Originally created 02/11/99

True love letters more an art form than a form letter



BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Nicole Urdang's suitor poured his heart through his pen onto every inch of the paper. He wrote not one page but 12. And not one string of words, but two, filling each lined space, so great was his devotion.

Ms. Urdang read and read. And read and read and read and read.

"It was so annoying. There are no words to say how annoying," she recalls.

Ouch.

Had the suitor known. Everlasting love is one thing; a never-ending love letter is quite another. Two pages max is the rule.

Oh yes, ye smitten ones. There are rules.

Ms. Urdang, a psychotherapist who navigates couples through rough relationship waters, shared love letter-writing guidelines -- just in time for Valentine's Day -- at a seminar offered through Just Buffalo Literary Center.

A full class of eight -- six men and two women -- signed on for the three-hour tutorial in what, in this age of e-mail, may be a dying art. Will there ever be more like Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnets to her husband: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways ..."? Or Theodore Roosevelt's missives to Alice: "Oh, my sweetest true love, pray for nothing but that I may be worthy of you"?

Ms. Urdang, also a poet, hopes so. Love letters, handwritten and signed pledges of passion, can infuse existing relationships with romance and excitement. "And if you're trying to woo someone, there's nothing as delightful as getting a love letter," she says.

Provided it's not 12 tiny-print pages.

There are other don'ts, Ms. Urdang tells her class, one of them a musician hoping to learn to write better ballads. She reads from Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point in which Everard Webley writes to Elinor of his unrequited love:

"I warn you: one of these days I'll try the good old methods. I'll do a slight Rape of the Sabines and then where will your ineffable, remote superiority be? How I hate you really for compelling me to love you so much! ... And you not here to receive the punishment you deserve!"

Not a sterling example, Ms. Urdang cautions, "but it's too fetching in its badness not to mention." (And one student observes: "Write that today and you'd be charged with harassment.")

Better, Ms. Urdang says, is to sound a little vulnerable. Let your intended know you're open to being rejected. But not too vulnerable: "There's nothing more unappealing than someone approaching you in a sniveling way."

She also recommends that writers be honest, accurate and specific.

"It is really an incredible dance to achieve all of this together," she admits, and offers this final tip:

"People who think you can overuse the word `love,' are crazy. You can never overuse positive words."

Love letter tips

Here are some tips for writing a love letter from poet Nicole Urdang:

Tune into your feelings. Are you missing her? Craving him? Thinking about the future together? "If you take the time to examine what you really feel about the person, you'll probably have the words."

Use humor. "Someone who makes you laugh is someone whose company you want."

Be accurate. "If they have blue eyes and you sing the praises of their brown eyes, you're not going to get the points."

Show you were listening by mentioning a favorite movie or song.

Write, don't type, especially when signing your name.

Don't rush.

Don't overdo it. "If it sounds like too much to you, it probably is," Ms. Urdang says.

Don't use disclaimers like "You probably don't know me but ... ." You don't want to start out dissing yourself. "Who's going to be attracted to someone who's insecure?"