Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Hell of unrequited love

Today, the 2015 edition of my least favorite holiday, I find myself between girlfriends, and pondering all the the things I dislike about love and relationships. The worst is unrequited love. As Elizabeth Shore explains, it is absolute Hell:
There’s a curious thing about unrequited love that I’ve never really understood. Why in the world is it considered so romantic? Untold poems and novels have been written about it, countless movies have made us shed sympathetic tears. But if you think about it, the admirer, the one whose heart is filled with love for another who doesn’t feel the same, is in a f**k ton of pain. Deep, intense, debilitating pain. The kind that robs you of the ability to sleep, or eat, or sometimes even breathe. Anyone who’s suffered the hell of a broken heart can sympathize. So again I wonder, why for time immemorial has unrequited love been considered romantic?
It's not noble or romantic or otherwise desirable to continue to be in love with somebody you cannot be with. In fact, it is pathetic, stupid and illogical. Part of the Hell, in fact, is exactly because it's so stupid and illogical. The object of your affection is never going to love you. And you rationally, conciously understand that, but your uncontrollable, irrational desire for them continues to claw at your brain. So why is this concept considered to be so admirable or appealing?

Perhaps the appeal is the idea of someone loving us so deeply and so completely; an all-consuming attachment to just one person. The pursuer is relentless, devoting endless time and effort toward the object of his affection. The ideal of utter devotion being directed toward us could certainly be flattering. Think about someone obsessing over little ol’ you! Except here’s the thing: for me romance is and always will be a two-way street. You love me, I love you. It’s gotta go both ways. And sure, there are obstacles and conflict and challenges along the way. If there weren’t we romance authors would have butkus to write about. Smooth sailing doesn’t make for a compelling read. But to have someone possess intense feelings of love toward someone else, and for that love to be unreturned or even shunned … well, that’s just sad.

(the physical heart does not really control one's emotions, but you get the point)
I'm reflecting upon this due to my most recent interaction with She Whom I've Fancied Since High School. I had this crazy idea that since we were both available, and since we had an otherwise close friendship, I ought to test the waters with her one more time before wading back into the larger dating pool. "Maybe her feelings towards me have changed over time," I rationalized. "Maybe the fact that I've been so loyal to her for so long will cause her to re-evaluate our relationship."

Alas, no such luck. The “no way, no how, you're nothing more than a friend to me so just stop it!” response I received back from her caused me to burn with embarrassment. I went from “well, if I’ve thought about her this strongly for this long, I should at least give it one more try” to “wow, how could I still be such an idiot, especially after all these years?!" It was a humiliation that I richly deserved, because I let these long-simmering emotions for her get the better of me. But it also left me - yeah - heartbroken.
An interesting article in the New York Times talked about the fact that the admirer in a one-way love situation isn’t the only one who suffers. Findings by researchers published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that the rejector sometimes feels as deep or even more emotional pain than the admirer. Curious, right? Apparently, after a period of initial flattery, the rejector feels bewilderment, guilt, and eventually anger at the relentless efforts of the admirer.

Hence, the frustrated tone of She Whom I've Fancied Since High School's response. She knows how I feel about her, but she will never be able to feel the same way about me and it upsets her so she wants me to quit bugging her about it. If only it were that easy, after 25 years!

I can relate, to a point, because of my most recent relationship: for whatever reason, I could not love my ex-girlfriend with the same intensity that she loved me. It's not that I didn't want to or didn't try; it's just that something didn't work: again, love is not logical. Over time, it became very stressful for me. "What is wrong with me?" I wondered. "Why can't I love her the way she loves me?" It got to the point that every time the phase "I love you" came from her mouth, I bristled with guilt and resentment. When I finally told her that I just didn't love her and it wasn't going to work out, a great weight was lifted from my shoulders, even though I know it hurt her deeply.

It's easy to rationalize myself into feeling better by saying "well, at least I gave a relationship with my ex-girlfriend an honest try, unlike She Whom I've Fancied Since High School, who won't even give me a chance." But the pain of loving yet not being loved in return is the same, as is the hopeless realization that the feelings are not something you can easily, rationally control.

So this Valentine's Day, as those couples who are happily in love with each other celebrate, let us also recognize those whose love, real and valid as it might be, is not being returned. These are people who are literally in pain, and they cannot easily make it go away. They deserve compassion and support, because they truly are in Hell.

1 comment:

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

It's tough. I've been through a few of them myself and it's excruciating. Never returned, very painful. I found at one point that just disappearing helped. Sometimes it was disappearing into a sport or work.

Other times it was not being friends for a while. It kind of sucks, but then you slowly think about it less and less and it feels much better.

It all works out in the end.