In 1846, poet Elizabeth Barrett wrote to Robert Browning, her future husband: "Was ever any in the world, in any possible world, so perfectly good and dear to another as you are to me!" It was just one line from one of more than 500 letters exchanged over 20 months' time, chronicling the friendship and courtship of two great British writers.
The letters are unique in their volume and passion. Separated by her health and a possessive father, they mourn the time spent apart in language that shows, so sincerely, how desperate they were to be together. Thankfully, the world has their correspondence. Another great love story was not lost to oblivion.
We are not recording our love stories in the same way. We do not write letters in the 21st century, and based on what we see in the media and from celebrities, I think a lot of us are cynical about love. Although we may see flashes of love stories in feature articles or two-minute spots, evidence like the Browning letters is rare. Will we have a great love story of our age? Yes, but it won't be recorded "in the moment," and that, I think, is a tremendous loss.
I feel a bit of solidarity with the Brownings and their desperation to be together. I do live in the same house with my husband, which is fortunate, but sometimes all I see of him is a sleepy two minutes in the morning before I leave and a sleepy two minutes at night when he gets home. Most days, I can barely stand to be away from him. He knows that, but I never write it down.
Somehow I feel that our letters detailing daily life would be decidedly less romantic and more functional than the eloquent Browning letters, but maybe, in the interest of history and spreading love to a world that needs it, I should try.
"Dearest -- We have a laundry situation again. I fear that the load in the washer has been there for three days, and the children are all starting to look like they dressed themselves. I hope you were not attached to that Ming Tsai cookbook, as it is now in 30 pieces, some of which are thoughtfully decorated with crayons. I have come to accept that we must abandon the "couch is not a jungle gym" argument. No amount of time-outs have been effective, and to be truthful, I wish a little bit that I could jump on the couch, too. I missed you today, partly because I had to retrieve the thrown macaroni and cheese from under the table all by myself, and partly because I just miss your steady presence and your slightly inappropriate jokes. The baby is kicking as I write this; perhaps he or she misses you already, too. I feel lonely when you are gone, and look forward, all week, to those four hours together as a family on Monday evenings."
Chef Matt and I do not do date nights but once every three months or so, and a weekend away is about as likely as you would expect. We do spend 20 minutes alone together on Friday mornings, eating muffins in my work cafe, catching up on the week before he has to be at the restaurant. And that is what has come to work for us; a sliver of a day that always leaves me feeling happy but a little sad to see him walk away.
The Brownings did what they had to do to maintain contact during a painful separation, and the world is better off for their hundreds of pages of declared love. We also do what we have to do, and that has developed into a Friday-morning reconnect that is neither especially private or especially romantic. But that 20 minutes is as important to us as a weekend trip or weekly dinner out might be to another couple: this is the way that we keep in touch.
I do not know that ours is one of the "great love stories," and maybe people today do not have the patience or interest to read pages of letters that I could write, lamenting our separation, but I want our children to know that their parents wanted to be together, though they rarely see us so. Maybe a note here and there would not be a bad idea. Even if no one ever sees them but our family, I would feel better knowing that our story would have been recorded at one time, even when we have long passed from this Earth.
"But to the end, the very end .. I am yours." Robert Browning, 1846.