Unrequited Love: Can it be true love?

Finally, a topic about which I am eminently qualified to write.

It started with Speed Racer when I was five and continued through a seemingly endless series of boys and then young men (of the non-Japanese animé variety) through grade school, high school and college. I was a charter member of the BGFC ([Name withheld to protect the innocent] Fan Club) in fourth grade. I daydreamed of romantic rides on  Kennywood’s dark ride, The Old Mill. There were crushes on classmates, friends of friends, and fellow interns. Every last one of them unrequited.

Speed Racer

What’s not to love?

This is not to bemoan my lack of a romantic life prior to dating my husband-to-be. In retrospect, I’m grateful for that. (A topic for another blog post.) Mention of my pathetic premarital love life is merely to build my street cred as someone with vast heartbreaking experience in the art of unreturned love.

I admit to a predilection for romances where the object of unrequited affection finally has that face palm moment where he realizes the love of his life has been there, waiting in the wings, underappreciated and overlooked, all along. (CueTaylor Swift’s “You Belong To Me.”)

Sadly or not as the case may be, my episodes of unrequited love did not end so well. Instead of the boy in high school chemistry lab realizing the sparks between us were more volatile than anything coming from the Bunsen burner, he examined his petri dish in silence. Instead of my college friend realizing what a prize sat across the library table from him, he shared stories about his new girlfriend, going so far as to try and bum condom key chains from me – a giveaway at the radio station where I interned. (Ouch!)

This brings me to my question.

Is unrequited love true, romantic love?

(This seems like a good time for a musical interlude by Howard Jones.)

You’re still marveling at that stylish ’80s hairdo, aren’t you? Moving on. . .

Of the many boys and young men that occupied my romantic notions between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one, some were strong but brief attractions to friends or acquaintances. Some were from afar and remain indistinguishable from the obsessive attraction I had to Simon LeBon.

Simon LeBon

Simon LeBon in the ’80s. It was a phase. Please don’t judge.

The two loves that burned brightest and longest were with those whom I considered good friends. I clicked with them. Decades later, I still wish them the very best. In light of those two cases, I posited that romantic love can’t exist without relationship. Ergo, unrequited love can only be true romantic love if there is relationship of some kind. Without that real-life interaction, the affection is something else – obsession or infatuation maybe (which I recognize are also possible in a relationship).

That’s a good enough (unscientific) theory as far as it goes if you consider love an emotion. But what if true love is more than an emotion? What if, like the mantra we used to use at Engaged Encounter, love is a decision? Put another way, Love Is A Verb. Maybe real love looks less like pining away for some unattainable paragon, and more like this. And here’s a long-winded version of essentially the same idea.

I’m neither philosopher nor theologian, but I don’t think true love (romantic or otherwise) can exist apart from sacrifice. God is love, and He sacrificed his only Son. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love on another.” 1John 4:10-11

We’ve drastically diminished the meaning of the word love in English. We love our spouse, our parents, our children, our pets. We love potato chips, relaxed fit jeans, pickup trucks, and heated toilet seats. Everything from the profound to the profane, we “love.” It’s interesting, however, that Merriam-Webster lists one of the origins of “love” as the Latin lubere or libere – to please. Again, pleasing implies an effort, a sacrifice, if you will, of some kind.

So, is love the musings carved beneath a doe-eyed Precious Moments figurine? Or does it look more like a Facebook post I shared that went something like this: “Love is scraping a disemboweled squirrel from the road so your wife and children don’t have to see it.”

‘Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get — only with what you are expecting to give — which is everything.”

– Katharine Hepburn

So, wrapping up my rumination on love. Whether love is unrequited, relational, or remote is not a fair indicator of whether it is true. A truer indication is whether it is born of sacrifice and a conscious decision.

What do you think? Is unrequited love true love? Is whether it is requited even relevant? Did you secretly crush on Speed Racer, too?

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  1. Pingback: I (AM) Wants You! | Carolyn Astfalk

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