Unrequited love, to be succinct, is usually unreciprocated love. It is a rather dramatic term usually reserved for a situation in which the person who is doing the loving is extremely desirous of another, passionate and unrelenting, despite that love not being returned or reciprocally desired. Unrequited love can also be situational, as we often see in tragic plays or films where one character or both characters die before declaring their unbeknown love to one another. Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story are classic examples.
Unrequited love is the subject of countless novels. Emily Bronte's classic Wuthering Heights is an exquisitely painful example, as is Gabriel García Marquez's newer classic Love in the Time of Cholera. Charles Dickens favored unrequited love as a subject; Shakespeare excelled at it. Look up "unrequited love" and you'll get a reading list to last you a lifetime. It remains a favored topic of authors to this day.
Through time, unrequited love has also been the subject of countless poems, and many songs, plays and operas. From James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" and Eric Clapton's "Layla" to Phantom of the Opera. You will know it when you read or hear it.
While I was growing up, I had what I considered to be two best friends: a male and a female. I actually had a long term unrequited crush on the male. This crush waxed and waned over a long period of time, interrupted by periods when other young men drew my attention away from it. I kept returning to it; it was an emotional sweater to wrap around me in times of emotional chill.
My friendship with him began was when he showed me a reprint of a New York Times article on the rock group KISS. I was completely drawn to how they looked. Our main link for many years was that we both loved that group. It was facilitated by the fact that our names were alphabetically next to one another and our high school teachers loved nothing more than to seat us in alphabetical order. This gave me ample opportunity to talk to him most days.
Throughout high school, he was into heavy metal and hard rock music. He smoked pot, played drums and guitar, and dated a variety of girls. In every way, he seemed pretty much your typical 70s teenager. Conversely, I was pretty much isolated, awkward and studious. I got good grades and didn’t date, drink or do drugs.
I still felt a great affinity for him and I’m sure he (and likely everyone else) was well aware of the situation. Unrequited crushes are never much of a secret, particularly among teenagers. One of the reasons I think I was drawn to him was that he was always kind to me, perhaps in spite of any unwanted attention I gave him.
I recently read Breaking Hearts: The Two Sides of Unrequited Love by Roy F. Baumeister which made me think that there was likely a lot more going on than my teenage perception and ego could register in that situation.
The book includes a lot of case histories about both parties in an unrequited love situation. The most illuminating part is how unpleasant the experience can be for the person who is the object of unwanted desire. In popular culture, the focus is usually on the suffering of the pining heart of the would-be suitor, rather than on the emotional difficulties the unwanted attention places on the one who is desired.
After reading the books and seeing the other side of the situation more clearly, I felt bad for being such a pain. Part of me would like to get in contact with him and ask him how uncomfortable I made him during those years. Part of me can’t bear the thought of hearing the possible truth.
I do recollect clues that I wasn’t always his favorite person to be around. On occasion, a teacher would allow the class to sit anywhere they wanted and he’d always choose not to be near me. I never thought about how it was possibly a relief for him to escape me and only thought about how unhappy it made me that we weren’t seated near each other.
Eventually, after more than 10 years of unrequited love, I told him how I felt. He rejected me. He told me he never thought about me that way and then he kissed me quickly anyway. At the time, I thought the kiss held a promise of a tiny hope but now I know it was very likely more about pity and sympathy. It wasn’t too long after this confession to him that I fell in love with my future husband and threw out that old, tattered emotional sweater of my old crush for good.
My former crush and I remained friends even after I was over him. I hope that the bond we felt was genuine at that point rather than a level of contact he continued to permit out of kindness or pity. It felt like a better friendship once I was over him but it’s clear that my feelings could easily be deceived by my desire to believe in a certain reality.
I eventually moved to California, then to Japan, and the became a DINK (Double Income No Kids) who embraces new age spiritual concepts. He fell in love with and married a coworker. They had a few kids together and appear to be serious about church-related activities. We have been in touch a few times by e-mail but I only know a little about him these days based on the web site he maintains for his Christian rock group. Looking at the person each of us has become, I now know very clearly that we would have been completely unsuited to one another. It would have been pretty disastrous if he had ever accepted me.