If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a total sucker for love letters. In reality, I’m a sucker for any sincere, real, and moving personal poetry.
I’m not picky for letters, essays, or memoirs. Several times in my life, someone’s writing has reached out, caught me by the heart, and yanked me in a particular direction.
You may be assuming that writing is just words on a screen. What impact will writing have on someone’s life? Especially if it’s written by an unknown?
So, because you asked, I’ll tell you a story from my own life that I’m not proud of. Then I’ll tell you a tale for which I’ll be eternally thankful (the story that led to that black and white photo of Mike and I at the top of this post being snapped the day before our wedding.)
So fair warning, this is a long post. It’ll be right up your alley if you like behind-the-scenes intimate tales. If not, feel free to move forward with the love letter advice.
When I e-stalked somebody (a tale I’m not proud of…)
Years before I met Mike, I read an essay written by a stranger named Ryan, who was living in Afghanistan at the time.
The essay was both hilarious and moving, and it was remarkable.
After I finished it, I sent it to my parents with a short note that said, “Read this. It’s incredible. I’m trying to find him and let him fall madly in love with me.”
Ryan, on the other hand, was not so quick to find.
I didn’t have the last name or an email address to deal with when I first began. Because of internet restrictions where Ryan resided, Ryan’s essays were collected and distributed by a friend in Canada. The article I read was sent to me by another friend who lived in Indonesia.
But, in the end, I was able to contact Ryan’s emailer-central-friend and be added to his mailing list. Then I set about picking Ryan’s attention.
And in the six months that followed, I was effective.
What happened next is a lengthy and rather hazy tale that I discuss in greater depth in my book, Love At The Speed Of Email. Still, in the end, I purchased a plane ticket and went to Canada to meet Ryan because I felt there was a good possibility he was “the one.”
Real. You heard it correctly. I e-stalked a stranger online and harassed him into being my mate. Six months later, I traveled to another country to meet him because I felt he could be my soulmate. By the way, I told Ryan I was going to Vancouver for college. As I was waiting for Ryan to “remember” me, I told the other guy I had started dating a few months earlier the same thing.
I warned you it was a hazy tale. Weep.
We all behave in ways we’re not proud of from time to time, right? However, this tale demonstrates the ability of good storytelling to affect someone’s spirit (and impair their judgment.)
Needless to mention, Ryan and I did not end up becoming soulmates.
Now let’s skip forward three years to take number two—the one I’m thankful for.
The Day I Struck Gold And Met My Husband (The Tale I’ll Never Forget…)
My first book was released in 2007.
And a press release for the novel landed on the desk of an Atlanta publisher.
The editor liked my book’s cover and picked up the press release to read it. Then she read my author profile, which mentioned my day job as the Director of Training for a nonprofit that worked in psychiatric counseling for aid workers at the time.
Huh, she said, I have a stressed-out help worker friend in Papua New Guinea who should be on this organization’s mailing list.
So she visited my author page and read a few of my, says.
She then contacted her friend Mike to tell him she’d find him his lady.
“I guess she’s our age,” Erin said to Mike. “I believe she is single. She resides in Los Angeles. You are very welcome.”
“Erin,” Mike replied, “as you might or may not have heard, I live in a small town in PNG with just a dial-up internet connection.” I’m not going to go look at the website of some random stranger in Los Angeles, no matter how much you like her fiction. Nonetheless, thank you.”
Undaunted, Erin returned to my page, downloaded any personal essay she could locate, zipped them all together, and emailed the file to Mike.
Mike read such essays when he lived in a small town in PNG and didn’t have anything else to do.
Then, he says, “I had a crisis.” I was piqued. So I went to www. Lisa McKaythe writing.com, and when the website scrolled open on my screen, I remembered I’d seen the face before. On Facebook, for example. On the website of a Melbourne-based friend.“
So Mike wrote to me, referencing our common acquaintance, saying he’d been reading some of my fiction, and requesting to be added to my mailing list.
So, of course, I went to Facebook and saw his picture. And I discovered that we had not one, but five common friends. One of them was Ryan, the same Ryan I had e-stalked three years before.
Mike, it turns out, was staying in Tajikistan at the time Ryan was in Afghanistan, serving as a humanitarian worker and making daily trips over the frontier to “civilization” in Afghanistan to purchase luxuries including toilet paper and Coke.
