Unrequited love – or even unrequited ‘like’ – is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I am someone who has always been rejected, never been ‘really’ liked. Oh sure, there’s been plenty of fucking, ‘benefitting with friends’, and casual amusement – but there’s been no dating. There’s been no affirmation of “hey, I want you in my life in a more-than-casual way”. There’s been no “I am emotionally and sexually drawn to you – I want something other than friendship”. It’s always been one or the other – and sometimes it’s not even a problem: Two of my best “experiences” have been with good friends – and it was just a way to be physically and emotionally intimate between people who trusted each other.
But as I say, I’ve also been in the unfortunate situation of liking someone – deeply caring for them on some level other than friendship, and it never going anywhere. This has happened more than once. It has happened more than twice. And, after the initial pain and frustration each time, I have been left wondering “why do I do this to myself?” I was numb for about 3 years after the first ‘big one’ – and I won’t trivialize the experience though it happened when I was younger, in my teens. Age doesn’t really matter in terms of how strongly you can feel. I mean, age might matter in terms of how well it’s correlated to experience in dealing with those feelings, but liking someone is liking someone – and that experience had a profound impact on me and how I saw relationships. It taught me unhelpful things, however, like “A relationship will not happen for you, ever (because you are not good enough, lucky enough, etc). Stop wasting your time.” And “You never read people properly anyway.” And worst of all “You are not likeable or loveable.” Obviously these are cognitive distortions, but at the time, they were helpful in letting me at least get over the person. And if I’m to be totally honest, not much has really changed since then in terms of practical evidence that contradicts those sentiments. No relationship has happened – no one I’ve been interested in has reciprocated those feelings. And I do think I’m not the best at gauging other people’s interest in me.
It happened again, recently actually. Again, around the same old rigmarole – I sortofmaybecouldhave felt I couldmaybesortof have feelings for someone who has been a good friend to me. Someone who has also been sexually interested in me. Someone I’ve connected with on some level in terms of personality, interests, and most importantly ideas. I can talk to this man about so many things – and I can listen to him talk about so many things. If you know me at all, you know the latter is rare. He’s someone I’ve known for ages – years – nearly a decade now. He’s someone I’ve hurt, horribly in the past (and he, me). Normally, my friendships don’t recover from that kind of blow – but it has with him. And I care about him. I acknowledged this a little while ago – the affection, the fondness, the…and there it was. The “liking”! Insidiously it’s crept up somehow, over the years.
Do you know what I generally associate “liking” with? Dread. Fear. Anxiety. I know it will be rejected. I know that someone in the universe suddenly matters more to me than I do to them, and that feeling of loneliness rears its head – it is the feeling of not mattering – it is a searing sudden pain. And I’ve trained myself to shut it down you know – that’s what 3 years of numbness was. There was no sexual desire of any kind – no desire for a relationship, no desire for companionship in that way. Nothing. I wanted that kind of….isolation. That insulation – the packaging, like bubble wrap to protect me against the world – or against my own feelings. But you know, with feelings, it’s never anything as innocent as bubble wrap that protects you. It’s walls, and shutters, and steel, and arrows pointed inside, aimed at killing feelings.
I could feel myself struggling to do that, over the past few weeks – aim at myself all these swords and knives and arrows and spears and lances and pitchforks and words – words. Words have the sharpest edges, the bitterest taste. Words worm their way in breeding like maggots inside whatever rotting, familiar bed of feelings I’d been cultivating over the years. I aimed words at me that I should not repeat here – but they were the most powerful of all the weapons I had. Words that reminded me of years of rejection, years of knowing – really knowing – that for whatever reason, I would always like more, love more, care more in that way than anyone could for me. Words that exposed layers of rot collected over the years – that reminded me, overwhelmingly, that this would never work, that despite the distance there was something else: he was not interested in me. If I was two feet away from him, he’d still say no.
In the end, in matters like this, the most powerful words are never your own. Long story short, he said no, and it was as I’d predicted. It had nothing to do with distance or complications outside of our friendship. “There’s no spark” he said, maybe. Something like that – oh I’m paraphrasing, catching the sentiment of what he said across a memory that seems a long time ago. Oh and “don’t take this as a rejection of who you are” but come on, even I laughed at that. Of course it was a rejection of who I was on some level – how could it not be? Anyway that was that!
But of course it wasn’t just that. I went for a few days just oscillating between feelings – no I never want to talk to him again why would I everything is awful, no of course I want to speak to him and remain friends don’t be silly you idiot he introduced you to doctor who which is the best thing in the world not actually. See, to me, it would have been ideal: we connect along similar but not identical ideas. We learn from each other – arguably I learn more from him than he from me. We find each other physically attractive. And I was already growing fond of him. Why couldn’t he – ? the voice started. What’s wrong with me? And Oh god I’m too clingy/I’m not affectionate enough. And of course I just want to be used – no wanted – no used – no wanted – on some level, and have it be a concrete thing. Useful. To be of use. To be used. To be wanted. Sometimes, the meanings of words start to collide with your feelings and things stop making sense.
