I started writing for Thought Catalog in 2011 and have been publishing articles with them off and on for the last four years. In that time, I’ve written about a lot of different things: I wrote about growing up, about life as a gay man, and about falling in (and out of) love… I wrote about wanting to be a dog, and the Pope, and how much I hate the farmer’s market. I wrote these things with varying levels of success; readers loved some articles and told me others “sucked balls,” some were shared on Facebook 30 times and others were shared 3,000 times. It wasn’t until I wrote “You Should Fall For Someone Who Doesn’t Love You,” however, that I experienced what it means to have an article “blow up” online. As of the moment I am writing this, the article has been shared on social media over 80,000 times and gathered over 400,000 page views – those numbers are incredible to me and I feel honored, proud, and so damn lucky that something I wrote has earned so many people’s attention and given me the opportunity to write even more, in the form of this e-book. For all of the above: thank you, thank you, thank you!
The other byproduct, though, of having an article about unrequited love get spread around the internet, is receiving the hundred of comments, tweets and some very long emails from individuals around the world sharing stories of their own unrequited loves; soul-shattering tales of people they love with every fiber of their being, who do not love them back… it’s been a rather heart-breaking experience to read them all (and I read every single one). People have confessed to elaborate, one-sided relationships with coworkers, best friends, roommates, and ex-lovers, each one resulting in countless tears and exquisite pain. And all I can do is write back, though what I really want is to hug the shit out of every last one of them.
While each reader has had a slightly different response and a unique story to tell, there have been some common themes that tied a few of them together, so I thought it might be worthwhile to include some follow up to the original essay here in the afterword of this e-book, in the hopes it will provide either clarity or comfort to at least one person who reads it.
Firstly, I’d like to address the people who got a little too hung up on the title of the article, the people who lambasted me for recommending that you should go out and “intentionally fall for someone who doesn’t love you,” so that you may learn from the pain.
I’m always a bit perplexed by readers who interpret things so literally (this goes for readers of The Constitution, The Bible, and Articles On The Internet), so let me be very clear: you should go out and try to find real, amazing, mind-boggling, reciprocated love. Search high and low for it, at the bookstore, on the Internet, in a dark bar, at the dog park, in line at Taco Bell… love can be found in the most unexpected and ordinary places. Sadly though, we live in a world of missed connections and bad timing and love triangles and complicated emotions, and we don’t always get to choose who we fall in love with. Sometimes we fall for someone who loves us, and sometimes we fall for someone who doesn’t, and you shouldn’t feel guilty or stupid for being a person in the latter category. Maybe my article should have been entitled, “If You Haven’t Already, You Will Probably Fall For Someone Who Doesn’t Love You, Some Day Sooner Or Later,” but that was too long, and I don’t like to be too presumptuous. The point, my literal-minded readers, is that if unrequited love happens to you it won’t be the end of the world, and there may even be a silver lining if you look hard enough.
There was another kind of response to my article though, one I find far more troubling than the former. It’s the people who have commented or written to me asking, “But what if I never get over this person? It’s been years, and I still can’t manage to let go, even though they clearly don’t want me back.”
For all of you, my heart bleeds. When I first wrote the article, I did not consider the possibility of unrequited love lasting a lifetime. In my imagination, the only kind of love that has a staying power of such magnitude is reciprocated love. I envisioned a man who lost his young wife at an early age, a man who stayed single for 30 years because even after she died he couldn’t fathom a life in which he wasn’t loyal to her. That kind of love is sad, yes, but it’s also beautiful, and I could see where someone would want to hold onto it forever.
A love that starts out unrequited and remains unrequited, however, is not beautiful. It’s a sick, twisted, ugly sort of love. It’s a love that brings no joy, no rewards. I guess I choose to believe that people only accept a certain amount of abuse before they vow to change their circumstances; not because they want to, but because they have to in order to survive. Unrequited love is like a knife in the gut, and I hope that at some point we find the strength to pull the knife out, and heal.
You have to do the work, though, you have to be brave and strong and do everything in your power to make your life into what you want it to be. Pulling out the knife hurts, oh it hurts so much… but it’s the necessary first step toward becoming whole.
How to go about removing the blade? People will be quick to tell you that you should get a hobby, or try speed dating, take up running, or learn a foreign language at your nearest community college! These people are right, you should do those things, but it’s kind of like when someone tells you to eat healthy: you know you should do it, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to magically stop craving donuts and pizza.
I think a better first step toward moving on is to regain perspective, to force yourself to remember just how big your life is, and how the whole world is even bigger, and to remind yourself how many unknown and infinite possibilities you’re missing out on because you’re so focused on one very silly person. You’re being made miserable by another human being, no more special or powerful than yourself. You have to be bigger than that.
One of my favorite authors is Cheryl Strayed (I wrote about her for Thought Catalog here), and she has been a big influence on my writing in the last few years, yes, but more importantly on they way I think about life and love. If I could hop in a time machine and visit myself at age 14, I’d give myself a copy of her book of compiled advice columns, Tiny Beautiful Things, and tell myself not to leave my room until I’d memorized every single word. In a column called, “A Motorcycle With No One On It,” she gives advice to a reader who finds herself in love with a man who, maybe loves her back, but not in the way she wants or deserves. At the end of a rather short reply, Strayed writes: “There are so many things to be tortured about, sweet pea. So many torturous things in this life. Don’t let [someone] who doesn’t love you be one of them.”
So, my darling readers who are currently in the midst of having their hearts beaten and battered, this is the advice I wish to forward on to you. Repeat it over and over like a mantra, a prayer, and take an active part in moving on, in healing. Yes, you’ve been damaged, but as Josephine Hart once wrote, “damaged people are dangerous [because] they know they can survive.” Keep on surviving.