The Debrief: A Love Letter to Love Letters

Hannah Catzen, 25, is a Somerville resident and Baltimore native. She’s a member of Moishe Kavod House and an alumna of Urban Adamah. In addition to reading and writing love letters (and all other sorts of written media), Hannah enjoys playing music, observing pollinators and riding her bike everywhere. Someday she will write a blog or use a Twitter account so you can keep up with her adventures.

We hear all the time: tell people that you love them. I’d like to take it one step further—tell people that you love them in writing. Give them the gift of your words on a page, a sliver of gratitude to pull out on cold, doubtful days. It’s something for the recipients to read and reread, and an exercise for the writers to actually say what they mean, to articulate how they feel. I’ve written love letters to friends, roommates, teachers, partners and one-month/one-week/one-night stands. Sometimes, on special occasions, I even write them to myself for when I need them later. There’s little consequence to the medium or format. Somehow, love letters manage to say exactly what needs, wants and craves saying.

The Debrief: A Love Letter to Love Letters
Hannah at her letter-writing desk

I’ve turned to love letters—both to read and to write—in various dark and bright moments over the years. They are written in the inscriptions of the books I give my siblings for their birthdays, and as valentines that I made my roommate on days that were not Feb. 14. There’s the one that she hid in the front of a homemade book of recipes and the one on the postcard that she had painted herself. There are the series of firsts—first kisses, first dates, first nights spent together, all recounted in letters and emails. There’s the one with the lyrics and chords to “All For You” that he left on my desk written on my own thank you-note stationery. There’s the one written in legalese. There’s the one where I tried to explain how the rain fell so softly and so steadily that it seemed like the air was vibrating, the way that two strings vibrate when they are almost in tune, which somehow made me think of beating hearts. There’s the one where he called me “his little eggplant,” the one where he told me he slept with someone else but loved me anyway, and the one where he quoted a prayer and told me he yearned for me “like a gazelle does for a stream.”  There’s the one where I said that our belly buttons were like magnets. There’s the one where he just said—softly, sweetly—“I’m thinking of you,” and then something perfect about eating pears.

I’ve written them in the form of post-it notes that I’ve stuck to bikes, on bathroom mirrors and in between pages of magazines and textbooks. I’ve sent them through the mail on vintage postcards, on the backs of photographs, on napkins and on brown paper lunch bags. My favorites are written on my art deco stationary sent in bright yellow envelopes, or, perhaps less conventionally, in emails. They can be the length of the alphabet or the length of a novel.

I am in love with love letters. They are the fireflies of the written world. They are the emissaries of unsaid moments, cultivated whispers and quiet observations. They are the mascots of radical kindness. This holiday season—or any season!—try writing a love letter to someone who ought to know that they are loved (read: pretty much every human being). Nervous? Confused? Think it’s not your thing? Here are a couple of thoughts on crafting the perfect love letter:

  1. It’s already perfect.
  2. It has been said that the hardest asana in yoga is rolling out the mat and the hardest thing about running is walking out the door. The same goes for writing love letters, or anything else—the hardest part is getting started. The trick? Just do it. Start writing. If you get started and get stuck, refer back to No. 1, and then keep going.
  3. Tell people that you love them. There are so many ways to do this, but “I love you” is a pretty great one.
  4. Be specific. This is perhaps the most important thing I’ve realized about love letters. The thing is, love letters should be like snowflakes—no two are alike. Lusty love is different from butterflies love, which is different from puppy love, which is different from comfy love. I’d even go as far as saying that no two loves of a single type are identical. I find it helpful to start with a story (e.g., The time we went skinny dipping in the waterfall) or start with a reason (e.g., I love you because of the way you always stop to give change to and make eye contact with people who are homeless, and the way you hum whenever you aren’t talking). Every cliché can be made radically new with some personalization. Does this person make you a better you? Say how. Does this person make your heart explode? Describe how it feels, where you were and what you were doing the last time it happened, and what it makes you want to do next. Write the way you talk. Tell the story.
  5. Write often. I promise you always have something to say and there’s always someone who wants you to say it.

If all of this love letter talk has you dancing as you read, open that Word document, reach for that scrap of paper or pull out that sketchpad and get started. Happy holidays, friends! I hope yours are filled with words. Mine sure will be.

Want to send a free and fully customizable Hanukkah card? Check out’s holiday gift to you!

Finished your love letter? In addition to sending it to whomever it’s intended for, maybe send it to my friend Kerry, who is collecting love letters from anywhere they come. Check out her project or just send your letter to: Listen, I Love You, P.O. Box 30445, New Orleans, LA 70190.

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