Love letters…

Love Letters: Can they save your marriage? Or is the talk just cheap?

When I logged on to the Internet this morning, one of the first things I clicked on was this story about Edith Piaf, the French chanteuse, whose love letters to one of her numerous lovers, cycling champion Louis Gérardin, are to be published in a book called My Blue Love, in Paris. (The set of 54 letters had been previously auctioned off by Christies in Paris for about 59,000 Euros a couple of years ago.) Piaf was trying to get the guy to divorce his wife and be with her and when he failed to do that, she married another man but not before “waxing lyrical” about his “marvelous thighs” and the fact that she would be a “docile woman” for him if he would only divorce his wife. Read more

love letters

So, in any event, this got me to thinking about love letters. I wondered why people today write so few love letters to their significant others as compared to decades and generations past. And I wondered, too, if sending one’s spouse love letters (billets doux) might have any impact on a marriage. Can writing love letters to each other save a marriage? Or is it all cheap talk? 
I dug up this love letter of one of America’s famous African American poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar, which he wrote to his then girlfriend wife, Alice Nelson Dunbar. It is a thing of beauty. Read it:

Alice: My Darling,
Someday, when I can hold you in my arms and punctuate every sentence with a kiss and an embrace I may be able to tell you how happy your letter has made me. Happy and yet unhappy from the very strength of my longing to be with you, a longing not to be satisfied it seems to so distant a day.
You love me, Alice, you say; ah yes but could you know the intensity with which I worship you, you would realize that your strongest feelings are weak beside. You gave me no time to think or to resist had I willed to do so! You took my heart captive at once I yielded bravely, weak coward that I am, without a struggle. And how glad I am of my full surrender. I would rather be your captive than another woman’s king. you have made life a new thing to me—a precious and sacred trust.
Will I love you tenderly and faithfully? Darling, darling, can you ask! You who are my heart, my all, my life I will love you as no man has ever loved before. Already I am living for you and working for you and through the gray days and the long nights I am longing and yearning for you;—for the sound of your voice, the touch of your hand, the magic of your presence, the thrill of your kiss.
You did wrong to kiss me? Oh sweet heart of mine, does the flower that turns its golden face up to the amorous kisses of the sun do wrong? Does the crystal wave that wrinkles at the touch of the moving wind do wrong? does the cloud that clasps the mountain close to its dewy breast do wrong? Do any of the ternal forces of nature do wrong? If so then you have done a wrong. But darling you could not have helped it. This love of ours was predestined. I had thought that I loved you before, and I had. I loved Alice Ruth Moore the writer of “Violets,” but how I love Alice Ruth Moore, the woman,—and my queen. “All the current of my being runs to thee.”
I am writing wildly my dear I know, but I am not stopping to think. My head has retired and it is my heart and my pen for it.
For your sake I will be true and pure. You will help me to be this for you are always in my thoughts. Last night I started out upon a rather new undertaking or rather phase of action, I took your letter with me and read it as I drove down town. “It will give me heart,” I said. It did and I have never had before such a brilliant success. It was at a dinner of the Savage Club, artists, literateurs, scientist and actors, where every man could do some thing. I was an honored guest and held a unique position as the representative of a whole race. I took my turn with the rest, and,—dear is this egotism?—was received with wonderful enthusiasm.
You were with me all the time! You do not leave my thoughts. Alice, Alice, how I love you! Tell me over and over again that you love me. It will hearten me for the larger task that I have set myself here. I am so afraid that you may grow to care less for me. May God forbid! But if you do, let me know at once. I love you so that I am mindful only of your happiness. This is why I shall not complain about your being in New York although I do not like it. It is a dangerous place. But I know, darling that you will do me no injustice, and yourself no dishonor, so I am content. Go often to Miss Brown’s but do not entirely usurp my place in the heart of that queen of women. Love me, dear, and tell me so. Write to me often and believe me ever.
Your Devoted Lover, Paul

What beautiful sentiments! But then, guess what? In the end, they wound up getting a separation and then he had a nervous breakdown and died before his fortieth birthday. How tragic! It could have been the stress of the times in which they lived. He was born circa 1872 and died circa 1907. His parents had been slaves. So it was definitely a stressful time and the fact that he died so young is not a huge surprise; but the divorce/separation is a bit of a surprise after a love letter like that, isn’t it?
What about you? Do you send your spouse love letters? Handwritten ones? Or computer generated (these are tacky you should always hand-write these things if you are going to do it, do it properly or don’t do it.) I recommend sending your spouse love letters regularly. I think it can help much more than it would hurt.
Originally published March 27, 2011 as Can love letters save your marriage? Could the billet doux be one of the secrets to avoiding divorce?