In 1976, according to this week’s Guardian, Germaine Greer wrote a 30,000-word love letter to Martin Amis. Getting past the “Greer and Amis” thing, I thought, ‘OK, give or take 29,000 words, we’ve all done it.’
Even though love letters require a timeless courage.
They spring from an exquisite agony. We stand with our eyes closed, licking our lips and dreaming of each other’s. We conjure excruciatingly delicious figments knowing full well that the ultimate moments of first touch, and eye-to-eye, are too sweet to be caged in reverie. There’s a reason why we compare love to the moon and tides, and a reason we fear the sea.
Let’s say I fell in love with you.
If I were to come to you, and fleetingly press my lips to your face, would that be breathtaking, or the worst thing EVER? Either way, the moment would pass. A kiss takes only a passing courage. It runs the gauntlet of rejection, humiliation and pain but, whether a butterfly flutter or gaping lunge, rarely lasts more than seconds and is immediately available to be soaked in sweet, rosy memory washes. For the happily entwined, this is a moment of pedestals and rainbows, in which no one fumbled or stammered. For the unwilling or rejected, ew, that never happened, la la la.
Not so the love letter.
The sent love letter takes as big a chance as the kiss, but then sits there for fifty years, a snapshot in time, welded into solidity for perpetuity. The unsent letter does the same but without the glory; a sealed tomb of rotting love in a pointless hell. The sent and unsent letters are necessarily different, but ticking bombs of humiliation both.
So let’s say my love bursts out and, prostrate with longing, I wrap it up in a page and throw it at you, hoping it will call you to me. One day, this thing that I wrote to endear you, to allow you every insight into me — even if it brings us mouth to mouth, even if our love tastes good, swells, flourishes, and thrives — even then, this letter might one day seem at best “sweet”, at worst a giant mutual cringe. My deepest vulnerabilities and needs can only look good in so many lights, and lights change.
The love letter sits with a portentous istigkeit — complete and intractable at its sublime best and excruciating worst. We evolve while it stands firm.
And so by their nature, love letters represent a brazen courage, and for that reason, I love love letters. They don’t give a toss about failure, don’t run away from the future — they just go right on ahead and offer themselves up anyway.
Which, in itself, is something to love.