The Romance of Message in Bottles
Although messages in bottles were first used for scientific purposes, it wasn’t long before people realized their romantic potential. Romantic messages in bottles became more common throughout the 20th century. Today, romance is the inspiration for many messages in bottles. In fact, a couple years ago, I had the pleasure of researching and writing an article for Beachcombing Magazine entitled “Love Floats,” which detailed a few real-life stories of people who found true love in a bottle.
On this page, you’ll find true stories of strangers falling in love through a message in a bottle. You’ll find stories of love that didn’t quite work out, stories of love that has stood the test of time, and stories of loved ones commemorated by a message in a bottle. I also include brief examples of romantic messages in bottles in pop culture.
The idea of finding love in a bottle calls to mind legends about bottled love potions which force one person to fall in love with another. But, of course, finding love through a message in a bottle is a much more organic experience. Amazingly, it has happened many times.
People also commonly celebrate and commemorate love in bottles they cast to sea. As with all messages in bottles, making this kind of romantic message in a bottle is like preserving a moment in time. Or as Jim Croce would say, it’s like saving “time in a bottle”. For example, when I find and open a romantic message in a bottle, I can be instantly zapped back in time to a wedding, an anniversary, and more. The love in each bottle comes out in full bloom, just as it was when the bottle was sealed. I get a similar feeling when I find a message in a bottle that commemorates lost love or a lost loved one.
Finally, the fact is that simply sending a message in a bottle at all, entrusting your innermost thoughts to a wee glass vessel sure to be tossed about and battered on the high seas, is by its very nature wistful and romantic. Sending a message in a bottle is an act of believing in the unbelievable. It’s an act of hoping for connection against all odds. In the case of sending love letters or romantic messages, it is also an act of bravery. It’s not easy to bare your soul, knowing an actual stranger could find your note (like me!)
Real Life Love in a Bottle Through The Years
Some messages in bottles begin life as romantic letters, and go nowhere. Others actually lead to romance. Some begin seeking friendship and up finding something more.
The greatest message in a bottle love stories of all time belong to two couples.
Ake, a lonely sailor, sent a message in a bottle seeking correspondence with a “beautiful, young woman”. Well, he found her! Rather, an older man in Italy found Ake’s message and delivered it to his niece Paolina as a joke. Paolina wrote back to Ake, letting him know she had his bottle. She described herself as not beautiful, but she was thrilled by his message.
Paolina included a photo of herself. Ake apparently felt that she was indeed beautiful, because they exchanged a flurry of letters and married soon after. They moved to the Swedish countryside, built a house together, raised a family, and lived happily ever after. At last check, Ake had passed away. But, Paolina still kept his message in a bottle on the mantle in their home — proof that it is possible to find true love in a bottle.
Annie Rivet, age 10, threw a message in a bottle into the English channel in 1963. Not long after, Niels Elffers, also age 10, found it washed ashore in the Netherlands where he lived. Annie was delighted to learn of her bottle’s discovery, and the two children became penpals. They first met in person when they were both 12, and got along just fine. They met again when they were both 20 and their families decided to vacation together. All the while, they continued writing letters.
In their early 20s, they discovered that they both individually had planned to do some traveling through France. Naturally, they decided to go together. The rest is history! They got to know each other better than ever on that adventure through France, and they married not long after.
Like Ake & Paolina, Niels & Annie prove that finding love in a bottle is as easy as a walk on the beach.
Many messages in bottles commemorate a love story, whether the story has ended, or is ongoing, or is… open ended.
In 2009, I found a scintillating love poem in a bottle. The poem is directed to the author’s flame. It recounts a “night of stormy passion” after they “met on an island”. The author goes on to wonder whether they will ever see each other again. In closing, the author calls the object of their affection, “pirate of my heart”. Read the whole poem here.
Adding to the romance and mystery of this message, the writing was almost entirely invisible when I found it. I could only read the poem because I found that a UV light caused the faded ink to become visible.
It’s a heartfelt, compelling, romantic message in a bottle, packed with mystery. I have tried in vain to find the author & intended recipient of this love letter in a bottle for years. Goodness knows what came of these adventurous lovebirds, and whether they ever found each other again. Their love story in a bottle may remain a mystery forever…
Ed and Carol Meyers, my message-in-a-bottle-buddies, sent a message commemorating their love in a bottle (including a piece of wedding cake, bleh!) to celebrate their first wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day 1999. I found it in 2008. I love their love story, and I hope you will too (read about Ed and Carol Meyers here). Ten years after I found their message in a bottle celebrating their first anniversary, Ed & Carol came to my own wedding!
Love in a Bottle: Pop Culture Edition
Every message in a bottle taps into the deep human need for connection. This is why it makes such a great concept with which to tell love stories in songs, books, movies, etc., whether the endings are happy or not.
Taylor Swift’s song “Message in a Bottle” expertly makes use of the sense of distance built into messages in bottles. Swift explores romantic longing, loneliness, and the frustration of long-distance love. In a sense, Swift’s song commemorates lost love in a bottle. Here’s a full analysis of Taylor Swift’s “Message in a Bottle”.
The Police song, “Message in a Bottle,” on the other hand, explores the message in a bottle as a symbol of the struggle against loneliness and anonymity in a loud world. The author of the message in this song is not looking for romantic love in a bottle. And yet, the song still derives power from the romantic notions we hold about messages in bottles. That is, this song, written by Sting, is “romantic” in the sense that is is wistful, longing, and bittersweet. Here’s a full analysis of this famous Police song.
Nicholas Sparks’s book, “Message in a Bottle,” looms large in pop culture, and well it should. This book manages to tap into several of the most common and most powerful inspirations behind messages in bottles. In fact, the bottled message at the center of the book checks every box of romantic messages in bottles. Sparks’s message:
- Celebrates / commemorates a love story (if sadly).
- Mourns the loss of that love, and of that person, literally.
- Leads to new romance.
As messages in bottles go, Nicholas Sparks’s novel is about as romantic as it gets! It has even inspired people to write their own romantic messages in bottles.
Sparks’s novel also captures the mystery of messages in bottles, the fascinating detective work that goes into solving them, and the mind-blowing possibilities that open up when the sender and finder of a bottled note meet. Neither of the main characters is actively looking for love in a bottle, but they find it anyway. This message was sent out of love (for a lost partner) and also leads to new love, and then to loss once again. The novel thus captures the “full circle” element of a message in a bottle from start to finish (they literally follow circular ocean currents). But this also serves as a metaphor for the cycles of life: find love, lose love, find love again, lose love again. That’s how it works for all of us, and that’s why this story hurts so good, to borrow a phrase.
How to Find Love in a Bottle
Every message in a bottle has the strange, magical power to give the finder more than what was put into it. This is a facet of the romantic nature of messages in bottles. A bottled letter seeking a penpal can lead to marriage; a note sent out of mere curiosity can lead to friendship; a message in a bottle sent by a deceased loved one can bring their love back into the world, and give their surviving friends and family a final chance to connect.
Sometimes I think finding love in a bottle is not rare at all. Rather, it’s finding a message in a bottle that doesn’t come from some version of love that’s rare.
How do you find love in a bottle? Believe it or not, it’s really no different from finding love any other way. And if you are a beachcomber, you already know the answer. It may not be easy, but it’s simple: You just keep looking.