I’d forgotten all about them, so when my husband plunked down dusty, dirty old boxes for me to go through, I inwardly groaned at more work. What I found caused me to turn off the TV, plop down on the floor, and get teary.
Some things are personal. It’s okay, healthy even, to keep private some things, especially from your partner. You disrespect all three of you by telling all, or worse: using an old relationship to make your partner angry or jealous. What passed between you and an old love is about as private as it gets and ought to be kept that way – unless it’s an STD in which case your partner knows something anyway.
Here’s why those almost 50-year old letters are meaningful to my marriage today.
That was then. Old love letters bookmark a time never to be recaptured. Memories are wrapped in words that are still breathtaking, kind of like a favorite old movie watched over and over again. That was long before kids and careers, mortgage payments and personal tragedies – all the water that’s gone under the bridge. Anyone who’s tried knows wishing doesn’t make it so. If you have the chance to go to a school reunion, take it. It’ll make you careful about what you wish for and maybe keep you from trading one used car for another.
20/20 Vision. How many times have we wished for hindsight? Knew then what we know now? Old love letters give you an opportunity to jump between realities; to see that your life has become far richer in experience than what it was then. You wouldn’t make the same decisions today because you’re more knowing and because you know more, too. Seeing clearly isn’t just about having new glasses; they only work when you wear them. Maybe the past gets romanticized because it was so free of all we see and know today. Most of what happened long ago was drama without impactful consequences; no wonder those were the best days of our lives.
An ego-boost. Those old love letters described things that, ahem, were personal. Very personal. After reading them, I’m likely to dial up some oldies, suck in what I can of my tummy, and turn my best side to the mirror. But, at 60 years old plus, I can’t see much of the hot-looking girl in the picture I hold. Those letters dialed back the scale, dialed back the clock, and let me be Cinderella waltzing a horizontal dance with someone who’s not the prince of my heart today. Part of what’s swoon-worthy are the words themselves – I can always be bought that way. That I was described so beautifully made me feel beautiful every time I read them. They still do.
Appreciation for today. My high school years were spent in Hawaii – a place imbued with the honeymoon-like magic of new love – during the powerful and poignant Age of Aquarius. Juxtaposed with rule bending and breaking was the rule-bound experience of Viet Nam. But my memories, all these 40+ years later, pumped as they were by the unique history of the late 60s, are no less vivid and meaningful as anyone else’s. Reminders of the past, like the letters I re-read, show me how much more I have to love now. And even how much better at it I am.
Didn’t Want Him, Anyway. Back then, love was pretty black and white; no mortgages, usually no kids, definitely no wisdom. Today’s love, mature love, knows that love can be fickle and to keep it requires attention and effort. If I’d gotten on a white horse (or in a VW van) and ridden off with my first love, the scenery would look nothing like it does now. I like the bourgeois creature comforts most aging hippies fell for, too. Honestly, while I would’ve made a few changes along this long, long way, starting over with the boy who wrote those heartbreakingly beautiful letters wouldn’t have been one of them.
Having moments of nostalgia and longing for the past are natural. Keeping those moments alive is part of the romantic, fanciful, non-threatening part in each of us. Humans are unique in the ability to fully remember the past. But know that bringing it forward, unaltered, never works.
I finished reading the notes the other night, then broke down the dusty box and put it in the recycle bin. The few I saved still whisper about what was and will get packed away until I again need to feel delicious. The touching wish left behind is about gifting the past’s richness to my marriage today.
Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Expert who shares with couples how to keep love alive and growing. She encourages them to write love letters. Kathe, and her husband, David, have been married nearing 30 years; their love is shared with cats Lucy and Petey, both of whom send messages in other ways. In that dusty box Kathe found the first card ever sent to her by David; odd she kept it since it wasn’t romantic at all.