Breakups, makeups, romance. Not necessarily the correct order when examining a single 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 the characters for the person they love to, in one case, feel safe; in another, to 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, 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 hand. I mean, sure, we all use the L-word at some point, don’t we? When we utter it, do we receive it? The majority of people in that room were nineteen, perhaps twenty years of age. Hypersensitivity ruled supreme.
With social networking now thrown into the mix, relationships have changed. The fear of asking (in my case) a girl, “Will you go out with me?” or “Do you fancy going for a drink sometime?” has eased up tenfold because of ‘the screen’. Looking a person in the eye and seeing flit across their visage the tangle of emotions one must undertake in the ritual of rejection, well, this has become a kind of social bravery. Why is this? Because of the text, the email, the social networking missive. An alternative to the bravery has been formed. Rejection in the wide-eyed color of pixels and text doesn’t come with the additional tragic hilarity of having to make sure you don’t trip over the curb as you shuffle away, crestfallen. But Christ, from hypersensitivity to…what? Desensitization? A debate for another time.
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 than someone else. 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 a charismatic sense of humour? Do people find what they are looking for and if so, are they satisfied?
But 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 is 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 harbor 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 is one thing. Feeling 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 felt (even more than after the last relationship), often forget that another one is around the metaphorical (or literal) corner. It’s waiting to bump heads with us in the supermarket and elicit pretend feelings of guilt and humor mixed together (let’s face it, until eye contact is made, both people just want the other person to go away and take their heavy, hollow skull as far away as possible.) The relationship might start slowly, both sides unsure of the opposition’s battle plans. But then deployment lines are slowly drawn, opening moves made. There’s the first invitation to 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 that he or she is thinking about you – yes you – at such a late 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 heave 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, as human beings we have a tendency to allow negativity to fill us up, head to toe. When we experience pain, loss and 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 addressing 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 were never met; 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.
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 such a wonderful (and at times, horrifying) 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 of 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 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.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons – some rights reserved
Recent Shaun Carter Articles:
- Concrete 3D Printing: Armouring from the Inside
- The Impact of Sitting Volleyball: Part One
- Silence Kills Best
- Siblings: Part 2
- Siblings: Part 1