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Keeping the Evidence of Our Love

CBS Sunday Morning recently featured the story of 64 year-old Rosie Hill, who is suffering from early-onset memory loss. When old love letters between her and her ex-husband from 1973 were discovered at Goodwill and returned to her it was a window to her lost memories. Weeping with joy, Hill read the letters. Remembering forgotten details of her young romance, she tearfully said, “You smell the smells, you hear the sounds and you feel like you are back in time and in that place.”

Love letters have an enduring power that lasts long beyond the moment they are written. The love letters between president Grover Cleveland and Francis Folsom provide a moving glimpse of their relationship. In a letter dated December 13, 1885, to his young bride-to-be Cleveland wrote, “...I love you just exactly as you are and for just what you are; and that Darling you must never doubt.” Six months later the 21-year old Francis Folsom became Frances Cleveland, the youngest First Lady in our history.

There are endless collections of published love letters penned by people as varied as Napoleon Bonaparte, Voltaire, Eleanor Roosevelt or gay beat poet Allen Ginsburg. Sadly, the days of finding handwritten love letters tucked into a shoebox in the attic is vanishing. In fact, handwriting itself is disappearing as schools discontinue cursive writing lessons. How we express love and how we keep a record and mementos of our love has evolved.

Courting rituals during the turn of century involved chaperoned dates and dance cards, something used by a woman to record the names of the gentlemen with whom she intends to dance with at a formal ball. The name of her future husband might be on that card, something she would fondly look at years later. In the 1950’s exchanging a “going steady” token such as a ring or letterman jacket signified a serious relationship among young people, again, a token that might be saved and reminisced over years later.

In today’s “hook up” culture expressions of romance are often reduced late-night texts such as, “u up?” And you know what? Many people save all those texts and images sent from someone they love. Digital communication has forever altered the ways in which romances are recorded.

To get some perspective on dating in the digital age, Artvoice spoke with a couple that met in a Buffalo chat room on AOL in 2002. Lindsay Robson is the creator of the life and style blog Nickel City Pretty ( and her now-husband Nicholas Robson is a Buffalo Public School teacher. Although Lindsay and Nicholas have never written letters to each other, they do exchange cards for holidays and sometimes “just because.” Even still, they went from chat room conversations to daily texting so their primary method of communication has always been digital. “Texting is super convenient” Nicholas points out. “Hell, people can even text without using their fingers with talk-to-text.” He did admit that “...writing letters is almost something you have to go out of your way to do. It’s way more meaningful than texting.” Lindsay agreed, however, in defense she added that she puts a lot of thought into her text messages. “I can be the Shakespeare of texting when I put my all into it,” she said.

One of the upsides to digital is that the line to communicate is always open. “We are able to constantly communicate with each other now...sending each other little ‘thinking of you’ messages” said Nicholas. Lindsay added, “I also get to send him 984 selfies throughout the day. He secretly loves it.” When asked about how they look back on the beginning of their relationship Lindsay explained, “Having a record of early correspondence really doesn’t interest me. It was probably just lots of emails back and forth about what happened at my retail job that day or what I plan on doing for college or pictures of pugs...we both love pugs. That’s how I knew he was my soul mate.”

If you’re striving to be Shakespeare when you text your lover can texting really all that bad? Sure it’s more temporal, casual, and emojis sometimes pop in, but it still serves to express what’s in someone’s heart and thoughts. Stamped envelopes containing handwritten words of tender affection are fading into history. In their place is the urgent bing on your phone or vibration in your pocket telling you a glowing screen is about to deliver a message to you, hopefully from that special someone.

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