They form a line across her adolescent and adult history, waiting their turn to love her. A guy in every port. A dapper dude in every office. Whichever way she turns, stands another man in love with her. Some are clunkers. But a few have potential and, from time to time, she lets one stay for a while.
She enjoys being loved. She bathes in the love. She sits like a queen, holding court, nodding and smiling at the confessions of love and adoration. She is the goddess. The face that launched a thousand ships. The woman for whom man after man is ready to be a great fool.
She does not “use” these men. To the contrary, she is compelled by them. Drawn to them. Looking for the one amongst them who will love her best and most completely. She is sincere in her ardent desire to be loved and loved well.
But, over and over the relationships drift, atrophy and founder. Her behavior seeks love and then nurtures separateness. Prefers separateness. Staunchly defends separateness. Sing it, Dan Fogelberg:
Wysteria, did you lose another man/ Did you make him understand that he can’t touch you/ Was he just like all the rest when he got to the sad part/ Did he stay a bit too long to save his heart?
Somebody should tell her she is only working one-half of the equation. In her keen embrace of the question “Who loves me?” she has forgotten the other, and equally vital question, “Who do I love?”
He is the ultimate romantic. The consummate idealist. He was only 13 years old when he saw Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo & Juliet,” but he walked out of that theater knowing there could be no higher honor, no more sublime human experience than to love a woman so utterly and completely. A love for which a man might sacrifice anything. Everything.
And, every now and then, a woman will stir his heart. Open his heart. And he will light the fuse of cosmic fireballs. The fireworks will paint the sky with colors and thunder. The night of aloneness becomes as raptured day.
But, over and over the relationships drift, atrophy and founder. He pours out his love like a gladly opened bottle of fine wine, yet again and again into wineglasses too small to contain the gift. He pleads, complains, picks fights, withdraws, sulks, manipulates … but eventually resigns himself to this fact: his love is not returned in measure. The bond is not mutual.
Cold rain, it slaps my face/ Blind, but now I see/ You want something badly, but it’s sure as hell not me/ The emperor, he has no clothes/ Much to his surprise/ Then thunder points this out to me/ Lightning in mind.
Somebody should tell him he is only working one-half of the equation. In his keen embrace of the question “Who do I love?” he has forgotten the other, and equally vital question, “Who loves me?”
If a lasting, loving bond of life partnership/marriage is what you seek, then it’s important to remember there is not one question; rather, two. You have to ask them both. And answer them both. Who do I love? And … who loves me?
People tend to err on one side or the other of an equation that must be balanced. It’s too easy to assume. That, if I find the one who adores me, cherishes me, radically commits to me, then my heart will likewise open to adore, cherish and commit. Or, if I love someone with my whole heart, that someone will recognize the gift of my love and return it in kind.
But neither is necessarily true. And love affairs that are not mutual are inherently unstable and destabilizing.
Who loves me? Who do I love? We must ask and answer both questions for great love to be possible. Loving someone will not make them love you. Being loved will not make you love someone.
If someone loves you in a way you will never reciprocate, then you must find the courage to tell him or her “no.” You set them free, because to do otherwise would be cruel. If you love someone who does not return your love in like measure, then you break your own heart and say “no.” You set yourself free, because to do otherwise would be to waste the gift of your love.
Unrequited love is an unstable equation.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org