Time is an abyss, a thousand nights deep…

At the very welcome recommendation of a friend, I reread the second “Lightness and Weight” chapter in Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being on Saturday. Kundera reminded me of the truth of a metaphor Maurice Merleau-Ponty used for how our lives are shaped by remembered and forgotten experiences as we grow older and become who we are: sedimentation. This theme was again powerfully reinforced for me this afternoon when I was helping another friend, who’s moving soon, sort through a box of long unexamined papers, cards, and photos. Topped by a layer of Coles receipts, the rest of the box was a kind of geological record of a decade or more of life. Sedimentation indeed, in the traces we choose to keep, discard and puzzle over of the people we once were, and the people we once knew.

Here’s a question my friend and I were wondering about, and we decided to ask Troppo readers for opinions. What should you do with a love letter from a decade ago from someone whose love you didn’t return? And why should you keep it or throw it away? The letter’s fate will be determined in part by your verdict.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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C.L.
2022 years ago

Well, speak for yourself! I’m not sediment, I’m schweppervescence!

I throw out letters if the woman concerned has been married since she wrote it.

There’s only one exception to this rule. And I’ll never throw her things away. Ever.

Dave
Dave
2022 years ago

It’s the love that is not returned to you that hurts the most. The emails, the notes, the text messages that pop up and remind you of the angst …

I agree with CL. Exceptions are there to be made.

How’s the internet dating, going, Mark?

Dave
Dave
2022 years ago

And, OT: where are those top 10 song poll results, Ken???

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

If your friend found it interesting this time, why not keep it, unless your friend wants to finally leave the experience behind.

But then if you keep on keeping these things, eventually some-one else will have to deal with it.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

My first instinct would be not to throw it away, but to hide it away–squirrel it away. However, that can cause problems, too. So I think I’d reflect on what I now felt about this person–if I can’t stand them, I’d dispose of it. If I feel sorry for them, I’d procrastinate on its fate and put it away for a while. If I liked them, however, I’d be torn as to what to do.
It’s not just what you feel though or what the writer might feel if they knew of the fate of their letter–it’s the ructions or problems that might be caused if a future partner discovered it.
So on balance I think I’d probably throw it away and then regret it!

liam hogan
2022 years ago

Keep it. A document’s value shouldn’t be determined by present-day, short-term considerations. Any historian or archivist would tell you the same.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Liam’s got a point. What if she becomes Australia’s first woman Liberal PM?(heh! heh!) OTOH she might become the first Labor one and the letter falls into the wrong hands(gulp!) Decisions decisions!

Zoe
Zoe
2022 years ago

It would depend on the feelings you had for the person, and how well they wrote.

I have every letter my first husband wrote to me in the years between our meeting as exchange students and him moving to Australia to be with me, and all the letters he wrote me while we were together.

First cut is the deepest, anyone?

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Just to clarify the context – it’s my friend’s letter, and she never went out with the person who wrote it to her.

meless
meless
2022 years ago

Unless it is causing you emotional distress, I say keep it. I view everything I think to throw out as future history… How interesting it would be to find a love letter written to my great, great grandmother in 1880? Another point to consider is the content, then again who cares if you’ve passed on anyway???

liam hogan
2022 years ago

observa, I’m not sure what kind of strange existence you have over in your world, but if the first thing that comes into your head when discussing a love letter is the Prime Ministership… I kind of feel sorry for you.

boynton
2022 years ago

Wearing my (amateur) archivist’s glove and my romantic’s funny hat I say keep it.

The letter’s meaning has only partly been determined.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“How’s the internet dating, going, Mark?”

Good, Dave, but as I mentioned previously, I’m not going to blog on it for obvious reasons of privacy.

Amanda
2022 years ago

I’m with melees. Unless it is painful, I would keep it because that’s the easier decision to reverse. I would keep it because actual artifacts can prompt and shape our memory, the memory and feeling can grow and change. But with “just” the memory itself, it either fades all together or solidifies. That’s how it works for me anyway.

That and I am a terrible hoarder.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Calm down Liam. I was only making the point that if a document became more important to the author over time, the evidentiary dilemma might still remain the same for the famous as for the ordinary. In that sense I assumed PM is about as famous(or infamous?) as you could get in Oz and perhaps given the plethora of kiss and tell stories about the rich and famous these days, the point might have some poignancy. Now Mark is a political animal and can probably accomodate the tease here. That said I don’t feel he’s a kiss and tell man any more than I am.

Interestingly enough I heard on the news tonight that in SA someone found an old letter in a house that was the confession to a murder some 120 yrs ago and excavation of the grave site mentioned (purported to be at the back of a pub) has turned up one bone, which is to be tested for human remains.

Nic White
2022 years ago

I would keep it, but that is because I keep almost everything of importance, especially the written word. You never know when it will come up, and you will wish you still had it, or you will get the urge to be nostalgic. It happens regularly for me.

I agree with Liam and Amanda.

Naomi
Naomi
2022 years ago

I would keep it. The historian in me would ensure that. But also because it’s nice to think about sliding doors, and if the course of true love turns sour, it’s nice to reflect back on might have beens. Storing up an ego boost for a rainy day? Besides, keeping the letter is a gesture of respect for the author, even if they didn’t get a reply at the time.

On 2BL recently they had a call in about lost loves returning. One woman said she had loved someone ardently who had literally not known she was alive, but 25 years later they met up and will soon marry. You just never know what’s around the corner.