I am a writer. I tell stories about meeting handsome strangers in dimly lit bars, and chance encounters in the rain, and unlikely pairings that surprise everyone, and friends that become lovers. I see the world as a series of narratives comprised of fate and destiny and “meant to be’s,” and while this is a wonderful world for storytelling, this is not [my] reality.
I fall in love all the time, with ideas and passion and people and places, but I fall in love alone. I allow myself to soak in the hopes and expectations of possibilities that never come to fruition. I tell myself it is okay to dream and imagine, because otherwise life would be a bleak, miserable place, but then I delude myself into seeing things not as they are, but how they would be if this were a story.
But my story has been more of a series of Shakespearean tragedies, sprinkled with disappointment and frustration, and heavy with unrequited love. Over time unrequited love has developed a connotation of deep romanticism, the kind in which we picture poets writing in anguish by candlelight, or shy heroes who’s love chose someone else. We see it and we root for the grieving lover who embodies sensitivity and romance. Their love is both unconditional and tragic. We love unrequited love because it is the way we all wish to be loved.
But what about those of us for whom this is not just a story, it is real? And we are love’s victims who mourn the loss of something that never was and never will. And we do it over and over again until we become caustic cynics. It is the most pervasive form of disappointment. Funnily enough it is only romantic when the man is the unrequited lover, if it is a woman it is sad and pathetic.
But I am exhausted from this recurring narrative. Unrequited love is not romantic, it is fatiguing. How many times must I drag my heart through the mud? Feel the sting of rejection? Hope and imagine, only to be faced with the reality that it is yet again not my turn?
I don’t blame those who did not love me back, they did not break my heart, I broke my own heart. I believed in love too fiercely. In spite of rejection and skepticism and being forgotten, I still believe in love. But I don’t think that love believes in me.
[Stop reading here if you just wanted to read something sad and romantic, continue if you want to hear something positive and hopeful]
I tell this amusing story about the time I was working at a wedding, as a planner’s assistant, and was asked to pick up the rose petals that had been used as the aisle in the outdoor venue. Thousands had been scattered in what was now a dark field. I tell the story, recounting how I spent an hour in this dark field picking up a seemingly infinite collection of rose petals alone, whilst in the distance I could hear the wedding DJ announcing the new couple’s first dance. With a glint in my eye and a self- deprecating chuckle I tell everyone how I muttered the lyrics to “all by myself” to myself, and how it was the loneliest, most “single” moment of my life. Usually, that story gets a lot of laughs.
But sometimes, when life slows down, I catch my breath just long enough to see that I am still “all by myself” for the 24th year and running. I drift into a stage of self-pity and impatience, reliving the landmarks of boys whom I loved that did not love me back. I berate myself for fussing over boys and being single, it’s so unbecoming.
But how can I be asked to not dream and imagine and feel and expect? How does a heart full of optimism and possibility make me pathetic? Yes, I am often frustrated and bitter. Yes, the ache of rejection has reduced my self-esteem to a puddle of doubt and broken images of myself. But I will be alright.
If I cannot love and dream and imagine and see possibility in every stranger and city and day and experience, then I am asking myself to change who I am. I simply refuse to apologize for curiosity and hopefulness, even if it means heartbreak along the way.
Maybe someday someone will come along and make me feel as though I am easy to love, but then again maybe they will not. I don’t want to feel as though unrequited love is a long-term prognosis whose cure is the love of someone else, something outside my own control.
Unrequited love may be exhausting, but it is not a sign of a pathetic life. Rather, I am choosing to see unrequited love as a symptom of a beautiful mind, a mind who sees passion and probability with fervent ambition, where others might only sniff and walk away. The mind of an unrequited lover is a place of imagination and hope and tenderness of heart, something that this world often lacks.
We tell ourselves to get over people quickly, to ghost, to ignore, to “make him jealous,” while unrequited love tells us to have hope, to be patient, to love unconditionally, to see the best in others, and to see possibility in every encounter.
It is probably the purest kind of love. It is not a sign of weakness at all; it is the mark of a heart that refuses to give up.