Romantic love is one of the most devastating ideas to catch hold in our culture. I think the idea of romance has in many ways undermined what true love is all about. Course, this may also be because I’ve seen many of my friends tortured of late by feelings and attachments for either people that are unattainable for them, due to circumstance (like marriage), or simply not interested in them in the same way.

Let’s define what we are talking about first, though I doubt I have to since we’ve all been there. We’ve all had that special love for someone, one that we might not even dare bring up to them, but choose to “love them from afar”. We might not even get to the point of dating, it may smolder as a crush bordering on obsession. This experience follows a certain pattern. Thoughts of the person, or what might be, consume our daydreams and idle thoughts. Spending a lot of time thinking about that person, without actually seeing them, can cause your feelings to grow out of proportion. Quite the fantasy life can develop, as you imagine yourselves as two lovers separated by circumstance destined to be together. Something in the unrequited lover pushes them to persist in pursuing whatever it is that has gripped them. That maybe, through their efforts, they might gain the emotional response they want from their would-be love. All for the sake of (romantic) love, or their idea of it.

The saddest part may be how one-sided the whole affair is.

Eventually, the sense of love threatens to overwhelm us, especially if that person doesn’t share our feelings (whether we ask and get confirmation or we simply believe such to be the case). It provokes in us a sense of loss, yearning, and frustration. We can’t eat. We can’t think. We can barely get through the day without thinking of this person. [To say nothing of the rejector, who is either struggling with whether they will ever feel the same way or wondering how to shake this stalker/loser.]

I say this because unrequited love has some implications for me as an artist and as one who seeks a wider readership. If you have ever felt the power of unrequited love, you, too, may have looked into the face of the muse. Our culture romanticizes artistic inspiration because we realize that there is something fundamentally transcendent about art. As an artist, I’ll freely admit that something unexplainable and mysterious does occur during the creative process. Something that could be quite analogous to love. Love can stir up complex feelings, leaving the artist with an ache, a pain of sorts that finds its outlet in the need to express new ideas. And there is a power to the unattainable. The power of inspiration. Unrequited love has fueled the muse of many a frustrated songwriter. I think of the Eric Clapton classic, “Layla”, written about his friend’s wife.

In a lot of ways, I think that unrequited love speaks to that part of us that needs to worship. I think about this, especially when I think about how we, as fans, build cults of personalities around folks or how we, those personalities, try to develop fan bases. We forget that fan is short for fanatic. Fanatics have obsessive attachments which, to a degree, is exploited by the personality. The fans build up all sorts of relationships and connections with the object of their affections, most of it illusory. And we can become fans of celebrities as well as the girl next door just as easily.

Yet, there is no simple “just getting over it.” Talking will help get things in perspective, but ultimately it takes time to reign in strong emotions. I wish that we could fall out of love as quickly, cleanly, and easily as we fall in love. However, no, there has to be time to grieve the lost love. As easy as it is to become withdrawn during this time from everyday life, we have to fill our time constructively (read: distract ourselves). Get back involved with the parts of life we know we have let wither while being caught up in the throes of romance. Surround yourself with friends, and lean on them to help regain control. Basically, you recover like you would from any other break up. Except the other person doesn’t know that they are out of something.

By the way, there’s a great book on this topic that I plan on checking out when I get a chance called Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love by Laura Smit:

It hurts when the one you love doesn’t love you back. It’s hard to be the object of someone’s desires when you just don’t feel the same way. How should Christians deal with these situations? There are hundreds of books describing how to build lasting relationships or how to lead a chaste life as a single person. There are very few books, however, describing how to deal with unrequited love. With Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Laura Smit fills this void. Smit tackles this universal human experience with intelligence, sympathy, and wit.

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