Help me help us?
October 6, 2010 12:09 AM   Subscribe

RelationshipFilter: Is writing a letter to your SO ok, in addition to face-to-face? If so, help a kid out.


My SO and I have had our ups and downs, but have been generally together for exactly one year this month— minus a break up of 3 months. He initiated the "get back together" about a month ago, not me alone, so we're both happy and willing to give it one more try.

OK. I'm a writer, for a living. (Please don't judge here.) I'm not as good with talking. It's been plaguing me, as we have our LET'S DO THIS talks, that I can't fully and adequately express myself, without blabbering and stuttering. I've done that, but I feel I have more to say.

Is it ok to write a letter? If so, would this be ok? Too much/tl;dr? Language... too weird? If letters are cool and this is too wordy/sentimental, I can edit like a mofo. Can probably get it down to half. Just really need a BAD IDEA/GOOD IDEA now.


Here is pretty much what I want to say, unedited:


A few weeks ago, you asked me what love means to me.

I love you for who you are now— even though it feels like I’m cautiously and optimistically re-learning some things about you. I love you for your challenge, for our conversations, for your forthcoming-ness, for our chemistry, for our friendship, for our quiet nights, for our “going out.” I also love you for the following...

I love who you were, and still are, even almost a year ago— scrappy, snarky, smart, neurotic, even negative, and conscientious of what makes me happy.

I love you for who you will be— furthering of yourself, learning more about your business and your life, experimenting, figuring out what you need, and hopefully being that stormcloud which I have fallen in love with and makes me happy.

I must admit, the future “you” in regard to myself is a scary. But I know I do love you, one step at a time. We may actually not be OMGEVERYTHING!! to each other, because we may grow into big needs that the other can’t fulfill. But even seemingly “happy ending” marriages indeed end. But I do want to be with you, and do my for real best to align our needs— but only if you want to align yours with mine.

That’s what love means to me.

You took a huge step to tell me you love me. I scared and freaked myself out when I said it first, so I really, really get how much you put yourself on the line. I’m still pretty scared, because of such questions as:

• How long ‘til [he] gets bored again?
• Can I trust [him] to tell me about his inner thoughts, especially the ones that pertain to me?
• Can I trust [him] to do what he says [he’s] going to do?
• Will [he] one day stop being attracted/interested to me, without communication or warning?
• Will I recognize the signs of “not really into this relationship” before I get hurt (again)?


Now that I’ve identified to you what love means to me, here are some things that I need out of our relationship to feel equal and fulfilled. I hope TO GOD I haven’t missed something. Ha. Not in order of importance!!

1.) Integration
I know your friends and family. I adore them— each in their own idiosyncratic way. Do you know mine? Knowing them is important to me, because you’ve helped redefine what friend is, and helped me realize who the real ones are. I’ve culled a few, and the ones I have left are important. It’s not a chore— I promise. My friends are generally pretty fucking awesome.

2.) Shared memories/small adventures
I’ve had an adventurous life so far, and I still love “taking off.” I’d like to know that you’d love to take weekends away for mini-adventures, and might even take initiative on a few. Even easy ones, like
quick-booking a weekend at an all-inclusive resort. BAM! DONE! (Even though I know travel isn’t exactly your thing.)

3.) Communication
I’ve never mistrusted you when it comes to loyalty and fidelity. And that makes me happy, not having to worry, and just, well, knowing. It frees my mind up a lot, knowing you’re an amazing guy. My concern is the inverse, actually. It’s you staying inside yourself a bit too much, and not sharing your thoughts.

I feel we got to “break up time” before because you (and maybe I) weren’t honest enough about the day-to-day stuff. The best way* to make-a-real-go-of-love-and-relationships is calling out what makes us happy or annoys us, what’s attractive or unattractive, what’s the super-awesome appreciated thing that the other does, and what makes you feel self-conscious.

For example: It really meant a lot to me that you told me about how I’m too protective of the damn dog, and that you don’t feel I trust you with him. It was a little thing that you might have resented weeks later, but we talked instead. I’ve tried (??) to work on how I come across, because I do, in fact, trust you. But I need feedback on how I’m doing, in your perception. Everybody needs feedback in what they care about. Honesty!! And remember? I’m kind of slow when it comes to “taking a hint” sometimes.

*CAVEAT TO THIS POINT: People should choose their battles. We shouldn’t overdo it to the point of complaining. Framing in the positive, and straightforward honesty toward the negative is best.

