A friend of mine recently broke up with a girl he thought he loved. Their relationship was the primary element of his life for nine months, and now that it’s ended, he’s found himself, as he told me, back in his apartment with his tail between his legs asking for support during this break-up from the friends from whom he’s been absent from for several months. He’s the type of person who throws himself 110% into a relationship, however, this style has ended up hurting him over and over again. This isn’t an uncommon story, and the conversation I had with him reminded me of an excerpt from Carson McCullers’ The Ballad of the Sad Café in which she explains love in terms of either being the lover or the beloved.
According to McCullers, we are either one or the other. Very rarely are we lucky enough to be both. In any relationship, especially in the beginning, there is a pursuer and a pursuant. Ideally, the relationship will even out over time and the two participants will equally love each other, but I’ve noticed that more often than not, there is a lover and the beloved. In the case of my friend, he was definitely the lover. He invested an immense amount of time, emotion and devotion to a person who in the end gave away that effort without much thought at all, and this type of relationship is dangerous for both parties.
Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being be loved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.
Carson McCullers, The Ballad of the Sad Café
I don’t believe that my friend’s ex-girlfriend hated him for loving her, and I believe she loved him in return for many months, but I have to wonder what her motives were for throwing away such a devoted love so easily. The idea of being loved by another as “intolerable” is a strange thought to me because everyone wants to be loved, right? Or do we really all want to be the lover?
One of the most terrifying aspects of loving someone is not having that love reciprocated. The flip side of this can be, though, receiving a suffocating amount of love in return, which can be equally terrifying. Therefore, it seems safer to constantly be the lover. By assuming that role, we can assure that we have the power in the relationship to reveal as much or as little emotion toward the beloved as we want. This doesn’t go without the potential consequence of pain, as McCullers points out, but it does put us in the so-called driver’s seat.
However, to only be the lover seems to be a dead-end to me. As I mentioned, the ideal would be to be both equally loved and love, but how do we find the balance? Are relationships ever really that equal and fair, or are we living in constant fear of being too much of one or the other?
I don’t think it’s all as cut and dry as being one or the other all the time or not at all. I recognize that at various times during a relationship we might switch roles and I believe our love for others can vary in intensity from one day to another, but can our basic role as the lover or the beloved predict the success of our relationships?