The first love letters recorded were from Pliny the Younger, pouring his heart out about his private life and love for his wife, Calpurnia, in Rome circa AD100.
However, St. Valentine inspired the concept of a specific form of love letter named after him, Valentines. Although the origins of St. Valentine are lost, a myth suggests that he was a priest in third-century Rome who defied Emperor Claudius II’s law that young men could not marry because single men are better soldiers than married ones.
It’s said that he married lovers in secret and was jailed and sentenced to death for it, being a martyr for love. It’s thought that he sent a vehement message to the jailer’s daughter who regularly visited him and signed it as “from your Valentine.” Hence, Valentine was born. Although he died in AD270, Pope Gelasius bestowed him the honor of his own holiday, St. Valentine’s Day, on February 14 AD498.
Fast forward 1,000 years, the first Valentine appeared — a poem in the British Library written to his wife in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, while he was incarcerated in the Tower of London after Agincourt. Brits began to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the 17th century. Handwritten notes and small love tokens became a part of Valentine’s Day customs in the mid-18th century. By the 19th century, lovers could write their sweet nothings in pre-printed cards over private notes.
While the story of St. Valentine may be a myth and his origins lost, the love letters of the parents and grandparents of teens are as real and vividly heartwarming as they come, which is why they are still cherished in the present.
According to a study by Sociology Professor Michelle Janning, 88% of people save their old love letters, whether they stay with their significant other or not. In this study of over 800 participants aged 18 to 89, one participant said that her significant other: “turned out to be a dirtbag.” Still, she kept them because: “they tell me how wonderful I am.”
Other participants kept their love letters to read while their partner was away, to grieve, as journals to reflect on their relationships and self-growth, or to show to their children.
But where did the decline of handwritten love letters begin? It reached a rapid decline when the Technological Revolution flourished since messages could easily be sent digitally.
Over time, modernization has made it easier to give gifts. Mass-produced cards, elegant bouquets of flowers, carefully crafted chocolate arrangements and more reveal how expressing love has become more materialistic.
Does modernization making giving gifts easier mean there’s a general lack of love in society? Not necessarily. Through modernization, people can give each other more gifts more often of things that the other likes and they can communicate easier and faster with distance through digital messages than love letters.
However, the inability to screenshot or copy and paste a love letter makes it more memorable, as there’s only one in the world. Furthermore, the handwriting of the person who wrote the love letter makes it more custom and meaningful.
Author Mark Twain said in his autobiography: “The frankest and freest product of the human mind and heart is a love letter. The writer gets his limitless freedom of statement and expression from his sense that no stranger is going to see what he is writing.”
Although love letters may be old-fashioned, their spirit lives on through the stories of parents and grandparents being passed down for generations and through teens romanticizing love letters, proving that sometimes old is gold.