I love you,
posted by hubble to Human Relations (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Send it, that is all. Communication should be about clarity and what works between the two of you to reach clarity. Not what the rest of us on the internet might have to say about it.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:20 AM on October 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

good idea but stick around while he reads it and be on hand to answer questions and clarify misinterpretation.
posted by nihraguk at 12:29 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Communication is good. Writing letters is communication. Go write your SO a letter!
posted by Harald74 at 12:43 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with The Lady is a designer. Do whatever works best for you to communicate what's important to you.
posted by John Cohen at 12:44 AM on October 6, 2010

He knows you, and knows you're a writer. I think you could ask him or at least tell him first.

I have friends I see frequently that I write letters to. It lets you express yourself differently and it's good to get to express yourself in that way too.
posted by oreofuchi at 12:44 AM on October 6, 2010

If I were your SO I'd be happy to get a letter that spelled everything out so clearly. If he can communicate with you as well as you can with him it bodes well for your relationship.

How I'd feel about you posting the letter to AskMe for review before giving it to me is another story, but that wasn't your question.
posted by mmoncur at 1:25 AM on October 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Putting some words on a page isn't inherently passive-aggressive, the way most of Ask seems to think it is. If sending your SO a letter is the best way for you to communicate the above to him, then go for it. It's best to be clear and if he's the kind of guy who would be turned off by this, I'd reconsider a relationship with him.
posted by Solomon at 1:50 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Letter writing as a valid form of romantic communication has a long history behind it and I, for one, would love to see its revival. I think this is just fine - certainly I can't tell you if the content of the letter is the right thing for your situation exactly, but handing him a letter in person seems acceptable. He knows you're a writer and probably realizes that you're more comfortable with the written word anyway. If he doesn't you should tell him so, of course.

As for the length or tone, just strive to be sure you've gotten everything out that you want to say. Since you're worried about that in your talks, use this chance to get it all out. Editing down a personal letter seems a little cutthroat to me - he's supposed to be caring about what you have to say, after all. He can't just TL;DR you!

I guess that the one thing you need to watch out for is if he's uncomfortable writing back, but he might feel pressured to communicate to you in this way. Just try to explain, either in your letter or in person when you give it to him, why you wrote the letter (confidence, I suppose) and assure him that he should respond however he would prefer. I've done the note-writing thing to SOs in the past and gotten timid chicken scratch in reply.
posted by Mizu at 2:05 AM on October 6, 2010

One word of warning: Does he read well? This has been an issue between Mr. bardophile and myself, so it's worth thinking about. Remember that just because writing is your most comfortable mode of expressing yourself, it isn't necessarily the mode which he is best at attending to, registering, or really comprehending. Presumably you know your SO well enough whether my input is at all relevant to your situation. :)
posted by bardophile at 2:23 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

You could always read this aloud to them in person as well. One thing about letters is that they are more permanent than a passing conversation.
posted by pwally at 4:38 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, but if my SO did this I wouldn't be too happy about it. Are you sure you're writing this to him? or is it a letter to yourself?

A few bullet points

1) No matter how elegantly you write it, what you are issuing is essentially a list of demands. All flowery niceties aside, that is how he is going to read it.

2) There is essentially no consideration of his feelings. You don't ask him a single question, or ask for any input from him. (apart from one passive aggressive instance where you essentially accuse him of not knowing your friends and family)

3) The references to previous conversations and arguments has a creepy 'I-am-writing-down-everything-you-say' vibe to it.

4) You have had the opportunity to draft and redraft the letter: tightening the language so as to stifle any possible response he might have. That is kinda unfair, especially if he doesn't enjoy this same courtesy in his response.

Look. All of the issues you raise are important and need sorting out. But I can't see him being too pleased to receive a letter like this. If you really want to write something, perhaps make it a little more about having a conversation, something more open-ended. Because all the nice stuff you said at the start will quickly be forgotten the moment you start pointing out his faults.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:40 AM on October 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Personally, I like your letter and I consider it to be quite eloquent and well conceived. I also am not entirely sure what the intended recipient might think of it. I have composed letters in the past to people whom I also speak to, and I understand the motive perfectly. Conversation can never be as well organized as a letter; in a conversation you get interrupted inevitably, the conversation is diverted to various digressions or other topics, you forget exactly what it is you originally intended to say, or how you intended to say it, and so forth. My letters are not always well received (although you might note that my comments on metafilter are not always well received either, so perhaps that says more about me than it does about the value of composing letters to people as compared to conversation). There is a certain formality involved in sending written communication to someone when there is an option of spoken communication instead. It acquires a certain weightiness which some people take as ominous. It would be possible to read the above letter as a kind of demand; you have to do these things for me or our relationship won't work. It's almost a contract. How does one respond to such a letter? A succinct reply might be, I accept your conditions, or alternatively, I don't accept your conditions, or I want to propose an amendment. I would like to know your friends better but I have doubts about sudden weekend adventures. Is your letter open to negotiation?

