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QUINTESSENCE

Insight

Perhaps a great love is never returned. Had it been given warmth and shelter by its counterpart in the Other, perhaps it would have been hindered from ever growing to maturity. It "gives" us nothing. But in its world of loneliness it leads us up to summits with wide vistas - of insight.
- Dag Hammarskjold

Last night the ABC television show "The Bachelor" featured a young woman who abruptly came face to face with the pain of unrequited love. She was competing on the show ostensibly to date and fall in love with the show's featured bachelor, Ben, only to discover she was miserably hung-up and deeply entangled in her unrequited feelings for her previous boyfriend. The misery reflected on her face as she confessed her feelings to Ben and then immediately left the show seemed equal parts frustration and shocked pained insight. I felt for her. It is no paradise the moment one realizes they have entered the painful skid of unrequited attachment and have no choice but to fall out on the other side, alone.

The quote above by the Swedish diplomat and philosopher Dag Hammarskjold touches on a two-edged truth about love. The emotion is not necessarily a happy verb between two: Love is sometimes a miss hit, an unrequited experience for one. And in the disappointment of the unrequited, the lessons in the post-passionate ash may be surprising and revealing. Are we sure the maturity, the ideal expression of our love is the completion of union, or is a thwarted relationship an expression of what we have learned about our own hearts in the midst of unmet needs? There is an old saying in the engineering world, that error is instructional. "Failure is a given. Next time, fail better." I'd like to imagine that in love we "fail better "when we take the time to understand our early disappointments. That if we give every experience its due, and gently reflect upon what we see revealed and feel about ourselves, our next love affairs might be markedly more self-aware, more rewarding and successful.

The key is insight. And for me, time is a guiding factor in gaining perspective. It will require time for our unlucky contestant to process her painful emotions and move on from her unrequited love. But I am sure that when she does, she will have gain a new summit of personal strength and awareness. She will risk again, and fail better, and eventually, find her way.

[Author's Note: Many of the opening quotations for this month's essays on love can be found in a lovely little book edited by Emily Hilburn Sell, The Spirit of Loving, Shambala, 1995.]

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