From the earliest of age, we are exposed to a culture which runs circle around the ideas of 'love at first sight' and 'true love’. Sitting in dark cinema halls, we ravel on our popcorn watching the dashing 'hero' going about his business till his eyes meet 'the most beautiful woman' he had ever seen. From that point till the end of the movie, his sole purpose is to win her heart, fight the disagreeing father/ opposing rich mother or even an unhappy society. Yet finally, he will hold her in his arms indicating a happily ever after just before the credits roll.
As the light comes back it shines equally bright on our eyes and reality as majority of us were sitting between a father and a mother who were married off to a person of the choice of their family, not their own. The reality of parents who learnt to fall in love after their elaborate marriage. It goes against our perception of the workings of love. Still, being too young, rather too naive we relax in the backseat of the car on the way back home, thinking of the girl who sits across us in the class or the best friend we haven’t confessed our feelings to, or just the rather bizarre future we dream we could have with the handsome math professor. We dream of them. We make a conscious effort to look good around them. Some of us get shy, others talk too much in their presence but all of us deal with the million butterflies flying around and inside our stomach. We relate every romantic song to them, to ourselves, to our situation. Thick diaries are written and dedicated to them. They are always on your mind, perhaps it would be right to say that you start rearranging your habits, interests and even life to overlap theirs. If this situation does not advance in it’s growing stages to mutual likeness and further, a relationship, 1 of the 2 things may happen :-
Either with all these sudden changes in life and with the ever so normal passage of time and one day you move on. That's right, you move on. All these serious romantic advances in your life become a laughing stock while you end up describing your immature actions as doing what 'everyone else' does when they have a crush. Now you are a level headed individual who has a clearer understanding of life and love until a new person walks in to remind you what butterflies feel like and the cycle begins again...
Or you hold onto this crush. You give it a permanent room in your heart and let it nurture. What started as an infatuation has fed itself on day-dreaming, feelings, long lasting friendly conversations, short lasting acknowledging eye-contacts, dozens of friendly compliments and some tipsy flirty remarks to grow into love.
I am sure the former happens to the majority of us. There is something usual yet exciting about it. Having short term infatuations and feelings for someone you could only dream to go on a date with. It is normalized by our society to an extent as to some would even say, it is a part of growing up. It might be a certain physical attribute they posses, a trait of their personality or perhaps a slight resemblance to our favorite celebrity. Either way, it ends up exciting us, courtesy of largely present hormones leaving us with red cheeks and weak knees. But like i said, it is short lived.
The latter however..it is different. After a lot of pondering on how to even begin this paragraph, going through thesaurus, blogs and scratching my head for a good 25 mins, this is the adjective I settled on. Different. It's such a casual part of our everyday vocabulary yet ironically, it means 'unlike in nature, form or quality', because that is what it is. The feeling of being in unrequited love. It is unlike in nature, form or quality of conventional love. It is more common than you think yet it defies the promises of being in love. The promises made to our young selves in dark cinemas.
Sure it all begins as a crush. Yet the interesting aspect of it lies within the transition. How a harmless infatuation turns into a serious longing for a relationship. From being a mere and an occasional source of excitement, happiness and nervousness, this person climbs up the hierarchy ladder of important people in your life. A few days ago overhearing their name, seeing them pass by or rather conversing with them acted like the reminder for the cage to be lifted, letting the butterflies in your stomach free. Now they hold a constant presence in your thoughts. They started as a free and wandering thought in your brain. Now they are a mental tattoo. While you experience all this emotional turbulence, they go along their lives without any hindrance. And why wouldn't they? They didn't ask for this. Rather for them, they aren't even a part of it.
Imagine being out in a park on a beautiful day. The sun is shining. The wind blowing, causing your eyes to shut and lips to widen into a smile while the birds chirp in the background. Walking along you see a ball on the ground.
"Huh! Must be my lucky day", you wonder.
So you pick it up and walk on. Just a few steps ahead you encounter a person standing a bit further to you. Observing closely you end up realizing,
"This seems like the perfect person to play catch with".