I could feel the old patterns emerging. And as they emerged, I knew on some concrete level that how I was feeling – the desolation, the isolation, the hurt – it had nothing to actually do with…him. It was a broken record – no it was a filter, in my head, giving me a very processed version of the relationship I have with him currently, telling me I didn’t matter because of this one tiny little rejection. I needed some perspective. So he doesn’t like me back. Ok. So I care more about him, right now. Ok. Why is that inherently a bad thing? I tried to answer this honestly and it led me to think about that first time – the ‘big one’. I remember the hurt and anger and the ‘never again’. But what I forgot (and what I remembered after looking through old emails and conversations and diary entries) was that he had said “You touched something in me”. And at the time, I forced myself to forget that – forced myself to remember only the pain, only the hurt – forced myself to amplify the disgust I felt with myself so that it reverberated inside the my head “never again. You don’t deserve the pain.” But he wrote that. It did matter, on some small level. I remember hating him for a time when I was younger – couldn’t believe he’d persuaded me – no coerced me – into sharing my feelings for him when he was incapable of feeling the same way for me. I remembered feeling violated, emotionally, as though he’d broken in, gotten a confession, and left me wanting… absolution.
And I’ve started thinking about that more. I’ve started rearranging what these events mean to me– all these rejections of who I am, or what I felt, or whatever it was – all the times I berated myself for “getting into this situation again”. Maybe, there was a strong part of me that could wield the arrows and the words and scream “never again, no more pain”. But maybe there is a stronger, more resilient, more silent, more… subversive part of me that says “It doesn’t matter if you feel this hurt, if you can also care the way you do about some people. It doesn’t matter if they do not return the affections. The caring, the fondness, the affection – that beats the pain, though it may not feel like it in the moment. If it didn’t, why would you keep doing this? What do you honestly get out of caring about someone else in this way?” In the past, I’d have answered, sullenly “nothing.”
But that’s not true, and it never has been. If I can stand here, after being rejected time and time again by people I care about, and still somehow stupidly find myself liking someone again, then I choose to believe that there’s a part of me that believes I am strong enough to be exposed, vulnerable, ready to be hurt. That I am strong enough to impulsively, foolishly act on the impossible idea of liking someone – this part of me has been silently ‘letting’ me like people over the years, no matter how many times I get hurt. It’s laughing, partly at me, partly with me, saying “yeah, you’re probably going to get your ass rejected again and it’s going to carry a sting! As usual! But that’s ok. Because at least you care. At least you have the capacity to want to be genuinely affectionate towards someone else. Why would you ever want to kill that part of you? Do you not understand the value of that?”
And I think I’m starting to now. I hope I am. I don’t think there’s enough love, or ‘like’ in the world to go around. I don’t think there’s enough compassion or understanding or second chances. God knows I so rarely fit the bill for offering any kind of…well…kindness. What am I doing trying to shut down those feelings that do let me do that? So here’s my epiphany for the day. The pain I feel – still do feel! – at rejection – that is the illusion. The myth is not that I have nothing to offer the world or him or even myself. Putting affection or caring out there, how can that hurt? I mean, it might hurt me in thinking it’s not reciprocated but how can it hurt overall? Maybe it’s an ego boost for him – maybe it’s flattery – maybe he hates hearing it from me, but I don’t think that’s a reflection of my worth. I will send liking, and loving, and fondness, and affection out into the world.
Keep in mind this has nothing to do with silly things like “oh it will happen someday – just keep trying.” This has nothing to do with “oh be hopeful about things working out.” It’s definitely not about “no pain, no gain.” And I scoff at the “when the right person comes along…” crapola. What I have to gain doesn’t lie outside me. What I have to acknowledge, I think, is my own strength in caring about someone so much that I genuinely do wish them the very best in life. That I wish them happiness, with or without me. That I can love freely, without expectation, without demands, without fear.
This post is about never being loved, never being liked, always being rejected for who I am, or what I feel for someone. And it’s about being ok with it and loving anyway. Forever! As long as I live. I accept all past rejections and all future ones – And should I eventually not be rejected, well great, but it’s not something I hope for presently. It’s certainly not something I expect.
This post is about reveling in my own abilities TO like, and TO care about someone. This post is about laughing at letting rejection have an impact on how I feel about someone, or how I feel at all. The point is, I care. And I like. And I love. None of that has to change. And haha, it’s not as though I’ve been successful in trying to stop appreciating people – so I might as well…start being grateful for this as some kind of skill. Maybe I can stop being so stingy with feeling positively about people. I think it’s time to stop aiming those arrows at myself, you know. Feeling affectionate towards someone else doesn’t hurt me – trying to stop myself or expecting a reward outside myself for liking or loving – that’s where all the pain lies. So here, to the universe, to the >12 people I’ve liked or even loved who did not feel the slightest bit the same way – who were maybe confused, maybe amused, maybe grossed out, maybe… sad that they couldn’t reciprocate: I am glad and happy that I met you, that you triggered such wonderful feelings in me for however brief a time. I am glad that thanks to you, I was able to care and feel strongly about people. Thank you for being the catalyst for the kind of compassion, kindness, and affection that I can offer the world – for letting me know that I can and do love, instinctively, without guarantee of anything in return. I want to let you know that I know I no longer need to feel ashamed, stupid, or bitter about it.