I'd like to talk to you all about unrequited love. If you groaned at the idea of a single 30 year old woman telling you about her pervading loneliness, then read on. This one is dedicated to you.
Early last year, I got dumped. I will prefix this entire thing by saying, this is a fairly ordinary occurrence in my life. It just so happened that the person doing the dumping at the time happened to be what I can only describe as the lumberjack man of my dreams. So I didn't take it particularly well. I did a fair bit of crying and laying down, which is my preferred position in which to mope. Some friends, taking pity on me took me out for dinner. It was about this time when things went very wrong, or to say, this story begins.
You see, the aforementioned lumberjack wasn't my boyfriend. We were dating, and I liked him an awful lot. And of course, he wasn't just a person. For me he was a symbol, at that point in my life, of my inability to make things work. The failure of this particular episode made me think about my own personal flaws, which made it sadder still.
However one of the friends I was out with (in an honest attempt to make me feel better) kindly explained to me that it was fine really, because I didn't know what love was, anyway. That I, as an intelligent, then 29 year old woman, had never been in love. He was able to tell me this because, as a person in a relationship, he was an authority on the subject. He told me love is only real, if it's requited, in the context of a successful long term relationship.
It was a difficult and unnecessary lecture to be honest, it was volunteered completely out of the blue. I'd not been talking about the lumberjack nor had I ever claimed to love him. Bringing up my misery and telling me I didn't know anything about love was a way of dismissing my feelings, telling me that they were wrong - that I can't really be as sad as I think I am, because this situation doesn't matter.
Now don't get me wrong, being as hapless as I am when it comes to encounters with the opposite sex, I've long known that people find tales of one-sided affection boring. There's no real Romeo and Juliet-esque drama to the idea of liking, or loving someone alone. Very few people care how strong your feelings are for a person if you're feeling them whilst weeping into a Caesar salad for one in your studio flat. What I hadn't previously realised was that people thought that those feelings simply weren't valid. The idea of that, as a person who feels as deeply as I do, changed my world view significantly.
I'd like to make something very clear. Emotions are never wrong. Your emotions can come from making mistakes, or they can cause you to make mistakes. They can cause you to forgive the wrong person, blame the wrong person. They can make you hurt people around you. They can cause wars if they're strong enough. But emotions are never wrong, even if your actions are. Emotions are a natural reaction to any given situation and you shouldn't let anyone make you feel ashamed for having them.
Whilst I'll concede that the feeling of not being able to get a relationship off the ground, or loving someone who doesn't love you, is entirely different to the breakdown of a long term relationship, it doesn't make the feelings I feel less painful, they're just different. Just like period pain is different from being kicked in the balls. Both are awful. Neither should be dismissed.
I remember being at uni, and a friend (let's call her.... Jen) had just got out of a 3 or 4 year relationship and was naturally, devastated. Another girl, (I'll call her Sam) trying to sympathise, said to Jen "I'm heartbroken too". Jen snapped at her, furious that Sam would dare to compare her 8 month relationship to her own 4 year one. As if her pain wasn't real. But here's the thing, guys. I shouldn't have to say this. The length of a relationship isn't a testament to its quality. You can be in a shitty 10 year relationship or you can be in a wonderful 10 year relationship. Managing to put up with someone for a long time doesn't make you a better person, and doesn't give you the right to dismiss someone's emotions out of hand.
But we all disqualify other people's emotions like this, don't we? It's not always the length of the relationship. We'll dismiss them for different reasons. We'll rob them of the right to grieve because "they were a terrible match", "they were too young to know what they were doing", "he was too old for her", "she was way better looking than him anyway". And really, I'd like to know, honestly, what gives us the right? Even if all of those things are true, what the hell gives us the right to judge?
You don't need outside confirmation that love is love. Love just is. It's a rare and strange and beautiful thing. It's different for every last person who feels it.
I've come to realise my point isn't about love specifically, or about relationships even. It isn't about me crying over losing someone I potentially thought I had a future with, or about whether you think your emotions are more important than mine. It's about respect. If someone tells you that they're hurting, let them hurt. Listen to what they're saying. Don't, as an outsider, assess the circumstance from the limited knowledge that you have and decide, because it's not your idea of love, or heartbreak, or misery, that it's not to be taken seriously. If you've ever sneered at a friend who is pining over a guy by saying "he didn't even like her anyway", you've missed the point.
And if you've ever been that person in your friendship group who has felt that you can't speak to your friends about your sadness, because you've become a gimmick or a caricature to them, the trope of the single girl, that they're bored of you not being able to get it right, that there must be something wrong with you specifically because everyone else has managed to lock it down, I've got only one bit of advice for you really. Get better friends. Call me. I'll listen.