Love Letters


by Dr. Eleanor Hamilton

It was 1933. Our country was in the middle of the Great Depression, when everyone counted his pennies and considered himself lucky if he could manage to feed, house, and clothe himself. Luxuries such as frequent flights to meet a possible lover were unheard of and would have been considered an outrageous extravagance.
That year I met the remarkable man who later became my husband. I had admired his presentation at a professional conference. Through some verbal exchange afterward, he became as intrigued with me as I with him. But only five days remained for us to become better acquainted before he had to return to Maine and I to California.
In those days a long-distance telephone call just to say, "I think I love you" was out of the question. Such expensive communication was reserved to report deaths or disasters but never the sharing of a dawning love.

Our communication had to be limited to the written word. But, oh, how those words warmed our hearts over the months ahead and readied our souls for an understanding of each other that might never have been possible otherwise.
Day after day for nearly six months we poured out our dreams about the kind of life we wanted for ourselves and the kind of partner we wanted to share life with. On endless sheets of paper we exposed to each other our feelings about everything from raising children to handling money. We revealed our attitudes about intimacy with friends, about lifestyles, professional goals, and, of course, about sex. Then the day came when we felt that we must meet to decide whether or not to seriously consider a marriage, I boarded a train for Maine and a meeting in the flesh.
Within 24 hours of my arrival, we knew with complete certainty that we were destined for each other, despite great discrepancies in age and background.
Without letters, we never could have known the depths of each other's soul, aspirations, fears, peccadillos, as we did. Nor could we have entered a lifetime partnership with the confidence with which we embraced it.
That confidence was justified in the remarkable 37-year marriage we enjoyed until his death.

I have come to feel that every couple contemplating marriage might do well to communicate by letter for a few months. The written word requires a thought process not based on hormones but on the mind's concern about an intimate lifetime together.
Our correspondence had explored the kind of life we hoped to have and so we were prepared for the beginning of our marriage which, without that understanding, might have been difficult.
We started out in a log cabin in the Maine woods-without plumbing, electricity, running water, or telephone. Our combined cash capital was about $100. We could not have endured such primitive living had we not previously "known" each other as adventurous, self-sufficient human beings who would tackle such a challenge with confidence and delight.

Many of my patients have told me about the treasure their love letters have been to them over the years. One friend recently confessed that she saved her husband's love letters to savor, even after she had divorced him, 20 years and two children later. I have also found that when adults have to make a choice about which belongings to rescue in a disaster, their love letters come high on the list. One friend tells of a box she keeps near the door-her "grab and run" box. In it are not only her financial records, her deeds, and her will, but also her collection of love letters written by her husband.
Love letters, of course, have a nurturing effect in marriage as well as before it. Few experiences renew more than an affectionate note on one's breakfast tray or slipped under one's pillow or tied to the steering wheel of one's car, expressing appreciation of one's existence. Such thoughtfulness is the true wealth that blesses one's life.

About the author: Dr. Hamilton, a retired psychologist and sex therapist, is the author of five books and a recipient of the American Library Association award. Her television appearances include "The Phil Donahue Show," "The Merv Griffin Show," and "The Tonight Show."