I am Lara Jean. Well, at least, I approach romance the same way she does. If you keep up with your Netflix teen rom coms, you know I’m referring to the title character in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and by “approach romance,” you know I’m referring to her habit of writing passionate, torch-burning love notes to the objects of her affection and then shoving them away so they will never be seen. If you knew none of this, you know it now and you are welcome.
Like Lara Jean, I grew up having crushes that were unrequited, intense, and left me in a vacuum feeling both awe-inspired by the power of romantic love and aggressively confused, cowering in my prepubescent shell. So, I would write it out. My first letter was written to a tow-headed fifth grader named *Danny. I was a fifth grader also, I should make that clear before this essay is flagged and I am banned from the site. He was “going out” with one of the popular girls in my class, and one day I decided he should “go out” with me instead. Keep in mind that I had no idea what “going out” was, where we were going, or why we were going there. I just knew people were having an experience that I wasn’t and I wanted in. So, I asked his girlfriend for permission to let him know of my feelings because I was and still am an idiot, and then I wrote him a three-page letter letting him know he’d set my 10-year-old heart aflame. He shoved the letter in the back of his desk where it was found months later by a teacher who then read it aloud to the class. They almost had to take me to jail after I tried to kill him at recess. Where’s my movie, Netflix?
I tabled my letters for a few years after that, choosing instead to burn in vain. This changed one May in my early twenties, when I got back in contact with a teenage crush that I had been thinking about for years. Fearing that the complexity of my affection would just be swept under a rug, I sent the longest, most detailed myspace message ever concocted. This also did not end well. In fact, I am probably the reason the site shut down and users fled from it in droves. News travels fast, news of embarrassing heartbreaks that start off with a myspace message, and end with me hiding in the closet from the girlfriend of a high school crush on Thanksgiving, travels faster.
See, where Lara Jean and I differ is the resolution of these letter writing escapades. Although we were both minorities that came from families with complicated dynamics, and we both burned internally for white boys who barely remembered meeting us, I never had that reckoning. The one where the guy who has the “in” and all the fun experiences is forced to turn his gaze over to you and in doing so provide you with social escapades, enlightenment, and true love.
Instead, my letter writing labeled me “weird”, my emotions were “too intense for a ten-year-old” and they set a pattern that I still adhere to up to this day; you may let the object of your affection know what you are feeling, but accept that this will be the end. Therefore, only write him, when you are ready to say goodbye to any other possibility and holding in what you feel, feels like a death.
If you feel that sounds dramatic, you are correct. “Why do you have to say anything at all?” you may ask. “Why not just let it go girl?” Well, three things: first, I was born on March 6. The same day as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, two authors born centuries apart but famous for the same thing, their treatises and poems, and novelizations about love. All of the suffering, and glory, the agony and ecstasy, those two wrote about it all. So, it’s basically my birthright to be dramatic AF when it comes to this sort of thing. Second thing, I’m a teacher by trade, and a student of life, I believe all people need and deserve either a lesson or an explanation when something is over, and I am happy to learn and teach in the form of a long message at the end of our affair. And third, because I want to.
So, I still write letters now, some I send, some I don’t. I send them as emails or very long text messages because I can be the worst. My friends and I jokingly call them my “dissertations” and it’s always a dramatic reveal when I announce I have been FORCED to write another one. But, I write them when I feel a connection has been cut too short, by either myself or the other party. I write them when a door has been closed, or a conversation has been denied, and I have instead been expected to just “get over it”. I write them because I feel in today’s rent-a-swipe dating culture, where everyone wants to keep things so “casual” they forget that forming deep connections is a way to survive, they are a reminder that “something has happened here”. They are my mirrors to the emotional truth of the situation despite the physical outcome, and I want to share that mirror with those involved in an effort to not be so simply forgotten or to so simply forget. They are my way of processing what has transpired, and of saying goodbye. They are my “ghosting” antidote and my therapy. They can be romantic, they can be vengeful, they can be filled with hope or with anger. But mostly, like our “All the boys..” heroine, I write them to understand how I’m feeling, and also so that that feeling was not in vain.
And, even though none of my letters have ever ended up with me blissfully partnered up, I will continue to write them. Perhaps, like our beloved Lara Jean, one day I too will receive a box filled with notes that were written to me and not by me? Until then, a girl can dream…and send her letters, I mean…her dissertations.