So stretching your arm out, you throw the ball at them, expecting them to catch it. To your disappointment, they don't. That's odd. It was a perfect throw from you. Looking down you see another ball rolling by.
"How convenient!" you tell yourself and pick it up.
You throw this one and alas! The same outcome again. They just stand there like a rock not even noticing them. This makes you feel a little weird. Nonetheless, being your hopeful self you try again. It travels it's distance only to meet the ground, not the palm of their hands. You try several times, all ending in the same result when you finally realize.
"I am a moron!" you laugh at yourself. "I haven't even invited them to play catch with me".
So you walk up to them and convey your feelings of playing catch with them since they seem like the perfect partner to do so. In an awkward yet polite manner, they decline and walk away. This perplexes you! Why would they not want to make their day better by playing a game of catch rather, why would they want to ruin yours?! Shocked and saddened you come back home. Spending sleepless nights for weeks to come. Most people would have accepted it by now and moved on to find someone else to play catch with but not you. There is something special about this person, you keep reminding yourself. May be they did not understand you. May be you weren’t clear enough. So you decide to approach them again. The next morning you head towards them with high hopes and the ball in your hand. Seeing them at a distance, you speed up but suddenly halt. Dramatically dropping the ball as you stare in discontent. To your dismay, there they are happily playing catch with someone else. This breaks you and you run back home.
For weeks to come, all you can think about is them. Wanting to know why wouldn’t they want to play with you. Finding flaws in yourself. Confused. Irritated. Dejected. Your friends try to cheer you up reminding you of the several other people in the park wanting to play with you while you break in melancholy demanding
"No! I want them! I want them to catch my balls!"
(That sounded so wrong...) Filled with hope that someday they will realize how good a player you would be for them.
I know I may have painted a very childish picture of it. Somehow this all sounded very clever in my head. It is a complicated thing, being in one-sided love. I have experienced it too. Writing about it is taking it up a notch. Talking to people who still claim to be in it was what helped me put this all down. Most of them started slow. It is only natural to be reserved when talking about the man/woman you so deeply desire. Especially when the person you are talking to holds a notepad in his hand, staring at you with a need for answers. It took some time, a couple of cups of coffee and sharing my own experience of it to help them feel comfortable and start talking about it. The latter helped the most. When I mentioned to them how in my teens, I had fallen in love with a good friend and despite it failing to be reciprocated, held the feelings close for 2 and a half years, their expressions and body language changed. It clearly showed now they trusted me more as I had identified to their emotions. It is as if they had recognized that I belonged to their tribe. The tribe of selfless lovers with big hearts and hopeful souls. From that moment there were nodding heads all around. Agreeing and taking comfort in each other’s feelings. The people we love(ed) were so different yet the experiences we shared were parallel. This hardly felt like research. This was rather a therapeutic session they happily showed interest in. Every story was different yet when I was done with it all, I could bind them all together with one thread. This is what that thread was made of :-
- Fantasies : Rather at some times intrusive fantasies. This right here has the biggest hand in turning an infatuation to love. Idle time? What is that? It is all spent in fantasizing about the one you wish to be with. If a thought or an action has no connection to that person, doesn’t take long to make one. Going to a party suddenly sounds not-so-much fun when you are made aware that the person you love can’t make it. To an extent, you start disassociating with activities where you will not see their perfect face. A romantic song comes on and you end up staring out the car window dramatically imagining a music video starring you and him/her. Some people even confessed of writing stories in their free times of how they imagine their future to be with their 'one’. (FINE!! I used to do that..) Now that I have confessed this, why stop? During the meal times in our school, I remember sitting there having my food and just stare at the girl I loved.. Just staring at her while she had her food and talked to her friends. Sure it seemed so romantic back then, staring at her flawless face. Watching her smile, laugh and..chew her food... for 2 years... during every meal... You are a dear friend now. You know who you are. I am so sorry to put you through that. Thank you so much for not walking up to me and throwing water at my face. Clearly deserved that. The point is they become the center of your conversations and imagination.
