I’m a keeper and a collector, especially of sentimental mementos. My (these days declining) love of physical books is connected to this. It’s exactly why I’ve dragged dozens of boxes of them every place I live. (Bookshelves are a whole discussion!) And it’s also why I still have every love letter I’ve ever received.
Which, I’ve come to realize, is silly — especially now, when I’m seeking a simple, small life. My goal in retirement is minimalism in everything. Clearance! (Going out of business!) Everything must go!
Quite some time ago, a friend commented that I hadn’t put anything on my walls — that years later they were as blank as the day I moved in. They’re still blank, at least twice as many years later.
Which is a little odd. I’ve always been one for visual clutter, the more, the better. You shoulda seen my work cubical over the years. But I’m done with all forms of personal drama, and blank walls very much reflect my state of mind these days.
Not that my mind is blank, mind you. It’s that I’ve gone simple.
Anyway, here’s the thing about old love letters: Saving them only seems to make sense if you end up with the person they’re from.
They’re the sort of thing you’d share as you grew old together: Remember how it all began? Wasn’t that great?
(I suppose these days you’d have a gazillion photos and texts, plus Facebook, and Tweets, and all the other social media recording our lives. The latest generation has never lacked these things. Which, I suppose, makes them seem less precious.)
But what’s the point of reading love letters written 50 years ago when they’re from someone you haven’t seen in all that time? Or, for that matter, written to someone you probably haven’t been five decades.
I’ve never been one to dwell in the past, so on some level keeping these is a rare exception to how I usually behave. No doubt it’s because I view them as precious — symbols of coming close to a real life. (Yet, at this point, symbols of repeated failure.)
It’s only because I’m slowly getting rid of everything that it’s even occurred to me I should toss them. (Many books and DVDs have been given to the local library, lots of clothing and “household items” given to charity.)
Reading them almost seems like an invasion of privacy for two people. Certainly it seems to be invading that of the other party, since they wrote the letter you saved. (Reading the letters I wrote would be interesting, although probably also embarrassing.)
Not to mention that, in the earliest cases, there are under-age aspects, which are some sort of factor given that my whole point is that these are essentially strangers. Especially the other party.
How would I feel if past loves kept and read my letters?
I guess, if they read them with fondness, I’d be okay with it, and it’s not really that I’m making the argument one shouldn’t read old love letters.
Actually (assuming you’d saved them), how could you not?
It just feels… weird to me. And I don’t think I’ll do much more than check out a few here and there. I’ve already done that while cleaning out letters from friends — on the one hand, it’s fascinating to relive those moments, but on the other, they are distant memories at best.
And I’m so not one for the rear view mirror.
The main thing is that it’s time for them to go. None of the many past loves ever lasted more than a few years at best. Even marriage only lasted not quite five. (I’m obviously not relationship material, and — as I said — done with personal drama. (Which relationships are inevitably full of.))
The thing is, what also feels weird to me is just throwing old love letters in the trash. It feels like they should be burned, one by one, in a fireplace. With candles and music.
I did do that once, with the letters from “the red-head in Vegas.” The situation — one of the longer ones (seven years!) — demanded it. Talk about personal drama. And personal pain. That was one of the harder ones.
But I don’t have a fireplace anymore.
And I don’t think old love letters quite rise to the occasion of buying a paper-shredder.
So off to the garbage they go. Which is much weirder than the idea of reading them.
On the other hand, it’s just 50-year-old paper.
Just 50-year-old dreams.
Just 50-year-old dust.