While unrequited love can be devastating, it can also teach us

I KNOW what it feels like to be unloved. The dreaded one-sided longing which invariably leads to silent tears and painful letting-gos. I’ve tried everything I could possibly and humanly do to make him love me. But the troubadours of my life story insisted on singing songs of heartbreak and unrequited love. My playlist consisted mostly of angst-ridden Adele lovelorn songs that got me howling in the privacy of my car, with tears rolling down my cheeks.

The fact was simply this: He didn’t love me. And there was nothing I could do to change that. Even if I channelled Kathy Bates in Misery, and had him tied and trussed up in my house, it wouldn’t change the fact that he wasn’t into me. And would never be.

The quest for love makes a great story. We all love and want happy endings —where love is a mutual celebration of joy, romance and riding off into the sunsets with our soulmates in tow. But when partner in question would only want to wake up next to you in the case of an apocalypse, then the story dramatically shifts. Nevertheless, the greatest love stories are those whose themes revolve around heartbreak and unrequited love.

Unrequited love is such a large part of the human condition that it’s hardly surprising that it has become such a rich mine for the arts, particularly literature, film and music. Young Werther shot himself, Quasimodo wasted away and Cyrano de Bergerac was so noble about it.

Our lives, however, may never reach the dramatic proportions described in tales of yore and popular sad songs that we listen to, but the sting of pain is worse that no words, lyrics or film could ever hope to portray. But we’re not alone. Very few people, if they’re being honest, have not felt the glorious pain of unreturned love.

LOVE ANONYMOUS

There is no shame in wanting love. Love yields not only life’s deepest joys but also the cruellest suffering. And sometimes it’s that very passion that becomes a force opposed to reason and rationality. We don’t want to be unloved. We can’t imagine that the object of our desires would refuse to see us the same way.

Some of us spend an awful lot of time dedicating ourselves to the pursuit of romance, that when even the slightest shred of it shows up, we hope for the best and close our eyes to the glaring red flags that shout out the opposite of what we want to believe in. We’re just too caught up in the moment to realise that there is something wrong.

I remember my own story well enough. Loving him was so consuming that I scarcely existed in the real world at all. My friends warned me but when you’re so deeply in love, you become colour blind. Red flags become green flags fluttering with possibilities and over-rationalisations. If he didn’t return my calls, he was perhaps too busy. If he forgot my birthday, he’s just not the type of person to remember — after all, birthdays, schirtdays, who need them?

If he stood me up, perhaps he got run over by a truck — oh god — I have to call him! I have to make sure he’s okay!

My first serious romance and it took place entirely in my head. I imagined us as a couple, our social circles, our plans, our dreams, our eventual wedding. My love life was busy, exciting and totally imaginary.

If I’d have recognised some of the red flags, they could have given me a heads up on the impending heartbreak that I was headed for. If only I had been aware of what to look for then. If only I’d been less of a floozy and more the wiser person that I am today.

RED FLAGS

So what are the red flags? Those little warning signals that pepper a connection and show that you’re no sooner getting a Romeo than you are an opportunist who thrives in your affection and nothing more.

Instead of being love-struck optimists, it’s healthy to be aware of the signs that point to the fact that they are not in love with you. It’s simply that you’re just, well, convenient.

RED FLAGS TO WATCH FOR:

(1) They don’t open up emotionally

If they’re not emotionally invested in you, chances of them revealing their innermost hopes and fears are next to nil. No, he’s not the quintessential man with a stiff upper lip — he’s just not interested in divulging anything more to you.

(2) They’re only affectionate when they want to get physical

When you find that all the loving he doles out behind closed doors remains behind closed doors. Otherwise, he’s about as affectionate as a tiger with a toothache. It’s time to face up to the sad truth — he’s not keen on you as a person, he’s just keen to get into your pants. Enough said.

He sees you when he sees you When he only sees you because it’s convenient, stop dropping everything just to clear your schedule for him. When the dates are few and far between, it’s a sure sign that he’s keeping his options open and still scouring the market for something better.

(3) He doesn’t tell you about his whereabouts and is secretive about his life

Unless he’s working for the CIA, drop him. If he keeps you guessing about where he is or what he does, chances are he’s keeping his options open. So show him the door unless he’s James Bond and likes his martini shaken not stirred.

(4) You find yourself trying to change who you are

The funny things we do for love. We lose weight, change our styles, learn new hobbies and discard old ones — just to be loved. We try so hard to be other people and lose ourselves in the process. When you find yourself desperate to change because he doesn’t love you the way you are, it’s time to re-evaluate. Ultimately, he’s not into you — no matter how hard you try.

START ANEW

The thing is, we’ve all been through the humiliating experience of being unloved. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the experience isn’t good for our growth.

Clinical psychologist Dr Ben Michaelis says: “Unrequited love can be a helpful, even critical part of people’s journeys. The road of personal development and the creation of a healthy, reciprocal relationship is a process, which requires learning about who you are and what you need in order to be happy.”

So you’ve found yourself feeling unloved. It’s not as devastating as you might imagine it to be. Go ahead, let go, cry if you have to, listen to a lot of mournful Adele songs and eat copious amount of ice-cream. Then when you’re done, get ready to embark on another love affair — with yourself.

Demonstrate love by giving it unconditionally to yourself. And as you do, you will attract others into your life who will love you without conditions.

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