- Fear of rejection : Often listening to these people talk away with dreamy eyes about their unrequited lover, I intruded them and asked them why it had taken so long or in other cases why hadn’t they confessed their feelings yet? There were different types of answers mentioning awkwardness or scared to ruin the friendship yet it all ended with, "He/She is way out of my league anyway.." This feeling of self doubt is extremely common. I have no doubt that every single one of the person these people loved was good looking and possessed good qualities. I even agree that every person has their 'type’. Yet when you tell me you love the way they walk and how mesmerizing it is. That even I would fall for him/her if I saw them walking, clearly your intentions are sweet...but you sound like a creep. That is when I realized that we tend to take every single quality of the person we are attracted to and create an ideological figure of perfection. We choose to ignore any undesirable characteristic they posses helping our case by saying, "Imperfect is perfect." As a result of this, we deem ourselves as inferior to them. This ends up fearing us to approach the person we have so well purified within our minds and thus the fear of rejection. As for my own example, in the long span of 2 and a half years, I never asked her out. Not even once. I was aware of my feelings for her. She was aware of my feelings for her. The whole school was aware of my feelings for her. Yet out of the fear of the obvious rejection, I never walked up to her with my heart on my sleeve. It was not her who had ever stopped me or had ever warned me for not doing so. It was a self made fear I had nurtured myself deep within. Yet she always gave me a hand before I could drown myself in awkwardness so yet again, Thank you. I am forever grateful.
- Hope : Despite everything written above, you still carry on loving this person. The reason for that is our sense of hope. We don’t lose it. Hope that someday we will break free from this shell of self doubt that incarcerates us. More specifically, our loved one will liberate us. That someday they will choose to love us back. In the process we desperately search for any indication of this reciprocation. A second of eye contact, a brush of shoulder, perhaps a teacher made you their lab partner or they borrowed a pencil from you. All these harmless incidences adds up little to your hope. When talking to people about the same, they ended up realizing and admitting that a simple acknowledgement like "Hello" was enough to allow them to continue with their dream escapades. Over and above this, some people blamed the person of their dreams for passing them mixed signals. Sure, telling someone that you may end up liking them falls in that category but describing gestures as ‘being over friendly’ is nothing but your brain tricking you. We long for hope. It is what keeps us going. Thus we make a mountain out of a molehill.
So why does this all matter? Why did I willingly agree to write this article when the editor approached me? Trust me when I tell you I have enough on my plate right now with college, social outings and an upcoming Tedx talk (What?! Stop with the judgmental look. I believe I have earned bragging rights for that!) Well what started as a single reason doubled to 2 as I talked to these interesting people.
The initial reason being how this topic is personal to me. I am still a layman when it comes to writing yet post collecting all the necessary information, this article was written in one single sitting. My fingers danced on the keyboard as I smiled all the way through it with a sense of nostalgia and familiarity. Only one person to thank for it. My One-sided love. I am sure it isn’t easy watching your best friend being in love with you. Looking back, I now realize how she always tried her best to avoid hurting my feelings. In fact she never did. The key word in one-sided love is one-sided, not love. Nothing is shared. Every feeling was solely generated inside me and reflected off a metaphorical mirror to come back to it’s source. Me. The joy, sorrow, excitement built upon the briefest encounters and even jitters. They were all mine to handle. Yet her friendship always made it easier for me. She made it easier to love her without ever loving me back. I am grateful for that. Loving her acted as a period of self realization. In loving her I learned to never imagine that anyone can love on command. The capacity to feel attracted lies outside the will. It isn’t a question of not trying hard enough. Over the years I have realized how we may have never even been compatible as a couple. How silly arguments could have ended a friendship I cherished. The opportunity cost of a relationship with her, I deeply desired was way too high. Thus now I realize falling in love with the right person, even if it’s unrequited, makes a world of difference.
With that out of the way I want to move on to the second reason to take up this mini project. Conversing rather than interviewing the people I did, the conversation never carried on the path I intended it to. Once they opened up to me, I could sense the willingness for reciprocation in their eyes. The longing to be accepted by the one they desired. No matter how hard they tried to hide it, the sorrow and excruciating suffering they had been/were going through showed up on their faces as well as in their tone. This made me realize that even though they truly loved the person, a part of them wanted to let go off this painful feeling. They admitted of having tried it but failing miserably. As if letting go was equivalent to being unfaithful to their unrequited lover. It was hard for each one of them to overcome this and it could be seen affecting their daily life and happiness. Here I quote one of my friends who shared his experience of being in love with a friend.
