Rohit's Realm

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February 14, 2011

On the Merits of Unrequited Love

Of the many storied traditions on this most dreadful site, probably my favorite two are: first, discussing my abject existential failings each October as I mark yet another revolution around the sun filled with unending misery and despair; and second, what has come to be my habit of biennial posts on St Valentine's Day. Today is a time for me to once again fulfill my commitment to the latter—and for people everywhere to succumb to, in the alternative, the false and fleeting sentiment that is often confused for love, or the intense bitterness that comes from being reminded that one is far too noxious and unappealing to even merit anyone else's false sentiments. And that brings me to the topic of my post: unrequited love.

Often the subject of romantic comedies (or other such ghastly affairs), unrequited love usually ends up as the basis for a transformative plot line that has our handsome hero or stunning heroine convincing the object of his or her affection to requite the love that was for a large part of the screenplay unrequited. My well-documented contempt of such nonsense notwithstanding, I suppose this plot line is a necessary evil: insofar as we want the great unwashed to reproduce (a dubious proposition, by the way), it's probably well and good that we attempt to convince them that even though their lives will most likely be ruined by the arrival of one or more bundles of joy, they will at least get to spend their wretched lives with the one person who truly loves and understands them. The reality—that they are very likely to spend most of their worthless existence with a person who has long since stopped liking them (if they ever did), engaged in mindless drudgery while caring for pant-shitting ingrates, only to die alone and lonely—likely isn't the best message to get people into the business of babymaking.

Fair enough, I suppose. The world always needs more cogs in the machine (of which, I am certainly one, by the way). But as someone who is neither handsome nor heroic—and as a necessary consequence, someone who has a fair amount of experience with unrequited love—I can't help wonder whether it's not the best sort of love. Unrequited love, unlike its requited counterpart, is simple. It's uncomplicated. It's the most selfish thing that can be; by definition, there are no other people involved. One is free to pursue this sort of love without the difficulty of other's feelings, cares, problems, or desires; there is just one's infatuation and the almost certainly misguided belief that someday, somehow, the other person will return one's sentiment. And as long as no attempt is made to ascertain the other party's true feelings, one can go along reasonably self-assured in one's own delusions. Hope springs eternal!

On the contrary, any sort of real mutual loving relationship (i.e., requited love) is filled with what are in essence unnecessary (and inevitably, I suspect, insurmountable) hurdles. I suppose I could name them all, but a decent summary might be as follows: the other person. Requited love is a two-variable equation where you can only ever control (or understand) one of the variables. Why would anyone ever engage in this sort of enterprise when unrequited love presents a much more simple alternative is beyond my comprehension. Both paths are to the same destination—one of loneliness, disaffection, and failure—so why gamble on the unknown?

This is about the time in the post when self-avowed hopeless romantics (a/k/a idiots) will interrupt to mention platitudes of one of two varieties: (1) Don't knock it until you've tried it; or (2) It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Both criticisms are misplaced, but for vastly different reasons. As to the first, I don't think I need to have tried love—or more specifically, requited love—to point out its problems, any more than I need to have tried out heroin to point out its dangers. Indeed, of the two, the latter is probably the far less costly intoxicant, if only because it will kill you faster, and thus, save you (or your estate) some money in the long run.

As to the second, well, that's precisely the notion I'm questioning here. Who says it's better to have loved and lost than never loved at all? Well, okay, a lot of morons do, but the one who originally said it was Alfred Lord Tennyson, in In Memoriam:27 (1850) (or at least that's what I've always understood—correct me if he stole the line from elsewhere). And, really, what did he know? Byron was a way more awesome Romantic, and moreover, Dylan Thomas totally rocked Tennyson with his Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

All the foregoing, however, does not resolve what sort of unrequited love is the best—and therefore, the type we should be seeking on this fine anniversary of St Valentine's demise. I can think of at least three sorts: (1) unrequited love in which the object of one's desires doesn't know one exists; (2) unrequited love in which the object of one's desires does know, but has either explicitly or implicitly rebuffed the advance or demonstrated disinterest; or (3) unrequited love in which the object of one's desire once returned the sentiment, but now doesn't.

Of the three, which is the best to pursue? Clearly the first. The third involves explicit rejection, which always sucks, and moreover, pining over ex–significant others is so declassé. Get over it, already, tool! Equally awful is the second scenario, which may either turn into an explicit rejection or worse still, into a most dreadful situation that many people—especially guys—have probably experienced at one time or another. Being an intellectual whore is just about the worst fate that can befall a person. And unlike most other horrible fates, suicide is no escape; killing oneself over love is truly idiotic. (Don't pretend your life has meaning, assholes.)

So, where does that leave us? Loving someone who doesn't know you exist. Will this bring you happiness? No. Romance? No. An end to the paralyzing sexual frustration that likely marks your useless existence? Of course not. But then again, nor will requited love most likely, at least not after a while. And my way, you will never have insufferable bullshit: the petty arguments, the unmet expectations, the inevitable disappointment, and the ultimate despondency. Why even bother?

Of course, the foregoing analysis is susceptible to the very real criticism that it is authored by a person who has a vested interest in defending unrequited love. (One is always predisposed to defend what one knows best.) Fine. You take your bullshit romance and subsequent heartbreak; I'll take my love of those women who don't know I exist; and we'll reconvene. Until then, Happy Valentine's Day, dear readers.


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