“I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; ‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.” – Tennyson
When I was seven years old I developed a crush on a waiter who served us our food each night on vacation in Jersey. He was tan with sandy colored hair and a thick 1980’s style mustache. I remember being devastated that we couldn’t be together. Little did I know, but that was the beginning of my sojourn into the territory of Unrequited Love (URL). In this blog I’ve decided to write about a deeply personal and painful struggle I (and most others) have experienced at some point in our lives.
I’ve only had two long term reciprocated love relationships in my life, but I’ve loved a total of six people. The difference? The others were instances of unrequited love. This first two instances happened in my late teens and early twenties. I thought this was normal at the time, all part of normal teen angst and growing up, but when it happened more recently in my thirties and after a painful separation and divorce, it hit me even harder and motivated me to further research the subject.
There is nothing easy about unrequited love. It hurts; the emotional pain caused by rejection is akin to physical pain. In my four cases of unrequited love, I can say I’ve never known a more difficult struggle in my life. The objects of my affection were and are all good and amazing people, each was a good friend to me. Sometimes my closest friend. They were intelligent, motivating, funny and inspiring, but none could give me what I wanted. They either couldn’t or wouldn’t; or didn’t have the capacity to.
URL is so difficult because the person never becomes “real” to you; the idealistic notion of the perfect relationship with this person continues in your head and reality never kicks in. You don’t have to deal with their toe nail clippings on the floor or the mess they make in the kitchen. And so you drown in the hurt. I thought I was deficient in some way, my self-esteem plummeted and each time I felt horrible about myself. I was a petulant child throwing a tantrum because they couldn’t get what they wanted. I could barely get out of bed in the mornings and I lost my appetite. My heart pounded with anxiety. During one particularly painful bout of unrequited love I desperately sought the help of therapists, psychics, and spiritual advisors. I began practicing yoga, mindfulness and meditation, I bought crystals and began to think I was undergoing a spiritual awakening. Yoga calmed me but ultimately the other things were of little use.
During these painful experiences I came to slowly recognize that each one had a lesson for me. You don’t meet people by accident; they say the Universe will keep sending you the same lesson until you finally get it (and apparently I’m not good at learning the lesson). These are some of the things I learned during my bouts of unrequited love:
- Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them. No it really is! I was always attracted to the moody emotionally unavailable reformed bad-boy type. And the problem with emotionally unavailable people is that they’re not ‘available’ to you or anyone else.
- You cannot change someone or make them love you. Every person on this earth has free will and agency. No matter how much you do for someone, or how much you care, you cannot change someone’s will. This is a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you feel as if you have given them everything you can. I often gave more in my cases of URL love than in my two legitimate relationships and it became exhausting.
- Take time to grieve. The love and hope you had were real. It will take time to let go of it. Distance yourself from the object of your affection as much as possible. Friendship may be possible later on.
- Learn from them. In one of my cases of URL the guy was my friend, but also an academic, with a thirst for knowledge and a never-give up attitude. He pushed me to be better academically in my studies; something I’ll always be grateful for.
- Let the experience inspire or motivate you. Take the pain you are experiencing and turn it around. While I was experiencing URL I took a poetry and creative writing workshop class. The situation inspired me and I excelled in the class.
- Look into past hurts that may be contributing to faulty attachment styles and co-dependency and take steps to heal. I know growing up without a Father most definitely contributed to this in my case.
Eventually the romantic feelings and longing fades, but the fondness remains. I think of some of these people now in an affectionate brotherly sense. I’ll always care and want the best for them. They were catalysts in my life, they taught me things and changed me for the better. Amidst the crisis of losing hope of being with them, I found out a lot about myself. Everybody is on their own path. Everyone is doing their best. It’s important to go forward with love, and to always be kind.
Shortly before my Mother’s death in 1999 she told me she had always loved Norman, that he had been the love of her life. Norman was not my Father or even anyone since my parent’s divorce. Norman was a gay gentleman my Mom had met in her early twenties at an amateur dramatics theater group. They had been friends for many years. I remember thinking and saying to her how sad I thought that was. “No”, she responded, “He was my best friend”.
If you have ever experienced unrequited love, I would be interested to hear about your situation, and ultimately how it changed you for the better.