Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Unrequited Unknown

Unrequited Love. A familiar concept from literature, probably because its sting is a common human experience. Who has not deeply longed for something that was beyond their power to obtain?

Think back to adolescent infatuations. You are too shy to talk to the guy, so you spend your free time daydreaming about him. You imagine him saying "I love you," you imagine marrying him and having five kids and living by the ocean. The next day at school you find out he is dating the most popular girl in your class. Your self-esteem plummets and you think your self unlikable. "How could he not have noticed me," you think?

What the teen, getting used to her new hormones and floods of emotion, doesn't realize is that she was not in love with a person. She was in love with her idea of a person. She had formed an image of that guy in her brain, and desired what she saw there. She believes her happiness depends on his reciprocation. Unfortunately, this mindset prevails in many of us even long after puberty.

I have had disagreements with others by maintaining that "being in love" is not the same thing as loving someone. The former, I believe is an emotional response, choatic, sudden, hard to control. The latter is a rational choice, fully thought out, deliberate, calm.

This past weekend I went to the opera with a group of friends. We saw Verdi's Il Travatore. The music was beautiful, and the costume and set design were admirable as well. The story was overly dramatic though. Fitting for an opera perhaps, but considered objectively, I think it was rather shallow, acting more profound than it was. Why? Because all the character's motivations we driven by pure emotions. With lines going  something like this: "What  have you done to me? You've made me in love with you. Nothing can stop my wrath. Avenge me, no matter what...[and, my favorite ] God is my rival, not even He can have her, only I can" -- I realized how irrational the whole thing was. The characters allowed themselves to be taken over by their tempestuous passions. Their happiness hinged on what was outside of them. Of course the play ended with Leonora consuming poison because she couldn't be with the man she loved. And the other man who was in love with her, was trying to force her to marry him by executing the man she did love.



Over the top, but in the end, the overbearing shallowness does teach a powerful lesson. Emotions are fickle. We are intended for a higher existence. Humans are rational animals, as Aristotle defined us. We are lowering ourselves to a bestial level and doing ourselves harm if we follow our feelings at every turn. The level road or rational existence may be less glamorous but is ultimately more fulfilling, more noble and all those good things.

Of course we are not Vulcans, and cannot divorce ourselves from our emotions. Are passions are not bad. They just need to be kept in their place. They can help us persevere, they help us make things more fun, they enrich our lives, they help us empathize and bond with others. But feelings are NOT facts. When the guy in high school asks another girl to the prom, no matter how devastated the girl is, no matter how much she thinks her life is ruined and she must mourn forever, the reality is not so grim. In five years, hopefully, she will have forgotten about him and have moved on. No one can make us anxious, no one can ruin us, no one can take our hope and happiness, unless we let them. It is a choice.

I, like so many others, have experienced good 'ol unrequited affection in the past. In my case, all seamed to be going well, we had tonnes in common, we related to each other about a lot, even seemed to have many of the same goals. Then I find out he doesn't think it will go anywhere. Why? I could ponder that forever, I could dig myself into resentment and despair. Initially, I was pretty upset and confused.  I just happened to be at a party when he send me the dreaded message confirming that he did not feel the same as I. So making the most of the situation, I figured I'm just going to have fun, dance the night away and not think about it. Dancing felt amazing. So in a way I kind of exchanged one emotion for another, but it was a rational choice to do so. I chose happiness over grief.

It may not always be that easy, but the battle is always worth it. No matter how strong the emotions that come over us, no matter if we are denied love by the only person we desire it from, no one can  take hope away from us, as a wise quote from The Shawshank Redemption went.

Love is a choice, not a feeling. No matter what feelings overcome us, for the most part, we choose how to react. We have that power, and it is a liberating one. No matter now much unrequited love may hurt, overcoming it can make you that much stronger.