The Two Sides Of Rejection: Why I Stopped Romanticizing Unrequited Love

I started this weekend with a morning dose of "unrequited love" via a recently released Hindi flick. Keeping aside my not-so-favourable opinion on the quality of the movie, it made me reflect on how my view on one-sided love has evolved over three decades of my life. There was a time when Alfred Tennyson's words, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all", seemed to define my aspiration for "true love"—irrational, consuming and without any expectations. But then life happened. Having been on both sides of such a relationship, as the lover and the beloved, and understanding its profound impact that probably shaped my life forever, I no longer romanticize the idea of "unrequited love."

That initial kick of being adored by someone eventually gave way to a painful guilt.

I am parking my humility for the sake of discussion and acknowledging the fact that I have been desirable. Even statistically, women are more prone to being the beloved who rejects advances of such love than men. Though documented far less, the experience of a person who must reject another's love is far from pleasant. Reminiscing about my past, I have realized that often unwillingly I led certain people to believe that I was interested in them. I noticed the guy who would sit in the last bench and not socialize with anyone and made a conscious attempt to involve him in class activities. I would get far too involved in a good pal's life and create an emotional interdependence that could be mistaken as love. Since I was always vocal about my feelings, I had a hard time understanding the unsaid. And when such love was confessed, that initial kick of being adored by someone eventually gave way to a painful guilt.

Very rarely was my polite refusal, backed with an apology, understood by people who had started out as my friends. Despite the affection that I had for the other person, I found myself withdrawing lest he believed that I was giving it time and would eventually consent to the relationship. One time this withdrawal exacerbated such a yearning for the old friendship that I ended up proposing a romantic relationship to the same person later. The sad part was that even within the love relationship that followed, the love remained unrequited with neither of us being able to give what the other wanted. Another time with another person I was infatuated but fell out of it soon—his relentless attempts to rekindle the spark made me fear for my life. Though utterly foolish, that feeling of guilt for driving a good friend to that level had held me back from raising an alarm and asking for help. And I counted the days to escape that hostile environment.

Over the years, I have understood that misunderstanding anyone's friendly behaviour for love is no excuse for pressurizing that person to commit. But such experiences so early on in life deeply embedded a fear of the consequences of "being me".

People say that now I am all sorted in the way I pick my friends and in control of the signals I send. The truth is that I miss the spark—now locked away—that made me unabashedly call an acquaintance past midnight to check on his dog's health.

Romanticizing such a lack of reciprocation had cost me my self-esteem and confidence.

Donning the hat of the unrequited lover was also enlightening. I didn't care about how much was reciprocated and kept on investing my heart and soul into an asymmetrical relationship. Of course, there was the joy of being in love and the anticipation of seeing him every day. But not a day passed when I didn't think of how much better I could do. If "true love" actually means "loving without expectations", I had gone a step beyond of being oblivious of what to expect. Romanticizing such a lack of reciprocation had cost me my self-esteem and confidence. I had stopped retorting to jibes from my bosses. I had stopped being the life of work parties. Maybe Friedrich Nietzsche was right in believing that the suffering of unrequited love was indispensable for human growth. Maybe such suffering has given to the world masterpieces of art and literature. But when this occurred to an ordinary mortal like me, I don't think I was able to pen a single thought on paper.

The wisest thing that I did in my life was to understand the futility of it all. Some artists are against the quest for happiness as for them it stops all attempts at introspection and critical thinking. I beg to differ. It is only that quest for happiness that made me fall in love once again. A love that conquered my cynicism and fear of rejection. A love that made me believe that I was a beautiful person deserving of everything I wished for in this world. A love that broke my walls and let my thoughts flow in prose. A love that was, in all terms, requited fully.

Some say that unrequited love never dies. It only hides in a secret place, wounded. It isn't entirely untrue. But that's the beauty of wounds—they make you remember the times you fell but still got up and more importantly, the people who had your back then. The wound will eventually cease to exist. But only if you don't wish to live with it forever.

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