Unrequited love is the ugly scorned child of romantic love. At least that’s been my experience with those I’ve talked to about love. The ideal, naturally, is two people falling in love together at the same time and staying together forever.
Unrequited lovers are victims of the more common type of love giving without receiving. Most people experience this form of heartbreak in their life. Most people know the heart hollowing experience of mattering much less to someone than they matter to you.
Just this weekend I was talking with a friend who was discovering unrequited love for the first time. His experience brought back my own and made me cringe, all the familiar feelings and thoughts are there, and all the false hopes and dreams too.
Everyone thinks their own love story is terribly unique, not subject to the same rules that so often come up in advice. “This is different” is the common insistence of the unrequited lover. And yet, here he was telling me things I already knew.
“We’re good friends; I don’t want to ruin the friendship.”
“She doesn’t know how I feel.”
“She’s interested in someone else. He’s perfect.”
“If I tell her how I feel it will make things awkward.”
“If I wait, maybe she’ll come around.”
My first response every time I encounter love unrequited is to ask if they’ve told the person yet. This is the one true test. No love can qualify as unrequited if you’ve not given the person the chance to requite it, can you?
Most angst-ridden lovers have not managed this terrifying step. How humiliating, how horrifying. How traumatic! Besides, they already know. Having it said out loud would ruin the luxurious fragile bubble they’ve created for themselves.
I remember these feelings too. I remember not feeling worthy of the one I loved. I remember thinking our friendship was too special, too unique to sully with my feelings. I remember how I once thought he couldn’t possibly perceive my emotions, and how he was undeniably perfect. I remember wanting to go on being awkward privately, pretending to imagine I wasn’t utterly awkward outwardly. And I remember waiting, in vain for a resolution well outside my grasp.
And I remember most in those moments after I confessed my love (and was unrequited) that I turned to God heartbroken, wondering what he could know of it. What could he possibly say to one of his children that had suffered from dashed romantic hope. Because, obviously, it’s not as if God had ever loved someone who didn’t love —
Ah. Yes, there it is. God wrote the book on unrequited love. In both the Old and New Testaments we see God in an endless yearning for his children.
When Christ died on the cross, was that love fully returned? Was I not guilty myself of being careless with the love offered to me?
Culturally we are embarrassed by unrequited love. Humiliated to love someone who doesn’t return the favor, but in the whole of my readings I’ve never found God to be embarrassed by his love for us. And he’s had better cause than I ever had.
In terms of a truly unique story I think God’s qualifies. Sure, he might start with, “She’s amazing.” But I roll my eyes, I know he’s just speaking with the eyes of love.
Would he call me a good friend? Perhaps, but I would agree with him that real love, in all its purest best form can never ruin a friendship. It can only make that friendship stronger.
And since God has spent my entire life showing me that he loves me, he’d certainly never complain that I don’t know how he feels and he’s not embarrassed to gush and be extravagant with his love either regardless of the enthusiasm of my response.
And while it’s true, I might be interested in someone, or something else, God knows whatever it is isn’t perfect and can’t hold a candle to what he’s offering. Humans are never so bold in their love. Never quite convinced it is enough.
I don’t believe God has ever feared an awkward greeting. In fact, I’m fairly convinced awkwardness is a human construction that stems from fear and insecurity. Too often we let our worst qualities stifle our best emotion.
And as to waiting. Well I know the answer to that very well too. He will wait forever. But his waiting isn’t filled with moping, and it’s not filled with bitterness or hope deferred. No, God always waits for us patiently, wooing us sweetly. He never tires, never loses hope, and never ceases to love.
In all the forms of love I know, unrequited is the most common, and it mirrors most God’s love for all his children. For those that suffer love are the ones best suited to understand a love that suffers.