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Why The World Still Needs Love Letters - And Not Just On Valentine's Day

Has technology made love letters obsolete? Not quite. Old-fashioned epistles take time to write and send. But in these days of nearly instantaneous communication, that “delightful delay” – and the thought that goes into it – may be just the thing to set h

A street artist's adaptation of a 'love letter box' in Paris (Daquella manera)
A street artist's adaptation of a "love letter box" in Paris (Daquella manera)
Mélina Gazsi

PARIS -- On March 7, 1833, a young woman received a note from a man she had met a few months before: "I love you, my poor angel, you know it well, and yet you want me to write it. But you are right: One has to love, and then one has to say it, and then write it ... "The young woman in question was Juliette Drouet. The man who wrote the letter was Victor Hugo, who would go on to shower his mistress, a young French actress, with hundreds of such epistles.

Anne-Sophie Moutier, 23, is not yet that prolific a writer. But since this past November, when her boyfriend first went off to military school, she too has discovered the joys of "letter" writing. Granted, many of her correspondences involve e-mails and text messages. Not all, however. Anne-Sophie and her boyfriend sometimes write real, handwritten letters. The old-fashioned kind. "Nothing can replace a love letter," she says. "The phone is not enough and when you write, you can say things that may sound a little cheesy when said aloud."

Is Anne-Sophie a big romantic? Well, she's in love, at any rate. As is her fiancé. Before leaving for his training camp, he slips one of Anne-Sophie's letters underneath his shirt, "close to his heart." Are they being too lovey-dovey? Is their candor bordering on naiveté? Not at all. According to Philippe Brenot, a psychiatrist and president of the International Observatory of Couples, love letters are part of the romantic discourse and are "of considerable importance."

"Love letters are the place where confidences are made," he says. "They remain a powerful means of expressing one's feelings and one's desire – of declaring one's love, breathing life into it at the beginning of a relationship, and even allowing to rekindle the flame when love seems to be waning."

"With the telephone and with the arrival of new technologies, love letters almost disappeared," Brenot adds. "But actually, they've become unique, because time adds value. The time you take to write a letter, the time it takes for it to reach its recipient, and the time the latter takes to read it." It's hard to argue with the fact too that a handwritten letter, all alone in a mailbox full of flyers and bills, has a certain cachet.

"A delightful delay"

Are love letters still pertinent in this modern era, when sexual relations are no longer so taboo and elusive and when hardly anyone courts anymore? "More than ever!" says Roger Schembri, a French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who says love letters provide a "delightful delay."

"It's always been easier to write down feelings than to say them aloud. Especially nowadays, at a time when people find it easier to say ‘I want to have sex with you" than ‘I love you,"" he says. Love letters, Roger Schembri goes on to say, "deliver a fragment of a dream we all want to believe in."

It would seem, in other words, that the new means of communication haven't killed off love letters after all. For Joëlle-Andrée Deniot, a sociology professor at the University of Nantes, "Internet, Facebook and Twitter have rather encouraged letters'. And the youth, although addicted to all things virtual, is no exception to the rule. Young people express their feelings using all media, from paper to parchment, from Post-it notes to postcards, via text messages and e-mails. Their creativity knows no bounds.

The letter we receive, the one that bears the signature of our beloved, is as sensual and carnal as the expression of desire itself. Writing is like an extension of oneself. "It's like a caress, like a reassuring kiss," says Abiwen Josiane, 48.

Sometimes the person we are writing to is far away, or is leaving us for good. In those cases the act of writing can be a way to escape pain and sorrow, or a way to help us better understand our own feelings, to really discover what it is that's turning us upside down. "When I realized I would never see her again, I decided to write her the most beautiful love letter ever," says Jérémie Franc de Ferriere, 27.

A love letter definitely contains this fragment of dream we're all looking for, to protect us from the world's hardships and from our own turbulent times. At the same time it can give meaning to our sexuality, helping sort out that complicated but exciting rush of pleasure and feelings.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo – Daquella manera

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How WeChat Is Helping Bhutan's Disappearing Languages Find A New Voice

Phd candidate Tashi Dema, from the University of New England, discusses how social media apps, particularly WeChat, are helping to preserve local Bhutanese languages without a written alphabet. Dema argues that preservation of these languages has far-reaching benefits for the small Himalayan country's rich culture and tradition.

A monk in red performing while a sillouhet of a monk is being illuminated by their phone.

Monk performing while a sillouheted monk is on their phone

Source: Caterina Sanders/Unsplash
Tashi Dema

THIMPHU — Dechen, 40, grew up in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Her native language was Mangdip, also known as Nyenkha, as her parents are originally from central Bhutan. She went to schools in the city, where the curriculum was predominantly taught in Dzongkha, the national language, and English.

In Dechen’s house, everyone spoke Dzongkha. She only spoke her mother tongue when she had guests from her village, who could not understand Dzongkha and during her occasional visits to her village nestled in the mountains. Her mother tongue knowledge was limited.

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However, things have now changed.

With 90% of Bhutanese people using social media and social media penetrating all remotes areas in Bhutan, Dechen’s relatives in remote villages are connected on WeChat.

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