Love Letters Are Dead; Breakup Letters Are Blooming

Why is the internet so much better for breakups?

So in this piece in the Telegraph, Christopher Howse notes that the digital age is doing a number – not shockingly – on snail mail, and as such love letters are an endangered species. Which, he adds, is awesome. Because other people’s love letters are embarrassing, and in any case good correspondence provides perfectly adequate reading-between-the-lines proof of affection without the slop, thanks very much. Quoth the curmudgeon,

perhaps love letters will be the last to disappear, for being in love preserves antique behaviour: dining out, dressing up, being polite, even writing poetry. The poetry will be bad, not for lack of feeling but for lack of skill, and so will the love letters. Like other people’s holiday snaps, they suggest a whole world of shared experience that we outsiders cannot share. Digital cameras mean the death of old snaps and digitalia are killing love letters. And I, for one, shan’t mourn them.

Unlike Howse, most of us are aware that the advent of email meant a resurgence in quotidian correspondence, and if there was a dry patch for a while there, well, now we’ve got as many revelations and day-to-day details and secrets as the biographers of tomorrow could wish for, at least as much of it preserved in perpetuity as the more ephemeral correspondence of yesteryear. Sure, stuff gets erased; but then, stuff used to get burned. But the man raises a good point: the internet doesn’t really lend itself to love letters. For all the risks of drunk-emailing and the manifold indiscretions technology encourages, poetry doesn’t tend to be one of them. Sure, there are unwise late-night confessions of interest, but is that really the same thing?

Weirdly, though, the breakup missive is flourishing. (See: Crap Email From a Dude…or that book Anna did!) I’m not even talking drunk, insulting ramblings, here, although I guess those are a sub-genre. Rather, we’re discussing the antithesis of the love letter, a detached, deliberate statement of vitriol. Part of why breakups rate this, I think, is that such emails are often couched in terms of practicalities, like, “let’s work out this rent issue, and by the way, here’s why you suck as a human being.” Email is also particularly well-suited to snideness; as everyone knows, it takes a ton of exclamation points and one smiley face more than you mean even to convey warmth; passive-aggressive curtness is so much easier. If you’re a communal type, you can read it over, even get second opinions – something one would not do with a love letter. Most of all, email is casual: a dismissive email has the double effect of showing that you don’t really care, whereas a letter would imply a telling expenditure of effort.

Best part? As a recipient, you can erase instantly. And without the risk of setting off the smoke alarm.

A Fond Farewell [Telegraph]

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