Based on my own experience, what I would recommend is that you keep the letter for your own reference but you present it conversationally, one item at a time, not as a single lecture. So, one step would be to invite your boyfriend to get to know your friends and relatives better. You might start with that and see how it goes. Then you might try to implement the weekend adventure program and see how that goes. Trying to present this all at once might seem excessive to your boyfriend. And focusing on one thing at a time will give you a better idea of how it is working out. Your boyfriend could easily tell you "what a charming letter; I will do everything that you ask" and then fail to do anything that you ask. Words are cheap, actions count. So this would probably work better as a memo to yourself, than to your boyfriend.
posted by grizzled at 6:40 AM on October 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

Grizzled has just made a very strong argument for the option he suggests. It makes me want to go back and look at the letters I have sent, for I never thought of it in this way. But then again, I try to write with as much open ended blather/ramble/its all exploratory and experimental and what do you think of this kind of tone as much as possible. So, something to consider here.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 6:45 AM on October 6, 2010

Good sentiment, fine idea. As you edit, keep in mind that from a reader's perspective, there are three big issues with letters: 1) do they break up with me in the last paragraph?? A relationship letter is not a common format, not like an op-ed or romance novel. one does not know where it's going. so this nervousness leads to reading quickly and reduced understanding. 2) no tone of voice, lots of potential for ambiguity and confusion (was that a joke?). I have had two letters significantly misunderstood, once due to just one unclear sentence. 3) it's a long time for one person to have the floor. along the way, the reader wants to respond, defend themselves, de-intensify the conversation, ask questions, etc.: all the feedback that normally happens in a conversation can only happen by putting the letter away or stopping to ask a question.

So, as you edit, state your purpose up front, put the most important bits first in case they have to stop reading, carefully avoid ambiguity, keep it very short, and generally choose each word as if it were precious. Considering all the downsides, in my own life, I follow grizzled's approach (using things like this more as a memo to self). The trick with communication is more often not in expression, but in being understood, and letters are a tough format for monitoring that. But if this is a big help to you in getting your ideas out, go for it -- just expect that it will be only the start of a conversation and that you will then probably need to have a verbal dialogue about it.
posted by salvia at 7:22 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would suggest using the letter as a crutch in your next conversation. It's weird to send a letter to someone in lieu of speaking to them face to face.

Trust me, I would much rather send a letter, too. But through sad experience I have found it doesn't generally go well.
posted by SMPA at 7:34 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I send emails like this to my boyfriend a few times a year. I'm really bad at saying things like this fact to face or over the phone (we're long distance) so every now and then when things build up I sit down and write an e-mail. In our relationship, this kind of letter is perfectly reasonable. And not because we sat down and talked about it first, but because at some point I need to say something and I couldn't say it, so I wrote it, and I've just kept doing that because it went over well with him.

In your case, I think this should be fine. I'd edit it a bit to make sure there aren't any rough "could be taken even slightly negatively" edges and to make sure that it's upbeat and positive throughout (which it pretty much is), but yeah, I think this is a perfectly okay thing to do.

(I do prefer e-mail for this, but we're in a very tech heavy relationship where IMs and emails are a large part of our communication and not out of place, so e-mail is a nice "not too formal" way to say these things.)
posted by quirks at 7:53 AM on October 6, 2010

One word of warning: I'd be okay with my husband writing me a letter if that was how he communicated best. But I would not be okay with him posting the contents on the internets for all to see.
posted by bananafish at 8:30 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would not like to get a letter like this - you are trying to quantify love, make him feel slightly guilty for not giving you some basics, questioning your trust in him, and wanting to know what he is really thinking.

What he is probably thinking is that he is a separate person that you cannot write into your story and have behave exactly as you expect. And you are so reasonable, so sane, and so gentle, like being smothered with a soft linen pillow.

How about some face-to-face passion and yelling and arguments about important things, and learning to argue, and tears and only worrying about the important things, and showing you have a spine and will sing to the dog and put silly clothes on it if you damn well want, and he can bring that friend you hate over and loudly watch sports.

Carefully treading over eggshells and sandpapering all the rough edges off of life is not the answer. Neither is trying to pin down love so it can't slip away in the night.
posted by meepmeow at 9:23 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Send it.

Love is messy.

Everyone is going to have an opinion, including me.

My basic 2 mantras is "Keep the channels of communications open. Keep the playing field clear"

You are both bringing the best out of each other no matter how you do it. To me, it's evident in your post.

Even if your intention and his responses are what everyone above describes them to be communication has happened and something will either be worked through and/or learned.

Your relationship as lovers (if you stay together) or friends (if you grow apart) will have deepened.
posted by goalyeehah at 10:00 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

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