"I don’t direct these feelings, this attraction, it directs me. Even though I know in the back of my mind that we may not be compatible, the thought of her is an obsession."
Highlighting the word obsession. It’s a necessity due to the weight it carries. Obsession is not a healthy word yet it has been romanticized by our society for decades now. One has to understand that despite being one word, love, when used in different circumstances gives different results. Ask people around you and majority of them don’t have a certain set of words to pin point at its meaning. It is because the love for a child is different from the love for a friend. The love for your profession is different from the love for your partner. In the case of one-sided love, it is all yours to carry. There is no one to share it with and thus after some time it starts to take it’s toll on you.
My advise to the people who search for help in this article is to start questioning your love. Only you have the power of opening your eyes enough to understand your ability and power to question this love. It takes courage to do so but look at you, how selflessly you have been loving this one person for so long. Surely you have some more courage left in you to question it. You have to be honest to yourself. You have to find out why is it that you have carried on loving this one individual when there seems to be no positive outcome from it. Is it a drug? Are you just getting high on the fantasies and hopes of calling them yours one day? When you think of your loved ones, it creates a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. What truly happens is a chemical called Dopamine is being released in your brain. The happy chemical. The same chemical that your brain generates while doing jolly tasks like eating ice creams or a damaging task like snorting cocaine. I know it is a bold claim to make but you have to decide if loving this individual is still like tasting ice cream or the other extreme. Because there has been no reciprocation for so long and now you are only damaging yourself. You have to ask yourself if after all this time, do you still love them or have you started loving the process of loving them? Is it really love or is it an illusion of love?
The great thing about this method of questioning love is that one can apply it elsewhere too. By starving yourself of loving this person or even your job you can let time desensitize false feeling of attraction and find out if you truly love them/what you do. You can try passing your feelings of attraction towards other individuals or professions to know if it was them you loved or just the high of being in love. It is by questioning what we love that we step out of love born out of familiarity or fear or rejection or even hope. I am not accusing your love to be not true. I am asking you to check if it is.
Meeting majority of these people gave me a feeling that for many of them, realizing that they were in an illusion of love would somehow be inevitable. I was proven wrong when I met this beautiful girl in, you guessed it, a coffee shop. The purpose of this meeting was not to talk about one-sided love at all. Rather I was interviewing her on her religious believes. Somehow I ended up bringing the topic on the table and her sudden smile clearly indicated that she had a story to tell. For the next 20 mins my eyes were fixated on her while she talked about the one man she had loved for a time longer than you could even imagine. Yet I could detect the innocence in her voice letting me know how true it was. The way her alluring eyes lit up from the second she mentioned him assisted her words. Unlike all the other conversations I had, I knew that there was no need to write one bit of what she said. Believe you me, it was poetic.
Before I met her, my perception of one-sided love was different. It revolved around how we always tend to be generous towards people who can’t get over someone. It sounds romantic, if a little sad. The core of this article was to be the idea how being in one-sided love is a clever way of ensuring we won’t end up in a relationship at all; that we won’t suffer the realities of love. Fixation on someone who doesn’t like us back allows us to publicly commit to love while privately sheltered from it’s tiring demands. But on my way back home after meeting her, I knew that was not the case. This girl is pretty, kind and has a beautiful soul which should be more than enough to let her have her own bunch of one-sided lovers. Yet the way she talked of him, made me realize how lucky he was. At least in my head he was. She was kind enough to give me a link to a blog she dedicated to him. Her writing only proved her case further. She was not running away from vulnerablility of a relationship. For her this guy was a synonym of love. She, just like I had, accepted over time that there may never be a relationship, yet she cherished her feelings for him. As I can recall her thanking him for the ‘painfully beautiful’ memories. This somehow added to her beauty.
Uhmm.. Okay guys.. I think I have a new crush...