This isn’t a breakup story, however, this is how my story began.
One day, my ex and I started writing letters to each other.
In an effort to part with the most genuine affection and as minimal chaos as two humans who were still important to each other, we committed to talking only once a month over the phone. The rest of the days were a gift of growth into our new lives.
Texting seemed so impersonal, and with our 6-hour time difference, a rope that could tangle us into cycles of false intention.
But one day, he had an idea. “What if we write each other letters?”
As I believe Janis Joplin would say today, texting is a battlefield.
And as someone who has been in the chaos wheel of wondering and confusion over the entire construct of texts, this felt nice.
“That way we can be more intentional with what we say, it’s much more meaningful, and nothing will get lost in translation,” he offered.
My mind immediately went to the 1990s Little Women film protagonist Jo March, writing her sister Beth. “Ok,” I agreed. I can be Jo March.
Perhaps this was a trick kneading into my innermost desires. And it worked. Give me Captain Wentworth, Anne of Green Gables, and 1800s feminist Louisa May Alcott. These are my deep cuts.
The plan was we would refrain from texting or calling, allowing ourselves to breathe and heal. We would write a letter of what happened over the last month, then say it to each other over the phone.
Weeks passed, as they do, and often—I thought of what was happening like a Winona Ryder narration over an upbeat, classical score in my head.
The March ladies read letters as if they were the most marvelous gifts.
When I finally sat down (in bed with my laptop) to write mine (the night before our call), I succumbed to a mild panic. When was the last time I wrote a damn letter? I couldn’t even type a single sentence.
Like, what letters do we write anymore? An email? A friggin’ birthday card?
"You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever..." -Captain Wentworth
And furthermore, what letters do we receive all the time? Utility bills. Credit card offers. Bed Bath & Beyond coupons. These are our grownup pen pals.
To write a letter, I realize, requires a particular frame of mind lost to the hazards of tech culture. With a text or email, it’s a different composition and thought process. I feel our brains are now completely out of letter-mode.
Today, we are into the call-and-response mode. Hi, u up? Response. We get answers right away.
I remember when I was in high school, we’d pass notes—carefully folded in weird origami-like shapes to each other with hearts and scribbles. I’d get multiple letters a day, mostly about some crush with a secret nickname and how boring a class was. Something about it brought me back to the ease of nostalgia. The feeling of getting a handmade note, just for me, was my teenage joy.
Why did we stop doing something so thoughtful? Myspace Top 8. AOL Messenger. Motorola Razrs. Unlimited texting. The series of our downfall.
This suddenly blossomed into an idea that speaks to my Jane Austen heart, and I decided I wanted to take this into a more refined practice.
I would write letters. Not just to my ex. A hardcore, thoughtful-ass letter to people I cared about in my life. One with handmade paper, possibly a quill, and sealed with a wax stamp. Like ancient royalty did before passing it along to a carrier pigeon.
So, onward I went.
Sandra Bullock in Practical Magic is letter writing #goals
As I was traveling in Portland when I had this idea, I went into a local paper shop—which does feel like a very Portland thing to do. The classic Oblation Papers and Press.
I got a wax seal and stamp, which took me so long to mull over, and then I finally just got my initial. I had this vision in my head of those torn looking envelopes, and someone ripping it open in haste with a gloved hand. I needed these tools to be at peak letter writing.
I discovered this feathered, "ripped" look is called a deckled edge. I think between me and a wedding planner, our holistic understanding of handmade flower paper, calligraphy, and paper weight could be borderline obsessive.
When finally seeing how a quill works, I got a little intimidated. I decided to go easy on myself with a fountain pen. Also, who invented modern-day pens?
Every single thing I listed, I realized later, is also available via Amazon. Take that note with whatever you feel about Amazon.
Pick a person
I have friends who live thousands of miles away, and I miss them all so much. I could probably just spend a week writing everyone. I finally decided I would write 2 letters for my first go about: one was a thank you note to a friend, Susanna, that really made a hangout we had so special. It meant a lot to me, and I could’ve written a text as it happened a week ago. But no, I’d write a letter.
I also wrote to one of my best friends, Laura, who lives in the English countryside. I believe she would very much approve of this whole idea, being an old-world appreciator, and having grown up without a zip code in Gallway, Ireland (she told me her mailman knew who to send post to by last name, and I loved that about her life).
I tried out my handwriting on regular paper before writing, and then put it all in the mail. Writing these took what could be considered a lot of time by today's standards. But I'm pretty sure I have hundreds of hours spent in mental purgatory from decoding texts. A letter isn't so much a response; but a lost art.
Here are a few things I thought would be great, if you felt inclined to try it out.
Suggestions for your own letter writing:
If you don’t want to pay $3 for handmade paper, you can get linen paper for much cheaper. You could even fold your letter in a special shape. Here's some fun suggestions if you'd like to embrace the 1800s.
Other suggestions if you don’t like your handwriting: using a typewriter (they sell these on FB marketplace or Offer Up), or just printing it out in a serif font like Cambria. Anything but Papyrus or Curlz. Please.
You could put something small inside. When I travel, I love buying stickers from local artists. They’re easy to pack, and are great gifts that fit into envelopes. Here’s some dried flower stickers I found that could be really cute for the letter.
You can say, fuck all of these tips and just write a simple letter ripped from your spiral notebook. You could, perhaps, get on the phone with a friend, and agree to write each other once a month. I don't make the rules. It's supposed to be fun.
Mr. Darcy professing love through quill.
Elizabeth Bennet is my aspirational letter reading vibe.
As I’m just writing this blog, I realize Laura’s will probably take forever as we live a few thousand miles away. So I’ll have to update this to its finality.
However, I do know that in my own life, receiving a letter from an ex that also happens to be one of my best friends has felt good.
Breakups can feel impossibly sad. But getting a letter feels like the most healing closure.
I could read and reread someone’s words and intentions over again, instead of look at a screenshot or scroll through messages. There are many books dedicated to published letters from leaders and famous figures throughout history who have written lovers, dear friends, and family.
"[Wentworth] drew out a letter from under the scattered paper, placed it before Anne with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a time, and hastily collecting his gloves, was again out of the room, almost before Mrs. Musgrove was aware of his being in it: the work of an instant!" -Jane Austen, Persuasion
What would they publish today? Our Instagram stories?! If there’s anything I want to feel material about in this existence, I would like it to be a trunk of letters. They are delightful time capsules of a life lived.
I was able to have my own surprise letter moment recently, when my birthday came around. My ex, who is an artist, shipped a print he made me in the mail. I stashed it in the back of my closet, hoping to frame it when I had the time.
A month later, I was really down one day. He texted me, “did you read my letter with the painting?” I had not. I immediately went to scavenge in the back of my closet to find the cardboard tube, and shake it until an unopened letter fell out.
After I read it, I called him, my mood transformed. He had carefully chosen the paper, had it typed, and wrote from his heart. Being intentional in my relationships nurtures the best memories. A thoughtful letter is an indisputable show of affection. It takes time—something we are all so apt to say we have little of. It is the very essence of that genuine, warm blanket kind of caring.
And that, is something I could never feel from a text.
Try writing a letter out to a friend, and see what happens :)