PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — If you’re desperate to find a date by Valentine’s Day, you may have considered endlessly swiping through Tinder, Bumble or Hinge to find Mr. or Mrs. Right — or Mr. or Mrs. Right-Now.
Those dating apps have become the new normal for singles in the 21st century, but once upon a time, love letters were a prime form of communication for those pursuing budding relationships. One couple from Camas, Wash., has hundreds — if not thousands — of those letters from their decades-long romance that prove love letters just might be the key to a long-lasting relationship.
In 1983, Kelly Grall spotted Chuck Grall at a Chicago neighborhood swimming pool when she was 15 years old and he was 19 years old. According to Kelly, she joined the swimming team the next morning just because her crush Chuck was coaching, but he didn’t show any interest.
Four years later, the two crossed paths again while he was on leave from the Navy.
“For me, it was like my dream come true,” Kelly said. “[At] 15, I was following him around the swimming pool. So I remember that night, putting on lipstick in the car and saying ‘Oh, I’m gonna make him regret never taking me out before.’”
After getting reconnected, she and Chuck had a long-distance relationship for about two years while he was attached to his first submarine in Norfolk, Va. During that time, the couple was getting to know each other through letters.
“That was difficult,” Chuck said. “I would go out to sea, so when I pulled in, there would be 30 or 40 letters in a stack getting handed to me… Some of the messages would be, ‘I really miss you’ and all this sappy relationship stuff.”
The Gralls agree that other letters were more mundane, where they discussed the pizza Chuck ate on the submarine or the french fries Kelly bought from Wienerschnitzel. But no matter how mundane the letters were, the couple still knew they wanted to commit to each other.
In 1989, Chuck proposed to Kelly on the top floor of Chicago’s Sears Tower — which is also where they shared their first kiss on their first date.
“What was so funny is when we got back on the elevator to go down… Chuck faced everyone [and was] like, ‘I just got engaged’ and was holding up my hand, showing the ring to people,” Kelly remembered. “It was really cute.”
The two officially got married just 10 months later in May of 1990.
In one of Chuck’s old letters before tying the knot, he drew a stick-figure family with one house, two parents and three children. And now after 33 years of marriage, the couple has two adult children, one cat and a home in Camas that they bought 20 years ago on Valentine’s Day.
Due to social media and dating apps, modern dating culture is vastly different from what the Gralls experienced in their teens and 20s — and Chuck is grateful for that. He believes that online communication could’ve made it harder for him to find his wife.
“She would have found another guy so quickly,” he said. “She worked a lot. She worked hard, and she worked a lot of hours so I had that going for me where she was kinda busy while I wasn’t around. I don’t think I would have stood a chance.”
Chuck added that written communication helped him get more in tune with his emotions, and he challenges younger generations to write their own love letters to people who they’re dating.
Along with writing love letters, he and Kelly think being best friends, having a sense of humor and letting things pass are some fundamentals for a happy and healthy relationship.
“There is no one who can make me laugh harder than he can — and he will do it at the most inappropriate times when I’m really sad or really upset — and that just kind of breaks me out of that,” Kelly said. “I think nowadays people are too quick to throw in the towel and might be too stubborn to say when they’ve made a mistake.”