: those moments shot sparks through me. Carefully unfolding the notebook paper replete with hanging chads, taking a moment to adjust your eyes to someone’s handwriting and skimming to the bottom quickly to see what word was used to close it (“love,” “from,” “see you ’round”?): those moments were special.
I know my daughter, and other kids of her generation, will feel exactly the same way when they get that heart-stopping text from the cute kid in Geometry; human emotion doesn’t change, just the triggers. It’s the impermanence of those digital declarations that I think is tragic.
Were it not for the pile of love letters that I could go back and compare, for instance, I might never have recognized this pattern emerging in my young dating life: “I like you. So much that it scares me. That’s why I’m breaking up with you. Even though we only went on the one date.” By age 17, I could smell this bullshit excuse from a mile off, saving me years of heartache later on.
But I also have letters that remind me that for a while, at different times in my young life, I was someone’s somebody special.
Probably once every three or four years, I want to be reminded that I was a person who drove another person to dig out a working pen, stationery, and a stamp. I pull out my stash for a trip down memory lane. The letters carry tactile reminders of the writer: one has a chewing tobacco stain on it, a quick visual reminder about why that guy didn’t work out. Another is covered in creepy pleas for commitment, and dated only a few weeks after we first met – it’s when the handwriting got to 4 pt size and a 90 degree angle that the relationship jumped the shark. A postcard sent from France contained only a few scribbled lines, but the image on the front was a painting of a reclining nude woman. Wait. I thought he was a boy who was a friend? Was he trying to tell me he wanted to be a boyfriend? A young person could spend hours trying to parse the codes hidden in a letter. How are you going to do that when everyone writes on a white screen in Calibri 10 pt font with single spacing?
From the first day we met, my husband and I have really only ever been apart for one semester. I am so glad we muddled through that time, even if I hated it then. The letters we sent each other during those months are the only concrete documentation of how we fell in love. Sure, you could print out emails, but what if you didn’t realize you were falling in love as it was happening?
Here’s my hope, my wish for my kids (and yours:) that they experience young love so profound and poetic and moving that it transcends the digital realm and can only be properly expressed by a scratchy Bic pen and a sheet of lined notebook paper.
Without further ado, I present One Direction, singing One Thing. Louis is the guy in the white shirt and striped suspenders. In the words of the 8th grade girls in my carpool who start sweating and giggling when the subject of One Direction arises, “so…many…emotions!”