“Writing a love letter takes initiative and intention,” says psychotherapist Genesis Games, LMHC, “and that’s really powerful given the opposite and destructive narrative that says we shouldn’t be vulnerable and we shouldn’t show emotion. Instead, this is saying, ‘I’m going to voice my feelings and put myself out there.’” And because writing a love letter involves this extra effort and risk, it’ll carry that much more meaning in the eyes of the recipient, says Games.
Just who that recipient is will play a large part in how you start the love letter and what makes up the heart of it. “If you’re writing to a crush, you might find the process more nerve-racking since you don’t have any history upon which to base your emotions, and you may not have any confirmation that this person feels the same way about you,” says Games.
If you have a lot of uncertainty about how your crush feels, but you’re eager to open up your heart to them nonetheless, consider keeping your note relatively concise, says relationship expert Jess Carbino, PhD. “In fact, it may be best to signal your interest briefly and use the rest of the letter as a mechanism by which to ask the person out, at which point you can talk and share your feelings face-to-face.”
Why to write a love letter, according to relationship experts:
The sense of clear intentionality baked into a love letter can be refreshing for a crush (if they feel the same way about you, that is). “You’re not playing games, sending mixed signals, or beating around the bush with feelings,” says Games, “which can be very powerful.”
"Writing a love letter is a seemingly small gesture that can help build big intimacy." —Donna Oriowo, PhD
And in a way, the same can be true for sending a love letter to a partner, spouse, or someone whom you know reciprocates your feelings. “It’s a seemingly small gesture that can help build big intimacy,” says sex and relationship therapist Donna Oriowo, PhD. “The longer you’re in a relationship with someone, the harder it can be to maintain that feeling of being seen and appreciated, and a love letter can help you do just that.”
Furthermore, the simple act of sitting down to pen your thoughts can help you find clarity and convey your emotions more clearly, too—particularly if your relationship with a loved one has been strained, or you’re turning to a love letter as a way to reconnect on a deeper level. “At times, it’s challenging to share thoughts that make us anxious, or to articulate ourselves clearly when we are having conversations in person,” says Dr. Carbino. “But, writing a letter gives you time to metabolize your feelings and allows your partner to do the same.”
How to start a love letter:
To shift your mindset into romance-author mode, turn to whatever love-based pieces of writing have worked wonders on your own heart. Whether your personal brand of love is a hopelessly romantic Nicholas Sparks novel or more of a classically practical When Harry Met Sally vibe, begin by revisiting the books, movies, plays, and poems that have moved you, says Dr. Oriowo: “Anything that brings up emotions in you can be a helpful jumping-off point and source of inspiration for your own love letter.”
When you're ready to dive in, consider that the beginning of the letter is where you'll set the overall mood. As such, it's wise to launch into it with a greeting that reads just as sincere as you feel—and not necessarily the straightforward "Dear [insert name here]," which could translate as stuffy, rather than sentimental. To that end, here are some examples of how to start a love letter:
- To my forever love...
- Dearest [insert personal nickname nere]...
- To my one true love...
- To my soul mate...
- To my whole heart...
Once you've nailed the opening line, take some time to close your eyes and visualize this adored person to whom you’re writing and what you love the most about them, Dr. Oriowo says—and write down what comes to mind naturally. “If when you think of them, it makes you smile, say so. Or, maybe it makes you giddy, or you feel butterflies in your stomach, or you feel tingling all over, and you long to see them—then write that,” says Dr. Oriowo.
That mental exercise will help ensure you express yourself clearly and honestly (which is, perhaps, the most important part of this endeavor), and will also help your recipient understand point-blank what you feel for them. Not to mention, visualization sparks imagination, and can help you uncover creative new ways to describe your love story and what it means to you.
3 qualities that make for a successful love letter:
The love you may feel for the subject of your letter is unlike anyone else’s love, and in turn, the words you write expressing it should be just as uniquely yours. So, while you might draw inspiration from the artistic works of love that have moved you in the past, the words you write should come from a place of genuine meaning, says Games. And in that vein, saying just how someone makes you feel, with descriptive phrases that resonate for you, will help your letter land successfully.
That said, it’s also worth noting that if the word ‘love’ itself feels a bit strong for the way you feel about someone, you can most definitely write a letter of, say, admiration or adoration, expressing your feelings honestly and without the L-word anywhere in sight.
It’s helpful to outline why you’re writing the letter in the first place—whether it’s just to show someone your heart, reignite a feeling, or ask someone out—particularly if this is the first time you’ll be writing a letter to this person, or if they’re a crush who may not know how you feel about them. In the case of the latter, you’ll also want to be keen to avoid projecting your intentions into the future. “This love letter is to let them know how you feel right now, and not 10 years from now.” says Games.
Similarly, the intentions of a love letter should also not skew sexually explicit in nature if the person to whom you’re writing is unfamiliar with your feelings, primarily because they have not consented to a sex love letter, says Dr. Oriowo.
Overusing a thesaurus is likely to garble what you’re trying to communicate, making your letter, at best, inauthentic, and at worst, difficult to understand at all. "A love letter is not necessarily the time to prove your linguistic prowess, so there’s no reason to include $10 words," says Dr. Oriowo. “Start by saying what you mean simply, and then you can go back and add some stylistic elements to your final draft—so long as it’s still highly understandable.”
Make sure to also build in the drafting time for yourself to think, process, write, re-read, edit, and edit again in drafting your love letter (from start to finish). When you're able to state what you mean, and state it simply, there’s a good chance that your beloved will hear those words in a way that truly resonates.
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