Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is it really better to have loved and lost?

This is a question I've tried to answer since I was a teenager.

On the one hand, feeling your heart on fire with passion is being alive; wishing for calm tranquility is like wishing for death. As an atheist, I suppose I should know that emotions are in your head, but I believe in the metaphor, at least, of feeling it in your heart.

On the other hand, is there anything more crushing, more utterly humiliating, than unrequited love?

To look forward to that one moment per day (or so) when you know you'll see him; to replay your brief exchange over and over in your mind, not wanting to do anything else but remember it; planning, rehearsing the clever things you'll say next time; knowing all the while that he doesn't care in the slightest and hasn't given you conversation a second thought.

I remember studying Dante in High School, and learning how noble his unrequited love for Beatrice was. I didn't buy it. Sure, I thought, maybe it seems cool if you're that one-in-a-billion who can turn it into a fantastic epic poem, but for the other nine-hundred ninety-nine million, etc., it just means you're the loser that someone else didn't want.

So I spent many years trying to rid myself of this emotion at all costs, trying to convince myself not live and not pine. The memory came back to me recently when by chance I heard a familiar chorus:

It's too late baby, now it's too late
Though we really did try to make it
Something inside has died and I can't hide
And I just can't fake it...

And suddenly I was transported back to a moment many years ago:

Myself, sitting in an airplane on the tarmac, waiting to take off, with this song blaring from the plane's interior speakers as the passengers took their seats. The words seem trite, yet the deepest emotions are somehow the simplest.

There I was, setting off on my fantastic adventure that I'd built for myself, willing myself to believe the words. It's too late, yes, yes, it's too late. Yes, that painful ember in my heart is dead, though I knew that it wasn't.

Unrequited love, the humiliation of it, has become my favorite topic for a sort of cynical humor (see Youth Conference). It's so horrifyingly absurd not to be able to let go of that razor-sharp shard of hope -- sometimes for years -- that there's nothing to do but try to make light of yourself. Add a little distance in hopes of turning tragedy into comedy.

That and pour a glass of wine and listen to sad songs, and feel it; get it out.

Ah, it's hard to love.
Ah, it's hard
not to love...


helensotiriadis said...

rejection is like lots of things -- the more you practice, the easier it gets.

it also helps to understand that there is no such thing as a soulmate. there are lots and lots of people to love, pretty much everywhere, and some of them are even... compatible!

this kind of thing hasn't bothered me for a long, long time. i've learned to look forward.

Anonymous said...

Some of the best loves of my life have been unrequited, Chanson. They've taught me the most about others, myself, the nature of love, and the necessity of affirming both the beauty and the tragedy of life. I think I would only have a fraction of the happiness I have today if I had somehow avoided those unrequited loves.

Perhaps significantly, though, the loves I refer to have been unrequited for reasons other than rejection. Moving away, wrong timing, etc. were the reasons. The single "intense" love that was unrequited because of rejection taught me very little that's positive. So, I guess I have had a kind of mixed bag with unrequited love.

Aerin said...

I might have been missing the point for all these years, but I always thought that it was also talking about really losing someone (i.e., in death). That it was better to have "gone out on a limb", known that person and loved them before they passed on - than not to have gotten to know them.

I definitely think you learn a lot about yourself in these moments - in reflections and relationships. Because at times it would be much easier not to put yourself on a limb - to stay with safe friendships/relationships.

Anonymous said...


But damn, it hurts a lot sometimes. And a song can take you right back when you least expect it.

Nice post. :-)

- wry

Anonymous said...

I think it can have at least some positive outcome is you let the experience teach you empathy for others - a friend, a child, a person who's felt that way toward you at some point.

Jane Know said...

Good topic. Wow, I remember my first unrequited love. What a wrenching heartbreak that was. I held on to hope that she would change her mind for a couple years (even though realistically I had moved on to other relationships)... I always sort of thought she would change her mind at some point when she realized what she had lost. Lol. Not so much.

Lynet said...

The statement about "it's better to have loved and lost" can be one about taking risks -- allowing yourself to love someone even though you might lose them. If the person in question currently loves you back, then it can be a liberating statement.

With regard to unrequited love (not just a love that you might lose at some later point), well, I guess that's different. I wouldn't choose unrequited love (usually), but, heck, if you're stuck with it, try to enjoy it while you can, say I.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks for the great discussion, everyone!!!

TooManyTribbles -- That is so true about practice and learning not to expect a soul-mate. I think that's one reason why young love is so forceful and bittersweet -- one doesn't have the relationship experiences that tempers it.

Paul -- That's kind of the question I was getting at: Has unrequited love enriched my life, even though in some ways it seems nothing good ever came of it? I can't decide. Some days I think yes, some days I think no.

Aerin -- That's interesting, I'd never thought of it that way. I'd always assumed it was "lost" as in "you lost the game of love, struck out." But I might easily be the one who's misinterpreting it...

Wry -- exactly!!

INTJ Mom -- Very true, and in that sense it can be a positive learning experiences. But does that balance out the negative? maybe...

Jane -- Yes, that's what I'm talking about. It's crazy how even years later, even after moving on, the memoires can still be a bit of a tender spot.

Lynet -- That's an interesting way of looking at it, in terms of saying it's worth taking the risk since you might succeed. I always thought it meant that -- even if you lost -- it's better to have felt that passion than to have felt nothing. Not a very Buddhist sentiment, I wager, but sometimes I believe it!! (Of course, I'm not a Buddhist...)