Love that is not returned or rewarded
Requested by a reader
The assumption that, more than anything else, we all want to be loved is wrong. We are right, however, to say that those who receive love early in life are usually better able to give it when they grow up. Love is an interesting mixture of a need to be valued as well as to value, a desire to possess as well as to be possessed and an urge to find purpose in life through investing time in, and devotion to, someone else. My father’s definition describes love as “the gift of self”. It is a wonderful expression but it omits the element of taking which I think is essential to love.
In an attempt to be non-transactional about it, we often fail to see the need people have to give love as well as to receive it. So important is this that the terms ‘giving’ and ‘receiving’ are almost reciprocal when it comes to love. Certainly, a desperate need to receive love is dangerous, making us vulnerable to crooks and con-artists. But anxiety to bestow love is also fraught with the risk that we will be thought to have to buy love as though it is some sort of commodity and we are not eligible for it except on a transactional basis. Love is often misunderstood.
Two aspects of love demand special consideration. Unwanted attention can be a very painful experience accompanied as it often is by guilt that the gift being offered is rejected. You wouldn’t turn away, or refuse to say thank you for, a present for a special occasion however much you disliked it. But to encourage unwanted attention is also cruel and unacceptable behaviour. Then again, unrequited love is a painful experience that can last a lifetime. It does so for more people than we think. Those early loves are often the most genuine we experience.
My first love, at the age of sixteen, was a brief but vivid affair. We never even kissed. Patricia was, to me, the image of a perfect girlfriend, and she clearly liked me, too. But we went our separate ways after a few months, back to our schools and the demands of growing up. We lost touch. I reconnected next with her in our seventies – on an instinct and because we had a mutual friend who was still in contact with us both. Patricia had been happily married for many years but was now sick with cancer and soon to die. She ended her last email to me by saying that she had always kept the little book of poems I had given her, on a table by her bed. A sentimental story – but more than that to me.
With its mixture of sexual desire and a wish to prove supreme altruism, love is not something that can be turned on and off at will. For some people falling in love is a frequent and repetitive event. The need for the implied connection it presages is usually a result of upbringing. Tough, but we all have tough experiences as children, which is why we prefer to remember the jolly, relaxed and smiling times depicted in child pictures. The struggles for independence, to get through puberty and to achieve the maturity we think we see in grown ups leave scars for the rest of our lives. To miss those scars is, however, and contrary to many parents’ thinking, a serious deprivation. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” is perhaps a trite statement. It is nowhere more true than with youth.
The unpredictability of love is a major reason why it can trap us so easily. When our love is not returned we feel rejected and lonely. So powerful are these feelings that any doctor will tell you they can cause serious illness, even death. Their mental consequences can be devastating too. The only thing that makes unrequited love bearable is the thought that remaining steadfast through it is evidence, to us if not to anyone else, that the love was genuine.
Not everyone is privileged to know that about their love.
May your love go with you.
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05 August 2022