How Love Unrequited Links so Many of Our Hearts...
My heart fluttered a little reading in the Daily Express that we're a nation of "cheating hearts" who harbour lingering desires for people other than our partners. For I, too, once knew the power of such feelings that this survey has uncovered; my own story in a moment.
Let's clarify one point - I'm not talking about those who actually cheat on their other halves, although in some cases these intense feelings lead to affairs. But by golly this research highlights how about a fifth of us feel unrequited love for colleagues, friends, or exes that can last for years.
In my work I’ve heard astounding stories of unrequited love that have become carefully hidden secrets; the true feelings of my clients well and truly camouflaged from the world. Many have revealed their anxiety over their deepest longings, as well as their guilt over having perfectly nice - and unsuspecting - partners that they go home to each night.
Sometimes on hearing these love-sick tales I feel I've been catapulted into the frothy, pink-edged world of Mills and Boon style books. I have no doubt that the late Barbara Cartland found endless material for storylines from the lives of real people around her.
The tremendous sales of such books demonstrate that even if we haven't experienced such unrequited passions ourselves, there's something very potent about our desire to read of such bittersweet battles. The emotional tug-of-war between what someone has: a marriage, a life, duties and responsibilities. And what someone longs for: that special person, where perhaps the romantic timing wasn't right, and so they could never be ours.
Our desire to identify with and/or understand such complex feelings led to one of the longest-running and most popular storylines of the hit sitcom Friends. Although various members of the six-some fell in ‘love’ with other members, at different points, it was the on-off potential for a relationship between Ross and Rachel that we rooted for.
Friends fans across the globe held their collective breath when at one climactic point in the series Rachel finally decided to declare her true love for Ross on his return from a long trip abroad. Anticipation mounting, she rushed to surprise him at the airport. Leaping to give him a huge hug she realised he’d arrived home with a very special package - a beautiful new girlfriend in tow.
It was too late for Rachel and we all felt her pain as she crashed down to earth, yet valiantly tried to hide her heartbreak and massive disappointment. Such identification-by-proxy allowed us, the viewers, a glimpse of what such near misses must feel like - the lying about your feelings, the longing, and the pretence that you are just good pals when you're secretly hoping for more.
I once harboured feelings for an ex, throughout an 18 month relationship where the ‘new’ man hadn't a clue that the ‘old’ man still had hold of my heart. It was a painful yet slightly delicious episode in a bizarre sort of way. I was just divorced, in 1992, when I met my very own "Mr Big" not unlike Carrie's enigmatic, on-off boyfriend in the popular TV series Sex and the City.
He had a certain magnetic quality and my feelings for my Mr Big lingered with me despite us calling it a day. Just as Carrie found her feelings for ‘Big’ lingered despite meeting a string of new men. The perennial question she toyed with was whether they matched-up to Mr Big? Thankfully by the time I found true love with my second husband my unrequited feelings had ended once and for all.
There is definitely a darker side to unrequited love as evidenced in practically any Victorian novel worth its salt. It's the stuff of authors like Hardy, Austen and Brontë. Picture the enormous heartache of JudeFawley in Hardy's Jude the Obscure. He’s tied to the ignorant Arabella but longs for his wonderful cousin Sue. Or imagine the power of the unrequited passion between Heathcliff and Catherine in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, that destroys them in a gripping melodrama.
These themes continue in more modern novels. The strength of a dead woman’s memory - and presumed continuing love for her - to undermine a second wife was brought to life in Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca. Oh, how the second Mrs De Winter suffered the torment of feeling she could never live up to that blasted, late-Rebecca.
Eventually she found out that her fear and anxiety were unfounded. In actual fact Mr De Winter’s marriage to Rebecca had been deeply unhappy - and the woman she'd felt in competition with, was no competition at all.
Thankfully most of us don't experience unrequited love of such tragic proportions. But whether dramatic, or more ordinary, we must remember that these feelings are not the exclusive domain of modern man. The writer and philosopher Virgil wrote of such unrequited love 2000 years ago in ancient Rome. How painfully Dido felt an "inward fire eating her away" over Aeneas (IV.1) and how little our emotions have changed over the centuries.
A similar article was published in the Daily Express newspaper