Q: I frequently meet a man in a gay social organization to which
we both belong, and this man, as they say, pushes all my buttons.
He is friendly to me, which makes him all the more alluring,
but it is clear that he has an active social world in which there
is no place for me, apart from our common organization. Obviously,
I am not the only person who sees how remarkable he is. Neither
of us is likely to leave the organization any time soon, so I’m
obliged to deal with my predicament for the foreseeable future. Is
there anything more serious here than frustration at not having the
relationship with him that I want? I’m sure I will get over
this painful situation eventually but would definitely appreciate
your insight on the subject to hasten my recovery.
A: I wonder
if there is anyone reading this who hasn’t experienced
what you’re going through. It’s always painful to long
for what we can’t have, but unrequited romantic love is especially
painful. And to have regular contact with the man you love and see
that he doesn’t lust for you the way that you lust for him, and
that his eyes don’t light up for you the way yours do for him,
is a form of acute suffering. But the fact that it’s painful
doesn’t in and of itself make it a “problem.” It
may just be one of those situations in life which must be endured,
and for which there is no “cure” except time.
which can mitigate the suffering in the meantime is something I learned
from studying Tibetan Buddhism. In this practice, you reflect on
all the people in the world who are currently experiencing the same
kind of difficulty you’re living with, whether it’s an
illness, a loss, or a disappointment such as unrequited love. Then
form the resolution to use your own pain as a springboard to become
more compassionate toward all those who are in situations similar to
yours. After you’ve done that, imagine yourself sending waves
of compassion and loving kindness to every one of them. This exercise
may sound hokey, but it is surprisingly powerful. I’ve used it
myself on a number of occasions, and I find it a great antidote to
self-pity. I also find it a useful way of using my suffering to connect
me with others rather than to feel separated from them.
question “Is there anything more serious here than
frustration at not having the relationship with him that I want?” is
a good one, because unrequited love is one of those situations which
is full of emotional pitfalls for many people. Here, too, I find Buddhist
psychology helpful. The Buddhists have a word, papanca, which
means “mental proliferation,” (although “mind fucking” also
captures the meaning). It refers to the stories we tell ourselves about
what we’re experiencing, which add additional, and unnecessary,
layers of suffering to the unavoidable pain that we all experience.
When it comes to unrequited love, it’s very common for the mind
to work overtime in generating papanca.
object of our affection doesn’t return the interest,
for instance, many people go immediately into self-denigration. Why
doesn’t he love me? There must be something wrong with me. Maybe
it’s that I’m not good looking enough, or interesting enough.
Maybe it’s just that I’m not a lovable person. Maybe I’m
just not the sort of person who ever gets what he wants. Maybe I’m
just a loser.
of suffering can trigger a cascade of thoughts about why my suffering
shows that I’m defective. I shouldn’t be hurting
so much about this. If I were a stronger, healthier, more secure human
being, I wouldn’t let things like this get to me. The fact that
I’m in love with someone who doesn’t love me shows that
I’m self-destructive, self-defeating, masochistic or neurotic – otherwise
I’d pick someone who returned my feelings. And so on.
a man who fell deeply in love with a dorm mate in his freshman year
of college. The other guy was mildly friendly, but not otherwise
interested. Now – twenty years later – this man continues
on an almost daily basis to pine away for the love that never was.
Why did he do this to himself? Because, having been abandoned in early
childhood by his drug addicted father, he had come to suspect that
he was not the sort of person who could be loved by any man, and he
took his first adult disappointment in love as confirmation of that
grim belief. His problem wasn’t unrequited love, but what his
mind did with it.
what your mind is telling you about this situation and don’t
believe everything it may be saying. Your recovery from this disappointment
will be a lot faster if you can be alert and skeptical about any
pessimistic or self-denigrating interpretations you may be assigning
to your situation.