Breakups, makeups, romance. Not necessarily the correct order when examining one particular relationship, but look at those words again.
In that order.
During a seminar in my second year of studies, Chaucer’s ‘The Franklin’s Tale’ from The Canterbury Tales was the text of the day. For those of you yet to come across it, there’s a key theme of sacrificing status for love. There is a raw ache in the gut of these characters for the person they love to, in one case, be safe; in another case, love them back. Unrequited love. Our lecturer, I do believe, posed the question ‘has anybody here experienced unrequited love yet?’ Whether or not she was nosy, or innocently curious, or reaching out to the feelings within us to empathize with one of the characters in an attempt to explain the logistics of how Chaucer had this character behave — who knows. What’s more, me being me, I was too busy on my Dictionary App (researching the definition of the word extrapolate which the lecturer had used moments earlier) to notice if anybody actually raised their arms. I mean, sure, we all use the L word at some point, don’t we? The majority of people in that room were nineteen, perhaps twenty years of age. With social networking thrown into the mix, relationships have changed. Asking (in my case) a girl, ‘will you go out with me?’ or ‘do you fancy going for a drink sometime?’ eased up tenfold in one way. Staring a girl in the face, and seeing the lines of guilt harden as she searches for the gentlest words of rejection she knows, became less preterition and more an act of sheer bravery. Why was this — well, because you could send her a text, email or social networking missive. If she said no, the computer screen might transform into a great sneer of derision, but there was no worrying moment where you turn around and hope that, as you walk away, crestfallen, you don’t trip over the curb and make matters worse for yourself.
Fancying a person is one thing. Seeing their beauty through your eyes. Eyes nobody else sees that person through. You might be one of ten people to think a person’s hair, or neckline, or legs (or any other feature) is particularly outstanding; however, you might believe this feature to be outstanding for a wholly different reason. What does each of us seek in a person? A girl with bright eyes and a cute nose; a man with a sharp jawline and charismatic sense of humour? Do people find what they are looking for and, if so, are they satisfied?
I wonder, when a person’s quest for their perfect other half reaches its end, what then? Elope in solitude only to flee towards tranquillity with this prize, hiding everything you love about this person from the rest of the world? Is this a form of success? When does the phrase ‘beauty in the eye of the beholder’ transmute into adoration? When does adoration become so powerful that we express it to this person? They blush, smile, wave away compliments with a fugacious gesture. They see in you their own form of love. They are willing to do anything for you, unmindful of the jealousy you harbour towards yourself, about your own lover. When does love become possession?
Understanding what it means to love somebody while allowing he or she to A. love you back, and B. make you a welcome addition to their life, rather than feel the need to centre everything around this newfound romance, I believe is wholly another. We all throw the word out there. We can, as one relationship diminishes, fades and makes us feel more useless than we’ve ever been (even than after the last relationship), often forget that another one is around the metaphorical (or literal) corner, waiting to bump heads with us in the supermarket and elicit pretend feelings of guilt and humour mixed together (let’s face it, until eye contact, both people just want the other person to go away and take their heavy, hollow skull as far away as possible). The relationships might start slowly. Both sides unsure of the opposition’s battle plans. Then deployment lines are slowly drawn, opening moves made. The first invite to a see a film or go for dinner; the first time you receive a late night text, shocked and oh-so exhilarated by this symbolic promulgation of he or she thinking about you, yes you, at such a later hour (do we really need Freud to step in at this point? I think not…). Suddenly, the battle is fully-fledged. Skirmishes of lust. Exchanges of harsh breath. Skin and bone at the edge of the knife blade. Blood pumping. The world outside means nothing. Engagements (…) thicken. Flanks are pressed. Seething masses of emotion heaving against one another until you become a single entity, driven by passion, regulated by understanding.
That entity is love. Isn’t it?
A new relationship brings new challenges. A new person to understand the desires of, and to desire their understanding in return. This, I suppose, would be requited love, after a fashion. Fickle creatures that we are, human beings have a tendency to allow negativity to fill us up, head to toe. When we experience pain, loss, despair, we are the epitome of self-pity. This is natural. As a race, humans have survived with an inherent theory that Charles Darwin made a point of dressing rather indelicately (that said, I suppose survival of the fittest sounds better than if you’re shit you die). When the pain is our own, it burns, sears, and brands us. Our heart is scarred after each relationship. Expectations that are disappointed; considerations never realized; feelings — on both sides — that limp away, stunned, licking their wounds, feeling nought for the other. If this were any different, it would be unnatural. What is our purpose — to survive as long as it takes to reproduce? How do we reproduce? With another human being. This is all speculation, conjecture on my part.
Yet sometimes, these feelings are never reciprocated. Unrequited love. Loving somebody who never loves you back. A dinner rejection from a man or woman you fancy is painful. In fact, it sucks. However, to know somebody for a period of time where, increment by increment, your feelings grow and grow, burgeoning until the only cap sealing those feelings in place is your big mouth; what then? This is all so wonderful (and at times, horrifying) an experience. Yet, when that mouth of yours is freed, and the words pour out, bouncing against ears deaf to the compassion of the thought, of the gesture, of the sheer vulnerability a human risks by declaring their love of somebody, to that somebody; then what? What are these feelings? Fear at the words flooding out. Excitement at the possibility of hearing those same words directed back at you. Apprehension at the awkward silence growing around the edges — shadows of doubt and uncertainty. Panic. Panic at the realization that we have just surrendered all leverage. Feelings that might now be toyed with, manipulated, destroyed by the person we wanted to be happy alongside. Is there a worse way to be mentally broken? To be defeated by an enemy is something almost inevitable at some point. To be defeated by a loved one…we never see it coming.
Sometimes we have already lost too much to even feel that killing blow. We were finished moments earlier. Defeated by bravery.
Such is unrequited love.