Sunday, July 18, 2010

Unrequited Love

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

I think I would not be mistaken in saying that unrequited love is something that most people experience sooner or later. It's certainly been very familiar to me—especially in the past few years, not least because the other person is no longer actually a part of my life. To make a (very) long story somewhat shorter, I became friends with someone who I'd known rather peripherally about eight years after I first met him. Somewhere along the line, friendly affection ceased to be the only form of affection that I felt for him, and because he had a girlfriend at the time, I decided I'd hide it from him. Some months later they broke up, but though he never had a steady girlfriend again during the years of our friendship, I never told him that my feelings for him had grown to be as romantic as they were friendly. There were several reasons—or at least, I had several excuses that I gave myself for never bringing it up.

First, he'd mentioned many times that he was afraid of commitment. Although he also said that he looked forward to marrying and having kids someday, at the time he just didn't feel like tying himself down to one woman. I didn't want to get involved with someone who, while good and supportive as a friend, might as a lover just decide to dump me one day because he was afraid that we were getting to be too close, too exclusive, too committed and that by "settling" for me, he was passing up on the chance of a better woman he hadn't yet met. Loving him was breaking my heart as it was; it is perhaps quite understandable that I didn't want to risk a greater pain.

Second, though I got along with his mother quite well (she and my mother were friends for over thirty years), I knew that she was/is extremely controlling. And because the family is very close-knit, if I got involved with her son, I knew that she would inevitably be one of those people who would be only too eager to interfere with us and should I ever disagree with her about anything, she'd become very offended and if he felt the need to take sides, he would probably not side with me. Remember the very last rule that I made fun of in my last post here, the one about not criticizing his mother? That one would have been in full operation if he and I had become more deeply involved with each other, and I refuse to commit to someone who won't be supportive if I feel I have got a legitimate complaint against the actions of his (or her—after all, I am at least mildly bisexual) mother. That doesn't mean I would want my partner to take sides, but I would hope that s/he would at least be willing to listen to my side of things and take the time to understand why I'm so upset, rather than side with dear old Mom out of a knee-jerk reaction.

Finally, there's that whole insecurity thing that was even worse for me seven years ago. I have always thought that I was quite ugly to look at, and although I wouldn't say that he's outright handsome, he's certainly very good-looking and with his charm, he can very easily "get" almost any woman he wants, so why would he want me? I'm fat and shy, only moderately intelligent with a tendency to misinterpret people's words and actions and in possession of an explosive, if rarely set off, temper and a face that looks like it might belong on a Mrs Potato Head if those things had long brown hair—I had convinced myself that because we had such wildly different amounts of aesthetic and sexual capital, there was no way that he could possibly be attracted to me. He certainly kept me guessing; one day, he'd be all small smiles, holding doors, putting a hand at the small of my back and referring to old, long-established inside jokes between the two of us, and the next he'd be flirting madly with some other woman, sometimes even going home with her. And then he'd eventually start flirting with me again, but I never really thought he meant anything by it. Sometimes I think that's the only way he knows to interact with women who aren't his mother, his aunts or his sisters. Or perhaps it was just a habit; who knows? Certainly not I.

Despite everything, our friendship was one of the things which helped to keep me sane when my depression was starting to really get bad and my mother also started to show signs of the condition. I'm thankful to him for that, in an abstract sort of way. We'd usually meet at least once a week, or more than that on occasion. But eventually he became impossible to get in touch with, and although he'd always promise to call or drop in, after a certain point in time he never followed through on those promises again. I've no idea why.

The last time I talked to him was in December 2007, shortly before Christmas. We hadn't spoken in a couple of weeks, since I'd had a cold that developed into bronchitis and (to add insult to injury) I'd actually lost both my voice and my sense of smell for a couple of weeks. When I was finally well enough to leave my bed for more than the acquisition of food or a visit to the bathroom, I called him on his cell phone to see if he would like to get together for a chat. To my surprise, he told me that he was in Whistler, British Columbia (which is roughly two-thirds of the country away from here) and that he'd be back just before Christmas Eve. He promised to call me when he got home; he never did, and when I called him, he never answered. I kept trying for about two months after our last conversation, but I admit that near the end of that time, it wasn't so much that I wanted to see him as I wanted to say goodbye, get some real closure. With the passive-aggressive way he ended our friendship, he denied me that, and for a long time I was very angry about that.

Since then, I've gone through quite a few interesting emotions while trying to sort all this out. There's longing, of course. I miss the way we used to talk. I have felt anger. I'd thought we were friends. And even though I don't expect my friends to be at my beck and call—that would be unreasonably, ridiculously selfish—it still strikes me as being distinctly rude and unfriendly to say "don't be a stranger, keep in touch" and then not reciprocate when the other person does try to do just that. I still think of him when I hear (or perform) various songs. I'm not consciously clinging, but we knew each other for about thirteen years, and in that time he gradually became a part of my consciousness, and it's been difficult at best to cut him out of it.

Anyway, I've been trying to learn something from this experience, though sometimes I'm not quite sure what I can learn from it besides "OK, so this guy was a bigger jerk than he seemed to be for the thirteen years you actually were in contact with him" or possibly "I may be a dimwitted little twit for still loving him when he's been out of my life for over two years, but at least I know that I'm actually capable of loyalty". But I do know that just as my spiritual faith, my faith in my friends, my faith in my family and the hope that I will eventually improve my life help me to keep my depression from becoming unbearable, they help me to deal with the lingering pangs of the once very broken heart that I nursed after I realized that he'd cut me out of his life. Perhaps it's not very feminist of me to still be hurting a bit nearly two and a half years after I gave up on even being able to say "goodbye and have a nice life" to him—this, too, bothers me—but it's the way I feel, and over the years I've found that my emotions don't always conform to my ideals. I often think that it's the way I deal with them that matters the most.

And I know that someday, I'll have finally managed to put my feelings for him entirely behind me, and even if "My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,/ But after one such love, can love no more",* at least I'll know that I'm no longer wasting my time and emotions on someone who may not have been worth my tears to begin with, as he plainly did not appreciate my friendship.

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*John Donne, "The Broken Heart".

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