Generation X doesn't have many claims to significance. But, if pressed someday, I will say with confidence to my kids "my generation was the very last one to conduct a relationship through the mail."
It's a unique thing, a long distance love affair managed through envelopes, stamps, ink and paper.
There's the long wait for something to arrive in your mailbox. There's the initial disappointment when said letter is only one page, two pages, maybe a stack of pictures and not many words. (No matter how long, it is never long enough.) There is the breathless devouring of the contents, searching for magic phrases and inspired ideas that will remind you of why you're so crazy about this person. You hunt for the ambiguous phrase, the ones that will stay with you for days and days as you wonder 'did he mean that?' "if he meant this, then surely he meant to imply that?!"
There may even be a turn of phrase that confuses you - sends you down a rabbit hole of doubt, confusion, misunderstanding.
But here's the thing: the only resolution is your letter in return.
You might have stewed for days, about this little phrase. You might have obsessed long into the night over what the words meant, specifically. You have turned it into a proposal, a rejection, or a double entendre, just depending on the hour of day.
But when you write back, you have to play it cool. You have to keep all options open, whilst trying to make your meaning clear between the flowing lines of cursive. You play with words, you offer several scenarios, without committing to any of them, all the while trying to craft a letter to triumph all letters - the one that will get the true meaning out, the one that will be the ultimate love letter.
With each successive missive, you do the same thing. Over and over - until the letters get gradually shorter as you get closer to meeting in the airport, the train station, the bus depot.
There is an enforced delay, between dropping the letter into the red postbox adorned with Air Mail stickers and a variety of stamps and the m.a.n.y. days whilst you wait for response. The delay in which you wonder if you made yourself clear. In which you wonder if he'll answer the Big Question that you'd tossed in there so casually.
It's nothing less than Art, this long-distance relationship. And it's an art that my kids will never know. When their time comes, when they meet a heart-breakingly gorgeous Scandinavian who approaches English in a whole new way, they will have Skype, text, email, instant messaging.
Actually, who am I kidding? By the time they're doing this, Skype will seem as antiquated as the rotary phone. My kids will never be forced to imagine what might be going on in a continent 6000 miles away, will never be obliged to craft a whole Parallel Theory of Post Feminist Romance from the book Grapes of Wrath in an effort to not be obvious, will never be forced to wait for days and weeks to find out if you bared your soul to the right person.
Those relationships will always miss something that mine had. Has. The alchemy of paper, words, and distance: the stuff that romance is made of.