It’s Valentine’s Day and I’ve returned to the love letters that were left by my parents. Last year I’d discovered their treasure trove of correspondence during the late forties when they were ‘courting.’ Mama was twenty-six and Daddy turned thirty on their wedding day– February 26, 1950. I pulled out the box filled with their letters to remember my parents and the example of true love they left as a rich inheritance.
This going back in time comes when I’ve been focused on what I want in a new relationship. Looking back on my life, I see that I was so young when I got married at twenty-three. In 1978, that wasn’t unusual for a couple. When my sons understood we were that age they said, “Why did y’all get married so young?” I thought about how different it is to approach dating when you’re sixty-five and lived a whole lot of life since you were in your twenties. At my age, you’re very aware that things aren’t always as they seem, the assumptions you made in your naiveté as an adolescent have been replaced by pragmatic realism.
Recently, I complained to a friend that it was hard to approach dating with all this knowledge from life experience. Getting to know guys now is primarily through on-line dating and feels so artificial– not unfolding over time like in the past. She recommended I read the book, Are You the One for Me?: How to Have the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted. It’s written by Barbara De Angelis, Ph.D., one of the world’s most eminent relationship and personal growth psychologists. My friend thought it was a helpful guide to what characteristics to prioritize when looking for a new life partner.
In some ways it’s hard to read the book because you see areas that you were blind to– true whether you’re newly divorced, like me, or you’ve been in a marriage for many years. I don’t think anyone I know looked at many of those areas before they married or committed to a long-term relationship.
The book’s divided into three sections: Understanding Your Love Choices, Avoiding Who’s Wrong, and Knowing Who’s Right. This past week, I was reading the Knowing Who’s Right section. In Chapter 8, “Six Qualities to Look For in a Mate” (p265), De Angelis says these qualities are the building blocks of good character in a person: Commitment to personal growth, Emotional openness, Integrity, Maturity and Responsibility, High self-esteem, Positive attitude toward life.
The quality that grabbed my attention was Emotional openness. De Angelis says (p269): “An intimate relationship is not based on sharing a home, a bed, or a bathroom. It’s based on sharing feelings. That’s why the second quality you should look for in a partner is emotional openness. This means your mate:
- Has feelings
- Knows what he is feeling
- Chooses to share those feelings with you
- Knows how to express those feelings to you
In reading Mama and Daddy’s letters, I see both of them sharing their feelings. They grew up at a time when people didn’t say “I love you” as easily as we do now. They wouldn’t have witnessed their parents expressing their love or showing affection; that wasn’t the way back then. Their parents were trying to survive the Great Depression and later, WWII.
Daddy wouldn’t have found a stack of love letters sent to his father by his mother. Daddy was always a good correspondent and it touches me how he’d saved all of Mama’s letters and they were in excellent condition– cherished and put in a safe place.
In one letter dated July 21,1948, Mama tells Daddy, “I’m over at a friend’s tonight, listening to the radio, talking, eating (by the way, will you have some of her candy?) and writing all at the same time, so you should have a lot of love from me this time, dear. Goodnight and sweet dreams,” Mary E.
I love how she brought Daddy into the room, making it seem like he was sitting beside her– showing him in her playful way that she was thinking of him. Her term of en dear ment is her way of showing him her fondness, her feelings for him.
In a letter from Daddy to Mama, he writes her on a Thursday morning, early enough to get the letter into that day’s mail. Throughout the letter, like in most others, he mentions the hard work of the farm, and since that one was dated July 15, 1948, he mentions working in tobacco and how sore he’d been from priming (or picking off the leaves) on Monday. But after all the talk of the work and weather he ends with, “Please excuse this short note. Wanted to let you know I had not forgotten you. So long ’til Sunday.” Love, Gene
Another letter was one that Mama typed on a Wednesday morning. She asked Daddy to forgiver her for all the errors because she hadn’t typed in a long time. Daddy was a perfectionist, in many ways, so I could imagine that he would have pointed that out– had she not asked for forgiveness! Mama tells about seeing family members and riding back on the bus from her hometown in Lillington to Raleigh. She’d worked out the time Daddy would arrive to see her in Raleigh on the upcoming Sunday. After that she says, referring to kisses she’s put on the bottom of the page,
“Don’t you agree with me that you will have enough love to live on until Sunday?
She signs it “Red” which must have been Daddy’s nickname for his redheaded sweetheart.
I love how she puts her lipstick kisses labeled by the day and then puts Sunday with two questions marks– another tease for Daddy and how many kisses his redhead will give him when they see each other– at last!
In all the letters I read, Mama and Daddy never fail to let the other know that they are dear, thought about, missed, and will enjoy lots of hugs and kisses once they’re finally back together. There is nothing calculated or restrained in the way they show their feelings for one another. That feels like Emotional openness.
When I wrote my first post about Mama and Daddy’s love letters last February, I ended with this wish that I still have today:
Now, I think if we do, we’ve found someone who has that quality of Emotional Openness that De Angelis wrote about and Mama and Daddy knew.