In Defense of The Hand-Written Letter by Gabrielle Kassel
In adulthood, our lives get busier, “email” translates to “work”, “hand-written note” translate to “interview thank you”, and it gets harder to take time to write 1,000 (or more) words about our weekend debauchery or (even-lengthier) our feelings *sigh*. But finding the time to write is important. The proof, so to speak, is in the pudding:
In 2010, psychologists at the University of Texas published the results of computer analysis of the poetry and letters of two sets of literary spouses, Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning and 20th-century poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. While the data-set was small, the results can easily be applied to other pairs. The study revealed that during the ‘highs’ of the couples’ relationships, their “language style-matching” — which the researcher defined as “the degree to which two people in a conversation subtly match each other’s speaking or writing style,” without intending to do so, intensified.
But in periods of conflict, the couples’ stopped writing like each other. When their letter-sending, and exchange of words was low, these writers were creating and living in different worlds. Language and words shapes our worlds, and when we aren’t communicating with similar words, our romantic and loving worlds have the potential to deteriorate.
Long conversations through email, text messaging, or spoken, inevitably offer the opportunity to mirror someone else’s worldview, and thus build a shared world from your separate experiences, but coming together in a singular understanding, an understanding…. created through language.
Distance has been my recent motivation for taking pen to paper. Since transplanting myself in New York in September, many of the important relationships, platonic, familiar, romantic, have had to begin negotiating distance. My mother: a two hour train and one hour car ride away. My father: a three hour flight away. My best friend: 2,000 miles away. My high school bestie: an eight hour train ride. A piece of my heart: 3,000 miles and two time zones away.
Sometimes we cover these distances with a quick press of “send”. Other times we cover these distances with handwritten letters.
This isn’t the first time in my life I have used handwritten notes to connect. During my freshman year of college when I was nothing short of miserable in Pennsylvania, a friend who I have known since I was 3 and I reconnected through handwritten letters. Every day for nine months we wrote each other. We connected through our unhappiness and the hand-written notes helped us both feel less alone. I have drawer of these letters in my moms house that I open and look through every time I go home. I can say with 100 percent certainty that I would not have been able to complete my entire freshman year at my first college without her friendship and the discipline and love we shared, or the ‘working through’ and compassion that those letters offered us.
Even before that wretched year, letter-writing was important to me, a habit ingrained in me from my mother because diligently traded letters for birthdays, Hanukkah, and even Valentine’s Day.When I returned home from work the other day a letter a Happy Halloween letter sat on the kitchen table, my mom had sent it to me, reminding me to celebrate the holiday instead of staying cooped up in my New York bedroom reading. Sure, she could have sent me a text that conveyed the same short message, but she had taken the time to send and hand-write a card so that it would arrive before October 31st.
Imagine if, among the gas bills, catalogs, and takeout menus, there was a letter from your mother or a lover.
The internet is an unbelievably great form of communication, but a touching text on iMessage or WhatsApp tends to fall between all your other chat threads, open apps, and tabs.
While a loving text might make us smile for a moment…a letter makes you stop.
There is an intimacy in letter writing that it feels incredibly important to keep alive at a time when when “sup”, “hey”, “tit pic?” clog the inboxes of our online dating profiles. A constant volley of texts and imessages keep us all informed on what the other had for lunch, the strained hallway interaction, and even a screenshot of the weird text I got my father. The reporting has been done. While the constant communicating and cataloguing can make letters seem unnecessary, a stream of text messages can’t replicate the intimacy of a note.
Nothing makes this clearer than letter from Ted Hughes to Sylvia Plath at the beginning of their relationship:
My dearest Sylvia—
[…] What’s happened to your dreams? Probably now you’ve started writing all that out, you have — as you say — exorcised it, or at least got it under control. Perhaps it’s been pushing and glooming and corrupting your imagination for long enough. But if you keep up a detailed vivid looking at things, and not at all things, your dreams will go on improving, till you’re the angel of your own paradise.
I dreamed about you continually last night, in all kinds of places and confusions. We shall meet next week. A week since we met! I wish this was that or was next week, Sylvia. I wish this year were over and our wedding in America were over and I were just laying you down on the bed. All all all all all love Your
Don’t we all yearn for this kind of intimacy? This level of connection?