“I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life
depends upon self-love and self-respect.”
June Jordan 

“I want you to write yourself a love letter,” the instructor cooed. “Close your eyes and see yourself as the most glorious person in the world. You are the ultimate beloved. Now open your eyes and write.”

I shifted in the wooden chair. I had signed up for a two-hour class in ‘Happiness,’ and I felt bombarded by positive pushiness, arch affirmations and bliss bombs. Already I had dutifully trooped into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and assured myself that I was beautiful. I tried not to notice that pimple lurking on my nose, the wrinkles wandering from my eyes, or the gorgeous blonde next to me, whispering ardently [and truthfully] to herself, “You are so beautiful.”

“You’re not writing,” the teacher scolded. I sighed and rummaged in my purse for scrap paper. On the back of a grocery store receipt, I wrote:

“Dear Deborah,
You need more time alone.
Why are you constantly signing
up for self-help classes? Get a grip.
Yours, D.”

I put down my pen and looked at my watch. Only 56 more minutes of Happiness.

A yearning for that ultimate love letter

Once home, I reached into the mailbox, pulled out a clump of white envelopes and thought: Wouldn’t it be great if one of these envelopes held a real love letter—from an inconsolable former lover, a secret admirer or a contrite ex-husband?

The mail was full of passions, pleadings and promises.

A credit card company assured me that charging with them meant recharging the world. A long distance carrier swore if I would ‘go the distance’ with them I would save money. A book club promised I could turn over a new leaf if I would just turn into one of their subscribers.

There was no piece of paper that hinted at the intriguing tint of my eyes or the vibrant colour of my hair, no mention of the musicality of my voice or the tenderness of my touch. The more I thought about it, the more appealing a love letter seemed. I brewed a cup of tea, sat at the kitchen table and mentally surveyed the terrain: my partner might fax me a loving quote, e-mail me a fond memo or leave me a sexy voice mail. But I knew no man who would write me a love letter.

So I decided to write one to myself.

A love letter to myself

First, I put on some Johnny Mathis music, dribbled the perfume Obsession on my neck and lit the only candle I could find: a thin green birthday candle, which I wedged into a piece of seven-grain bread.

Then I closed my eyes, hummed along with “Chances Are” and tried to remember the things I loved about myself. I felt as if I were wearing high heels I could barely walk in.

What were the words my high school hero used in his effusive love letter, written after our first kiss? “You are the most real girl I know.” Or the note my college crush had penned: “You are the only girl I will ever love.” I wonder if he later repeated the promise to each of his three wives.

“Say whatever comes out,” I encouraged myself, like the teacher had urged. I scribbled a few lines on the back of an old envelope, then decided, just this once, I would use some of the beautiful seashell-coloured stationery I had bought for some mythical beloved. My hand was sweaty as I picked up my favourite pen. I wrote,

“Dear Deborah,
I admire the way you help other people.
I know how hard you try and how much you worry about
being good enough. Deborah, you are a good person.
Yours, D.”

I read the letter and frowned. It sounded like the Boy Scout Pledge meets Co-Dependents Anonymous. Surely, there was a Lady Godiva, an Anna Karenina, an Anais Nin somewhere inside me.

I am better than any car

I unearthed some magenta nail polish and shined up my fingernails. I pouted my mouth into BlissBerry Crimson lipstick. I poised my pen over the paper and my mind went blank. So I sat there until Johnny Mathis ran out of songs.

Then I called a former boyfriend, who I knew was between lovers. “What did we used to fight about?” I asked him, after I had inquired about the health and wellbeing of his prized vintage MG.

“You wanted more attention. I wasn’t romantic or punctual enough for you. There was some other stuff, but I’ve forgotten. Did I tell you I painted her forest green? You should see her in starlight.”

I had definitely seen her in starlight way too many times.

I hung up and wrote,

“Dear Deborah,
You are better than any car.
You are romantic and
always show up on time.
I can take you anywhere
and never have any
problems parking you.”

Now I knew why the bookstores sold hardback collections of the world’s great love letters. If they were all this difficult to pen, there couldn’t be very many of them. I paced the room, determined to write at least a postcard’s worth of love.

“Dear Deborah,
You have a great sense of humour. You never give
up and you are about as cute, smart and creative as
you are ever going to be. Enjoy every amazing
moment, you succulent creature. Love, Me.”

Ahh, this was more romantic. I felt a flutter of excitement as I reread that letter. I remembered my vow to be in love with life and enjoy every day.

I have a box where I save wonderful things people have written to me. I put my love letter in it. I flopped on the sofa, feeling glamorous and wanted. Oh sure, I knew a day would come, possibly even tomorrow, when the afterglow of the love letter would diminish, when I couldn’t think of what was right in my life. Then I would reach into my box, and along with notes from lovers, friends and family, I would find the seashell paper and the words from the toughest, strictest, most exacting person I know. I would find that incredible challenge: “Love Me.”

Adapted with permission from Life Lessons for Women, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen; published by Jaico

This excerpt originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing
Deborah Shouse
Deborah Shouse is a writer, speaker, editor, and creativity catalyst. She has been featured in many anthologies, including more than 48 Chicken Soup books. She also writes a weekly column on love for the Kansas City Star.