(I promise to you, I’m not making anything up.) I know it sounds like the story of a romantic novel about humanitarian workers, but it’s all true.)
So we had a lot of common acquaintances, and I figured Mike looked adorable in his profile picture. But I was in LA planning for a three-week business trip to Africa and Washington, DC, and I didn’t have much time to contemplate how an aid worker in PNG ended up reading my things.
Mike then gave me the email three days later.
Mike sent me a connection to a collection of photographs he’d taken while traveling and told me a little bit about himself in this three-page email. He wrote about how, in the previous decade, he had traveled and worked all over the world, and that now, at the age of thirty, he was wrestling with some of the same issues of sense and reason that I was writing about in my essays. He said he’d read all of those essays and that he felt like he was getting to know me. He told me that he realized long-distance relationships were difficult, however, he hoped we could get along.
“Think about it,” he suggested. “And don’t be concerned. I’m not some weirdo who would e-stalk you if you’re not interested.”
I had learned a few long-distance relationship lessons the hard way when I was that kind of weirdo (or had been, three years earlier), and I put them to good use now.
“I’m flattered and intrigued,” I replied. “But I’m still cautious.”
My key sources of comparison for long-distance marriages did not conclude happily ever after. One attempt resulted in a tangled disaster, with his heart shattered and me realizing I had extreme conflict-avoidance habits in intimate relationships.
A second attempt taught me a valuable lesson: the real, live person would still be very different from the idealized person who comes to life in my mind when I read their writing.
So, with that out of the way, I don’t know anything about you except that you have good taste in friends, have chosen to live and function in a profession that has caught my interests, are willing to travel in trucks on dirt roads, and sleep in huts, are undoubtedly fueled by the twin powers of adventure and purpose-seeking, have an eye for art, and have a smile that indicates warm and welcoming.
I’d like to get to know you a little bit. But, if you’re interested, send me a note. As companions. Or as individuals who believe they can like to be mates. And no dreams of anything more until we meet in person, whether we ever meet…
I half expected to never hear from Mike again after sending this note.
In this day and age, who has a pen pal when they’re 31 years old?
We did, however, begin writing to each other. We spent a lot of time writing. We wrote 90,000 words to each other in the three months leading up to our first meeting in Australia—enough for an entire book of letters.
We had never spoken on the phone before that first encounter, not even once. We did, though, learn a lot about each other through letters. So much so that even before we met for the first time, I was secretly optimistic that we would go the distance in an unnamed and unexplored way.
So, what did we write about in those early months when we got to know each other?
They didn’t love messages, either. In either case, not in the strictest, most traditional context. During those months, Mike and I were both very conscious of the “friends first” dynamic. I guess the nearest I came to flirting was when I shared a tale about getting out of the shower one morning and picking up the ringing phone whilst wearing just a towel, only to discover it was a radio station preparing to question me live on air (as we’d decided and I’d forgotten).
And I recall Mike writing to me a few months later, just before we met up, that I’d started to catch his core. After reading the paragraph, I floated for hours.
Although these letters were not what we usually think about when we think of love letters, how did they cultivate love?
Since we were so transparent and frank with each other, I believe they grew to love and laid the groundwork for our marriage. We didn’t feel like we had anything to risk, and we also felt like the “laws of the game” were well-defined. We simply wanted to get to know each other. Along the road, we fell in lust.
As a result, my suggestions for writing exceptional love letters vary somewhat from those in the Invaluable entertaining infographic below. Those are excellent suggestions, but not for when you’ve just met someone—especially when you’ve met someone online and at a distance.
When you’re first getting to know somebody, my key piece of advice is to avoid writing love notes. Simply compose emails. Only concentrate on getting to know each other’s core. And not to plan so much in advance. Keep your goals and aspirations in check for the time being. This is the stage through which something is done step by step. Don’t be in a hurry.
First And Foremost, There Are Friends.
Second, There’s Passion (And Love Letters).
However, as you reach the stage of love letters—and what a beautiful stage it is—you should draw encouragement from these renowned writers, poets, and other legendary couples. From Frida Kahlo’s love letters to Diego Rivera to Zelda Fitzgerald’s passionate letters to F. Scott, there’s bound to be something here that inspires the imagination.