|Photo by Louise Denton|
Noun. Now chiefly jocular. Plural billets-doux. Late 17th century.
[French, literally 'sweet note'.]
Who can't remember writing their first billet-doux? I was 15, and it was for a girl in my school that I had fallen madly in love with. I sat for hours in my bedroom, agonising over clumsy words and awkward sentiments, phrasing and rephrasing both my feelings for her and the reasons I suddenly needed to express them. I can remember virtually nothing of what I wrote in that letter except the final line which summed up everything I wanted to say:
"I think you're beautiful."
The following day, I set off for school, my billet-doux hidden safely in my bag and a knot the size of a bowling ball in my stomach. During lunch, I sneaked into the school office and surreptitiously slipped the nondescript envelope into her form's register. It was my plan that her form tutor would simply hand her the letter without question during afternoon registration. It was a plan that worked.
In an age of emails, text messages and social media, I can't help but think that the billet-doux is a dying art. Unlike today, when I might have sent my inamorata a text message, the communication then was not instantly received, nor could it be instantly replied to. Instead, an agonising wait ensued, during which time I knew neither her reaction nor whether it had even been received.
Of course, this all relates to a childish infatuation during my teen years. However, it's this triviality that makes the term billet-doux fitting, for although it's defined as a 'love-letter', it does rank below a love-letter both in terms of depth and artistry. That's not to disparage the value of billets-doux; their effect can be profound, even in an established relationship. Who doesn't still cherish getting a 'sweet note' from their boyfriend or girlfriend, wife or husband? Who doesn't cherish writing one? And if you haven't written a billet-doux in a while, put down your mobile phone, log out of Facebook and pick up a pen: nothing will ever compare to seeing an expression of someone's love from their own hand.
Oh, and if you're wondering what happened with my teenage inamorata, she did reply a couple of days later with a scrap of paper torn from an exercise book; those words I do remember: "Eddie: seems like you've been winding me up. Thanks a bunch." Evidently she thought I was playing a prank. Ah well.
|Someone who clearly got more billets-doux than I ever did|
Photo by Mario Leko
Can you remember your first billet-doux, written or received? Do you still write billets-doux? Are you composing one right now?
Am I wrong in fearing for this art as email and texts are a superior form of romantic communication?
Do please share and comment below.