Author Elizabeth Barrett Browning and husband Robert Browning exchanged 573 love letters during their courtship and marriage. That’s 573 times the couple used the written word to declare their admiration and affection for each other.

With excerpts such as: “No man was ever before to any woman what you are to me,” and “You are too perfect, too overcomingly good and tender — dearest you are,” it’s difficult for even the most unromantic person not to get a little weak in the knees. Of course, the Brownings were well versed in the written word. I mean, writing was Elizabeth’s passion and profession after all. And you can’t forget the fact that writing letters was the standard in communicating over long distances in the mid-19th century, so the Brownings had plenty of practice. Still, it’s an impressive declaration of love.

I wouldn’t describe myself as overly romantic, but I like the idea of Valentine’s Day as a time to celebrate the connection between two people. I do feel (slightly) sorry for my guy friends who complain that Valentine’s Day is basically an annual test where passing means gifting flowers and candy and failing is, well, acting like it’s just another day. In some cases, they may be right. Either way, it can be a lot of pressure trying to please the one you love. For those who find themselves in this dilemma, I have an idea.

I don’t know about others out there, but I for one don’t want flowers or candy. Call me old fashioned, but all I want is a handwritten expression of love that leaves me misty eyed and feeling like I’m in a Jane Austen novel. I say all I want, but maybe I’m asking a lot? Not everyone can express himself or herself this way. For some, buying a Hallmark card that says what they can’t is really the best they can do. I understand that.

I’m naturally a sucker for anything written. Letter writing (in general) is a lost art that needs to be revived. Wives and sweethearts would send love letters to soldiers serving during war, not knowing if that would be the final correspondence before death separated the two. Napoleon Bonaparte continued to profess his love for his first wife Josephine in letters, even after he divorced her for not bearing him any children (maybe this isn’t such a good example).

I may upset some people out there when I suggest this, but instead of showering your significant other this Valentine’s Day with the same box of chocolate and roses, pen a love letter. Write down the reasons you love that other person. Share with them your favorite memories together. Tell them the attributes that make them special and unique. After the flowers have shriveled up and the candy has gone stale, that letter will still hold true. It will be something they can pull out and reread at their lowest points. When they miss you, they’ll read that letter and be reminded that they aren’t alone. Perhaps it will be saved and given to children or grandchildren as an account of your love story.

From one writer to another, here are some ideas to help get you started:

  1. Think about the first time you met your spouse. What emotions did you have about the initial meeting?
  2. How has he or she helped you become a better person?
  3. Draw inspiration from correspondence between famous lovers, such as the Brownings.
  4. Use a dictionary and thesaurus to help you find the right words.
  5. And using spell check wouldn’t hurt either.

Writing a love letter is never easy. It’s extremely personal and can leave you feeling vulnerable. But I promise, if your heart is in the right place, and you’re sincere, the message will have a powerful, lasting effect on the recipient.